Shark skin holds clues to building faster, sleeker warplanes
The skin of the world’s fastest shark is being studied by the US military to help design faster, more agile aircraft.
Scientists have recorded mako sharks swimming at speeds of 95km/h but it is estimated they can reach 130km/h, thanks to the composition of their skin surface.
Now research funded by the US Army and aerospace company Boeing is examining how a similar man-made surface can be reproduced for aircraft technology, reports the Independent.
University of Alabama aeronautical engineers have concentrated on the minute tooth-like scales along the mako’s fin and sides.
Biologically similar to the shark’s teeth, they measure 0.2mm and bristle upwards or flex backwards when the mako is swimming.
The researchers believe the bristling disrupts currents that might swirl back against it – known as flow separation - and cause drag.
This pressure drag plays a key role in aircraft design, and the ability to minimise it can lead to improvements in speed, manoeuvrability and fuel efficiency.
Using a wind tunnel and samples of mako shark hide, the scientists measured the speed of water flowing over a smooth surface and the animal’s skin.
They discovered the “passive bristling” effect from the shark’s tiny scales did minimise drag.
The findings are “very exciting”, according to Dr Amy Lang, who headed the research that was presented to the American Physical Society in Boston yesterday.
“The potential for a man-made surface to utilise this entirely passive mechanism even in air is very exciting,” she said.
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