New research from Vanderbilt University shows that hummingbirds and insects have a lot in common…when it comes to flying at least. The researchers placed nontoxic paint on the wing of a ruby-throated hummingbird at 9 different spots then videotaped the animal flying at 1,000 frames per second with 4 cameras simultaneously. Using 3D simulations of the hummingbird flight, they discovered that the tiny birds stir up air around their wings in a way similar to insects like mosquitoes and dragonflies.
Larger birds obtain much of their energy for flight from the downstroke of the wing as it pushes against the air. In contrast, hummingbirds derive energy from both the up and downstrokes as they rotate their wings to create small vortices of air. The low pressure created by the vortex gives hummingbirds their lift.
Could you image if engineers tried to design an airplane based on hummingbird flight instead of other birds? Oh wait…they have. Granted it is only suitable for the smallest of passengers. DARPA has created a hummingbird-like unmanned aircraft that you can see in this YouTube video. I knew it was a good idea!!
, , Three-dimensional flow and lift characteristics of a hovering ruby-throated hummingbird. Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 11: 20140442, 2014.