Washington: The ability of owls to fly silently in search of prey could lead to development of quieter passenger aircraft, Cambridge researchers say.
Owls have the uncanny ability to fly silently, relying on specialised plumage to reduce noise so they can hunt in acoustic stealth.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge, England, are studying the owl`s wing structure to better understand how it mitigates noise so they can apply that information to the design of conventional aircraft.
"Many owl species have developed specialised plumage to effectively eliminate the aerodynamic noise from their wings, which allows them to hunt and capture their prey using their ears alone," said researcher Justin Jaworski.
All wings, either natural or engineered, create turbulent eddies as they cut through the air. When these eddies hit the trailing edge of the wing, they are amplified and scattered as sound. Conventional aircraft, which have hard trailing edges, are particularly noisy in this regard.
Owls, however, possess no fewer than three distinct physical attributes that are thought to contribute to their silent flight capability: a comb of stiff feathers along the leading edge of the wing, a soft downy material on top of the wing and a flexible fringe at the trailing edge of the wing.
It is not known whether it is a single attribute or the combination of attributes that are the root cause of the noise reduction.
The researchers attempted to unravel this mystery by developing a theoretical basis for the owl`s ability to mitigate sound from the trailing edge of its wing, which is typically an airfoil`s dominant noise source.
Earlier owl noise experiments suggest that their wing noise is much less dependent on air speed and that there is a large reduction of high frequency noise across a range where human ears are most sensitive.
Using mathematical models, the researchers demonstrated that elastic and porous properties of a trailing edge could be tuned so that aerodynamic noise would depend on the flight speed as if there were no edge at all.
"This implied that the dominant noise source for conventional wings could be eliminated," said Nigel Peake also of the University of Cambridge.
The study was presented at the American Physical Society`s (APS) Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting.