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Integr Comp Biol. 2002 Feb;42(1):135-40. doi: 10.1093/icb/42.1.135.

Mechanisms and implications of animal flight maneuverability.

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Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712 and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, P.O. Box 2072, Balboa, Republic of Panama.


Accelerations and directional changes of flying animals derive from interactions between aerodynamic force production and the inertial resistance of the body to translation and rotation. Anatomical and allometric features of body design thus mediate the rapidity of aerial maneuvers. Both translational and rotational responsiveness of the body to applied force decrease with increased total mass. For flying vertebrates, contributions of the relatively heavy wings to whole-body rotational inertia are substantial, whereas the relatively light wings of many insect taxa suggest that rotational inertia is dominated by the contributions of body segments. In some circumstances, inertial features of wing design may be as significant as are their aerodynamic properties in influencing the rapidity of body rotations. Stability in flight requires force and moment balances that are usually attained via bilateral symmetry in wingbeat kinematics, whereas body roll and yaw derive from bilaterally asymmetric movements of both axial and appendicular structures. In many flying vertebrates, use of the tail facilitates the generation of aerodynamic torques and substantially enhances quickness of body rotation. Geometrical constraints on wingbeat kinematics may limit total force production and thus accelerational capacity in certain behavioral circumstances. Unitary limits to animal flight performance and maneuverability are unlikely, however, given varied and context-specific interactions among anatomical, biomechanical, and energetic features of design.


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