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Flight

Flight

Three different groups of animalsinsects, birds, and mammalsinclude species that have evolved the ability to fly. This ability developed independently in each group through separate evolutionary processes. Recent research has shown that a fourth group of animals, the now-extinct winged reptiles known as Pterosaurs, were probably capable of true flight as well. Whereas the aerodynamics of flight apply equally to all types of flying animals, the mechanical details of flight vary significantly among the groups.

All insects, birds, and mammals that fly move themselves forward by flapping their wings. They do not depend exclusively on gliding and soaring to remain aloft. However, many species of birds combine extensive gliding and soaring with episodes of true flight to conserve energy.

Forward flight is produced in all true flying animals in a similar way. Each animal moves its wings up and down in a circle or figure-eight pattern. The wings are moved downward and backward, producing forward thrust and lift. Then the wings are rotated and moved back to the original position to start a new stroke.

Insects

Insects have two pairs of wings, but one pair may be small and degenerate or modified into wing covers. So insects may use either one or two pairs of wings in flight. In insects with one pair of wings, such as flies, mosquitoes, wasps, and bees, the tip of the wing moves in an oval path. On the down stroke, the wing is held parallel to the body and is moved forward and down. On the upstroke, the wing is turned perpendicular to the body plane.

Wing movement in insects with two pairs of wings, such as dragon flies, is similar, but the front and rear wings move alternately, one wing moving down while the other moves up. Because of the exoskeleton anatomical structure of insects, muscles are not attached directly to the wings. Instead, the wings are attached to the thorax (chest area). Four sets of muscles inside the thorax cause it to flex and twist, thus moving the wings.

Bats and Birds

Some people think that bats are birds because both fly. Bats and birds do have some common features, such as very lightweight skeletons, but bats are mammals, not birds. The bones of a bat's wing are quite distinct from a bird's. The long bones of a bat's wings are actually finger bones with a thin, leathery membrane stretched between. Only the thumbs of the bat remain as useful digits. The thumbs have strong claws that the bat can use for climbing.

In birds and bats, the muscles that control wing movement are attached directly to the wing bones. Birds have large chest muscles that are attached to a deep, keel-like sternum (breastbone). The depth of the sternum gives the wing muscles additional leverage, allowing for strong flapping motion. Smaller muscles return the wing to the upper position. Pterosaurs also had deep, keel-like sternums.

Birds also have specially designed wing feathers to aid flight. These feathers flatten out, overlap, and lock together on the down stroke to produce lift. As the wing is drawn back up, the individual feathers separate and rotate. This allows air to flow between the feathers, reducing drag. The downward movement of the wing propels the bird forward and provides lift. In forward flight, the body does not remain stationary in the air, so the wing always moves forward relative to the air. From the viewpoint of the bird, the tip of the wing moves in an oval or figure-eight path, with the wing tip moving forward and downward on the "power" stroke then upward and backward on the return stroke.

Most birds and all bats spend their time in the air in forward flight. Birds fly by flapping or gliding. Bats do not glide efficiently, so they flap continuously. Flapping consumes large amounts of energy. To conserve energy while staying aloft, many birds alternate flapping and gliding. Birds such as woodpeckers and many sparrows flap furiously, then fold their wings and glide through the air like little guided missiles. This produces an undulating motion to their flight path: they move up and forward while flapping, then move down and forward while gliding.

The long wings of many larger birds allow for extended periods of soaring and gliding. In contrast, the short, tiny wings of a hummingbird must be flapped constantly to keep the bird hovering in the air. Not surprisingly, hummingbirds must consume an enormous number of calories each day to provide the energy for their constant flapping.

Hovering is a specialized form of flight that is characteristic of, but not unique to, hummingbirds. Kestrels and kingfishers often hover when hunting. Other birds hover occasionally as well. However, hovering requires large energy expenditures, so it is common only among hummingbirds, whose body mass is very small.

In flight, hummingbirds can move forward, backward, up, or down. Hovering allows hummingbirds to hang motionless while drawing calorie-rich nectar from the blooms of plants. This allows hummingbirds to obtain nectar that would otherwise be out of reach. Hummingbirds have specialized shoulder joints that allow the wing to be rotated completely around to an upside-down position. By rotating the wing this way, the hummingbird is able to gain lift from both the forward and backward strokes of its wing. The wing tip follows a figure-eight pattern as in other birds, but the specialized shoulder joint allows the figure eight to be turned sideways. While performing these adjustments, it is not unusual for hummingbirds to reach a flapping frequency of up to 100 times per second.

Energy Requirements of Birds

The expression "eats like a bird" is often used to describe someone who eats a very small amount of food, but this is not an accurate description. Relative to their body weight, birds eat an enormous amount of food. An active hummingbird may eat three or four times its own body weight in food every day. This would be like an 80 kilogram (180 pound) person eating 240 kilograms (530 pounds) of food each day. Hummingbirds (and other birds) eat so much food because sustained flight requires that their large muscles work constantly, and this expenditure of energy must be replenished continually.

The metabolic rate is the rate at which a bird, or any animal, converts food calories into available energy. Flight takes a large amount of energy, so a high metabolic rate is necessary. To maintain the high metabolic rate necessary to provide energy for flight, birds must consume foods with the greatest possible energy content.

Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins all provide energy. Birds can use as much as 90 percent of the energy found in these foods. The diet of birds varies according to species, but common sources of carbohydrates include seeds, fruit, and flower nectar. Protein comes from such sources as insects, worms, fish, and small mammals, depending on the species, size, and habitat of a bird.

Seeds are rich in carbohydrates and fats, both of which are good sources of calories. Most fruit contains sugar, but fruit is not very high in calories compared to seeds and nuts. That is why fruit-eating birds need to spend long periods of their day feeding to get enough food. Flower nectar, which provides a rapidly metabolized, high-energy source, is mostly sugar dissolved in water. Twenty percent of all bird species utilize this energy source at least part of the time. Although nectar is good for quick energy, it contains little protein or fat. So birds supplement their nectar diet with other sources.

Insects are an excellent food source for birds. Insects are high in protein and fats and therefore contain a lot of energy-producing calories. Most people are surprised to learn that insects provide as much as 50 percent of the calories in a hummingbird's diet! Unfortunately for birds, insects are not always available. Although they are common in spring and summer, they die off during the colder months. Insect-eaters must switch to other foods or move to warmer areas where insects are more common. Birds of prey, including owls and hawks, rely on small mammals and fish as sources of protein.

How Birds Conserve Energy

Because flight requires so much energy, bird species have evolved various energy-saving techniques. Geese, cranes, pelicans, and other large birds often fly in formation. This is an energy saving technique. Each bird's downward wing stroke creates an updraft. By flying in formation, each bird is able to use the updrafts produced by the bird just in front of it. This provides extra lift and saves energy over long distances. The lead bird does not get any benefit, so birds take turns leading the formation. Energy saving formations include the familiar "V" of geese and swans and the ragged diagonal line in which brown pelicans often fly.

Gliding and soaring are two other energy saving techniques. Gliding is "coasting" on the wind in a straight line or gentle curve while gradually losing altitude. Soaring is using air currents to gain altitude.

The long, slender wings of albatrosses and shearwaters are ideal for gliding. Using a combination of gliding and soaring, an albatross can fly over hundreds of kilometers of ocean surface in search of food without flapping. The glide path starts high above the ocean waves with the bird headed down-wind and slowly losing altitude in a long, straight glide. Close to the ocean surface, the wind speed is less because of friction between the air and ocean surface. As it gets close to the water surface, the albatross turns into the slower wind and, using its momentum, soars back up to the original altitude, never flapping its wings unless absolutely necessary. It then turns back downwind and repeats the process.

Gulls, hawks, and many other birds soar to take advantage of updrafts created when wind encounters an obstacle such as a cliff or mountain. Birds can soar on these updrafts for long periods of time with little effort.

Other species, such as eagles and vultures, take advantage of rising columns of heated air called thermals to soar with little effort to great altitudes, from which they glide downward to the next thermal. Their long, broad wing shape allows them to take advantage of these upward air currents. Thermals occur because warm air is less dense than cold air. Denser cold air forces the less dense warm air to move upward as the cold air flows in to replace the warm air. Thermals are often found over plowed fields and darkly colored parking lots. Most birds whose flight patterns rely on thermals are searching for prey or carrion. Some birds, including storks, use thermals to migrate, climbing within one thermal, then gliding downward to the next.

Wing Shape and Flight Behavior

Each different kind of bird has a unique wing shape specially adapted to that bird's flight behavior and habitat. Birds that skim the surface of large bodies of water have glider-like wings that are long but slender and tapered to take advantage of the aerodynamic conditions of their environment. The narrow wings of birds of this type, such as the albatross, minimize drag, whereas the spectacular length of their wings (over 3.3 meters in the Wandering Albatross) provides sufficient lift.

Eagles, vultures, and hawks have wings that are both long and wide. This combination of length and width produces a large wing surface area that is ideal for soaring. These birds also have other specialized adaptations for soaring. For example, at the tips of their wings, each flight feather operates separately and independently of the others. This reduces drag due to turbulence, helps prevent air from spilling over to the top of the wing (which would reduce lift), and increases the bird's ability to make the small flight adjustments necessary for optimal soaring.

Just as the flight patterns of ground-dwelling birds differ from those of sea birds, such as the albatross, or high-altitude birds, such as hawks and eagles, so do their wing shapes. Ground-dwelling birds, including pheasants and turkeys, need to be able to fly rapidly for short distances. Their typical behavior is to remain motionless for as long as possible until a predator approaches too closely, then explode into flight with much noise, thus distracting and confusing the predator. This kind of flight requires a short, broad wing attached to powerful chest muscles. This wing design also allows the bird to change direction rapidly. However, such a short, rounded wing is not suitable for extended flight. Although they are not ground-dwelling birds, parrots and other tree-dwelling birds also exhibit this type of wing. Because they do not need to fly great distances, their rounded wings enable them to maneuver quickly through the many trees of their forest homes.

High-speed birds, including falcons and swallows, have slender, tapered wings that can be flapped rapidly and efficiently to produce high-speed flight. All birds capable of high-speed flight exhibit this wing shape that produces little drag. Peregrine falcons are widely reported to have the fastest flight of all birds. One falcon overtook an airplane flying at 175 mph. However, this was in a dive. The highest speed ever reported for a bird in level flight was 218 mph for a spine tailed swift, Hirandapus caudacutus, in the Cachar Hills of India. This speed was recorded by timing the flight of the bird between two known points using a stopwatch.

It would seem that flight gives enormous evolutionary advantages. The Pterosaurs inhabited a wide variety of different habitats and survived for 140 million years. Bats occur in every part of the world except the Arctic and Antarctic. Worldwide, there are thousands of different species of birds, with 1,700 different species found in North America alone, inhabiting a wide variety of ecological niches. However, the insects are the real success story of flight. Nearly one million insects have been identified, and many entomologists estimate there at least that many more. Insects were the first to evolve the ability to fly, and they have made the most of it!

see also Gliding and Parachuting; Locomotion.

Elliot Richmond

Bibliography

Audubon Nature Encyclopedia. Philadelphia: Curtis Publishing Company, 1971.

Curtis, Helena, and N. Sue Barnes. Biology, 5th ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 1989.

Wetmore, Alexander. Song and Garden Birds of North America. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1975.

Internet Resources

"Flight Mechanics." The Bird Site. <http://www.nhm.org/birds/guide/pg018.html>.

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flight

flight, sustained, self-powered motion through the air, as accomplished by an animal, aircraft, or rocket.

Animal Flight

Adaptation for flight is highly developed in birds and insects. The bat is the only mammal that accomplishes true flight. Flying squirrels glide rather than fly, as do flying fish and flying lizards. The extinct flying reptiles known as pterosaurs are believed to have been the largest known animals capable of true flight.

Birds fly by means of the predominantly up-and-down motion of their wings. The flapping motion is not, however, straight up and down but semicircular, the wings generally moving backward on the upstroke and forward on the downstroke. That motion pushes air downward and to the rear, creating a lift and forward thrust. The leading edge of the slightly concave wings is rather sharp, and the feathers are small and close-fitting, so that a streamlined surface meets the air. On the trailing edge of each wing the interlocking of the larger feathers forms a surface that acts somewhat like the ailerons, or movable airfoils, of an airplane. In wing motion, the leading edge is twisted so as to be lower than the trailing edge in the downward stroke and above the trailing edge in the upward stroke.

Besides flapping, some birds also use gliding and soaring techniques in flight. In gliding, a bird holds its outstretched wings relatively still and relies on its momentum to keep it aloft for short distances. In soaring, a bird uses rising warm air currents to give it lift.

The form and size of wings vary in different birds. In woodland birds the wings are somewhat rounded and have a relatively broad surface area. Birds with well-developed gliding ability, such as gannets and gulls, usually have narrow, pointed wings. Especially noted for their soaring power are eagles, vultures, crows, and some hawks. In soaring flight the feathers on the wings of these birds separate at the tips, resembling opened fingers against the sky. It is thought that this movement diverts the airstream over the wing and aids the bird in turning, banking, and wheeling. There is disagreement as to the maximum speeds achieved by birds in flight. While the flight speeds of most birds range from 10 to 60 mi (16–100 km) per hr, some have been recorded at speeds reaching 70 mi (110 km) per hr, for long distances and near 100 mi (160 km) per hr, for short flights. In a stoop, falcons can reach faster speeds.

Aircraft and Rocket Flight

Humanity's first attempts at flight were made with flapping wings strapped to the arms in imitation of birds, but these had no success. Machines designed to fly in this way, called ornithopters, date to antiquity (c.400 BC) and models that are capable of flight have been known for more than 100 years. However, there are no practical aircraft based on ornithopter designs, even though an ornithopter—which has no theoretical top speed limit—should be capable at least of efficient low-speed flight. In the 1930s an Italian model weighing approximately 50 lb (110 kg) and powered by a 0.5-hp motor was successfully flown.

Airships and balloons owe their ability to ascend and remain aloft to their inflation with a gas lighter than air; this is an application of Archimedes' principle of flotation, i.e., that a body immersed in a fluid (liquid or gas) is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid that it displaces. Aircraft, which are heavier than air, are able to remain aloft because of forces developed by the movement of the craft through the air. Propulsion of most aircraft derives from the rearward acceleration of the air. It is an application of Newton's third law, i.e., that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In propeller aircraft the forward motion is obtained through conversion of engine power to thrust by means of acceleration of air to the rear by the propeller. Lift is obtained largely from the upward pressure of the air against the airfoils (e.g., wings, tail fins, and ailerons), on whose upper surface the pressure becomes lower than that of the atmosphere. In jet-propelled aircraft, propulsion is achieved by heating air that passes through the engine and accelerating the resultant hot exhaust gases rearward at high velocities. Rockets are propelled by the rapid expulsion of gas through vents at the rear of the craft. The high speeds that are produced by jet and rocket engines have brought about substantial changes in the science of flight.

See aerodynamics; airplane; jet propulsion; rocket.

Bibliography

See H. Tennekes, The Simple Science of Flight (1996, repr. 2009); see also bibliography under aviation.

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Flight

Flight

Flying organisms include insects, birds, and bats, all of which evolved the ability to fly (and the wings that flight requires) independently. Flying squirrels, flying fish, and other animals that only glide are not considered capable of true flight. In general, flight requires an animal to generate enough lift to overcome the force of gravity. Unless it is hovering, the animal also needs to generate directional thrust, to move once it is in the air. The different groups of animals manage these tasks in different ways.

Insects

Among the many other titles insects hold (including being the most numerous and diverse group of animals) they can claim the title of the first flying organisms, having taken to the air tens of millions of years before the pterosaurs (extinct flying dinosaurs), and hundreds of millions of years before birds and bats. Most insects can fly, or are descended from flying ancestors, and are grouped in the subclass Pterygota ("having wings"). The more primitive, nonflying insects are grouped in the class Apterygota ("not having wings"). Unlike wings of the other flying animals, insect wings are not modifications of legs but rather separate appendages , outgrowths of the thorax. It is not known how insect wings evolvedthe fossil record is not that completebut there are many hypotheses, including the ideas that wings first evolved for gliding, as solar collectors, or as gills on aquatic juvenile insects.

Insects manipulate their wings using two kinds of muscles: direct, which are attached to the wing, and indirect, which alter the shape of the thorax. In flight with the indirect muscles, the wing acts as a lever, with a part of the thorax as its fulcrum , and tilts up or down as the thorax changes shape.

Many insects are so small that the relative thickness of the air is too great for them to fly as birds, bats, and airplanes do. Instead, because of the viscosity of the air, they move in a way more akin to swimming than gliding or soaring.

Vertebrates

Flight has evolved independently in vertebrates at least three times: in pterosaurs, birds, and bats. Although scientists know that pterosaurs, like bats, flew on wings consisting of skin stretched from the hand to the body, it is not known how they kept such large bodies airborne. Bird wings, on the other hand are made up of flight feathers. Both birds and bats provide most of the thrust for flight with their wing tips, tilting them on both the down stroke and the upstroke so that they cut into the air at an angle and pull the body forward. Most of the lift, however, is provided by the base of the wing. In both birds and bats, as in airplanes, the wing is thicker at the front, convex on the top, and concave or flat on the bottom. As this shape slices through the air, a low-pressure zone is formed by the faster-moving air on top of the wing, and the higher pressure air beneath the wing pushes up on the wing, creating lift. To lighten their bodies and minimize the amount of lift they have to create, both birds and bats are usually relatively small, and birds have hollow bones.

see also Bird; Insect; Evolution; Scaling

Robbie Hart

Bibliography

Borror, Donald J., Dwight M. DeLong, and Charles A. Triplehorn. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders, Co., 1989.

Brock, Fenton M. Bats. New York: Facts on File, 1992.

Ehrlich, Paul R., David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye. The Birder's Handbook. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988.

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flight

flight / flīt/ • n. 1. the action or process of flying through the air: an eagle in flight the history of space flight. ∎  an act of flying; a journey made through the air or in space, esp. a scheduled journey made by an airline: I got the first flight. ∎  the movement or trajectory of a projectile or ball through the air. ∎  [as adj.] relating to or denoting archery in which the main concern is shooting long distances: short, light flight arrows. ∎ poetic/lit. swift passage of time: the never-ending flight of future days. 2. a group of creatures or objects flying together, in particular: ∎  a flock or large body of birds or insects in the air, esp. when migrating: flights of Canada geese. ∎  a group of aircraft operating together, esp. an air force unit of about six aircraft: a refueling mission in which his crew topped off three flights of four F-16A jets. 3. the action of fleeing or attempting to escape: refugees on the latest stage of their flight from turmoil. 4. a series of steps between floors or levels: she has to come up four flights of stairs to her apartment. ∎  a series of hurdles across a racetrack. ∎  a closely spaced sequence of locks in a canal. 5. an extravagant or far-fetched idea or account: ignoring such ridiculous flights of fancy. 6. the tail of a dart. • v. [tr.] shoot (wildfowl) in flight: [as n.] (flighting) duck and geese flighting. PHRASES: in full flight escaping as fast as possible. ∎  having gained momentum in a run or activity: when this jazz pianist is in full flight he can be mesmerizing. take flight 1. (of a bird) take off and fly: the whole flock took flight | fig. my celebrityhood took flight. 2. flee: noise that would prompt a spooked horse to take flight.

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flight

flight
1. Any form of locomotion in air, which can be active or passive (gliding). Mechanisms of flight have evolved mainly in birds, bats, and insects: these animals are adapted for flight by the presence of wings, which increases the ratio of surface area to body weight. Birds possess powerful flight muscles: the depressor muscle runs from the underside of the humerus to the sternum and is responsible for the downstroke of the wing; the levator muscle works antagonistically, producing the upstroke. Flight in insects works in a similar fashion but the muscles that control the wing movement are attached to the thorax. A few species of mammals, reptiles, and fish have developed flight to a lesser extent. For example, flying squirrels (order Dermoptera) possess a membrane attached to the limbs that can open and function as a parachute, allowing the animals to glide.

2. Part of a survival mechanism in an animal that is generated in response to a threatening situation. A potentially dangerous situation can induce the release of adrenaline, which prepares the animal for `fight or flight' by increasing the blood pressure and heart rate and diverting the blood flow to the muscles and heart. See alarm response.

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Flight

Flight

a number of birds or objects flying through the air together; anything resembling a flight of stairs; a flock flying in company. See also bevy, covey, skein.

Examples: flight of academicians; of aeroplanes; of airmen; of angels, 1602; of arrows, 1545; of bees, 1823; of birds [young birds taking first flight together]; of butterflies, 1832; of clouds, 1886; of cormorants, 1430; of doves, 1430; of dunbirds, 1875; of eloquence, 1760; of fish-hooks [used in spinning trace]; of flies, 1486; of fowls, 1688; of goshawks, 1430; of hurdles, 1486; of larks; of locks [canals]. 1861; of mallard, 1486; of pigeons, 1605; of plover; of rails, 1852; of stairs; of steps, 1820; of storks, 1720; of swallows, 1486; of terraces, 1855; of widgeon; of woodcock.

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flight

flight1 act of flying OE.; collection of beings or things flying together XIII; volley (of missiles) XVI; set of steps XVIII. OE. flyht, corr. to OS. fluht, (M)Du. vlucht :- WGmc. *fluχti, f. weak grade of Gmc. *fleuʒan FLY2.
Hence flighty †swift, rapid XVI; given to flights of fancy, etc.; inconstant XVIII.

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flight

flight2 act of fleeing. OE. *flyht = OS., OHG. fluht (Du. vlucht, G. flucht), ON. flótti, f. the base of FLEE.

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flight

flight. Continuous straight series of steps, uninterrupted by landings, in a stair, e.g. from landing to landing.

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flight

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flight

flight See STRING.

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"flight." A Dictionary of Earth Sciences. . Retrieved July 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/flight

flight

flightaffright, alight, alright, aright, bedight, bight, bite, blight, bright, byte, cite, dight, Dwight, excite, fight, flight, fright, goodnight, height, ignite, impolite, indict, indite, invite, kite, knight, light, lite, might, mite, night, nite, outfight, outright, plight, polite, quite, right, rite, shite, sight, site, skintight, skite, sleight, slight, smite, Snow-white, spite, sprite, tight, tonight, trite, twite, underwrite, unite, uptight, white, wight, wright, write •Shiite • Trotskyite • McCarthyite •Vishnuite • Sivaite • albite •snakebite • frostbite • soundbite •kilobyte • columbite • love bite •Moabite • megabyte • gigabyte •Jacobite • Rechabite • jadeite •lyddite • expedite • cordite • erudite •Luddite • recondite • troglodyte •hermaphrodite • extradite

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"flight." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"flight." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 20, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/flight

"flight." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved July 20, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/flight