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Proceedings Article

The barn owl wing: an inspiration for silent flight in the aviation industry?

[+] Author Affiliations
Thomas Bachmann

Technische Univ. Darmstadt (Germany)

Georg Mühlenbruch

RWTH Aachen Univ. Hospital (Germany)

Hermann Wagner

RWTH Aachen Univ. (Germany)

Proc. SPIE 7975, Bioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication, 79750N (March 23, 2011); doi:10.1117/12.882703
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From Conference Volume 7975

  • Bioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication
  • Raúl J. Martín-Palma; Akhlesh Lakhtakia
  • San Diego, California, USA | March 06, 2011


Barn owls are specialists in prey detection using acoustic information. The flight apparatus of this bird of prey is most efficiently adapted to the hunting behavior by reducing flight noise. An understanding of the underlying mechanisms owls make use of could help minimize the noise disturbances in airport or wind power plant neighborhood. Here, we characterize wings of barn owls in terms of an airfoil as a role model for studying silent flight. This characterization includes surface and edge specialization (serrations, fringes) evolved by the owl. Furthermore, we point towards possible adaptations of either noise suppression or air flow control that might be an inspiration for the construction of modern aircraft. Three-dimensional imaging techniques such as surface digitizing, computed tomography and confocal laser scanning microscopy were used to investigate the wings and feathers in high spatial resolution. We show that wings of barn owls are huge in relation to their body mass resulting in a very low wing loading which in turn enables a slow flight and an increased maneuverability. Profiles of the wing are highly cambered and anteriorly thickened, especially at the proximal wing, leading to high lift production during flight. However, wind tunnel experiments showed that the air flow tends to separate at such wing configurations, especially at low-speed flight. Barn owls compensated this problem by evolving surface and edge modifications that stabilize the air flow. A quantitative three-dimensionally characterization of some of these structures is presented.

© (2011) COPYRIGHT Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE). Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.

Thomas Bachmann ; Georg Mühlenbruch and Hermann Wagner
"The barn owl wing: an inspiration for silent flight in the aviation industry?", Proc. SPIE 7975, Bioinspiration, Biomimetics, and Bioreplication, 79750N (March 23, 2011); doi:10.1117/12.882703; http://dx.doi.org/10.1117/12.882703

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