Learn about how cheetahs accelerate from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds, and other wonders of the living world.

Cheetah power:  The distribution of muscle fiber types in the rear legs and forelegs of the cheetah allows it to achieve its phenomenal acceleration and speed, the BBC News reported.  Type IIx fibers, built for speed, predominate in the rear legs, but Type I fibers, more resistant to fatigue, predominate in the front legs.  This allows the cheetah to gain explosive bursts of power on takeoff with its rear legs but decelerate and stand with its forelegs.  This is explained in the article based on a paper in Mammalian Biology.

Formation flight:  Airbus is aiming to flock like the birds.  PhysOrg reported on how the airline giant believes that formation flight will achieve fuel economy: “High frequency routes would allow aircraft to benefit from flying in formation like birds during cruise bringing efficiency improvements due to drag reduction and lower energy use.”  Might look kind of neat, too, to see a flock of airplanes in V-formation.

Effortless flight:  Wandering albatrosses can fly for many hours at a time with no effort, riding the wind without ever flapping their wings.  A paper in PLoS ONE explains how scientists are learning about the wandering albatross to imitate it with aircraft:

Albatrosses do something that no other birds are able to do: fly thousands of kilometres at no mechanical cost. This is possible because they use dynamic soaring, a flight mode that enables them to gain the energy required for flying from wind. Until now, the physical mechanisms of the energy gain in terms of the energy transfer from the wind to the bird were mostly unknown. Here we show that the energy gain is achieved by a dynamic flight manoeuvre consisting of a continually repeated up-down curve with optimal adjustment to the wind. We determined the energy obtained from the wind by analysing the measured trajectories of free flying birds using a new GPS-signal tracking method yielding a high precision. Our results reveal an evolutionary adaptation to an extreme environment, and may support recent biologically inspired research on robotic aircraft that might utilize albatrosses’ flight technique for engineless propulsion….

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