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Royal Society's Summer Science, 8–11 July 2021

Would aeroplanes be better if they were more like birds?

On this page, you’ll discover the deeper science behind our research on bird flight. Whether you’re a budding biologist, an engineer, or someone who simply loves physics and the natural world, there’s something exciting just for you.

Discover more

It’s a Breeze flight game
Screen shot of It's a Breeze game

Play to learn how birds deal with those pesky upgusts. Then apply your knowledge to an aeroplane!

OwlAR Augmented Reality experience
Screenshot of OwlAR

Scan this QR code with your phone to see Lily gliding through gusts for fun. If you are reading on a phone or tablet, you can click here.

Meet Lloyd and Sasha

Meet Lloyd Buck and Sasha the Indian Tawny Eagle who helped us learn how birds deal with gusts (2 min 25 sec).

Introduction video

Introduction to the question “would planes be better if they were more like birds?” (5 min 0 sec)

Lightning lecture

Professor Jim Usherwood reveals the deeper science behind birds’ tails and hinging wings (10 min 26 sec).

Why birds in gusts?

Find out what motivated us and see how it all worked (2 min 42 sec).

What do birds’ tails do?

Find out the details on how birds’ tails work (3 min 1 sec).

Video workshop

Workshop explaining how birds tails work and how their wings act as suspension – including walking through how to make your own paper owl glider (27 min).

Lesson plan for workshop (PDF)

Workshop materials

Paper owl instructions
Screenshot of the glider instructions

Instructions for making a paper owl glider at home using a plain A4 sheet or the template below.

Paper owl template
Screenshot of the template

Double-sided A4 template for the paper owl glider.

Fun things

Owl STL file for 3D printing
Screenshot of STL render

3D print an owl of your own. This model has a 120 mm wingspan and prints upside down (it loads this way). Carefully remove the support structure, taking care if using a sharp tool.

Find out more

Bio-inspired Flight Lab

Animal flight and bio-inspiration research at the University of Bristol.

The Flight Lab

Aerial robotics research at the University of Bristol.

RVC structure and motion lab

Animal movement research at the Royal Veterinary College.

Journal paper: Bird wings act as a suspension system that rejects gusts

Scientific journal article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Journal paper: High aerodynamic lift from the tail reduces drag in gliding raptors

Scientific journal article in the Journal of Experimental Biology.