Why birds fly in a ‘V’ Formation?

Scientists have unravelled the mystery behind why so many birds fly in a ‘V’ formation.

Screenshot_3The birds fly in a ‘V’ formation to:-

  1.  Conserve energy
  2.  Communicate more easily

Birds fly in a characteristic V formation to position themselves in aerodynamically optimum positions whilst specifically timing the flapping of their wings. Researchers established that birds flap their wings at just the right time so as maximize an updraft and minimize a downdraft. The complex mechanisms involved in V formation flight specify extraordinary consciousness and capability of birds to respond to the wingpath of close by flock-mates.

  • Flying in a V formation assists each bird take benefit of “good air” (upwash) thrown up by the wings of the flyer in front while nullifying disadvantageous ‘bad air’ (downwash).
  • Birds also flap their wings at just the right time so as maximize an updraft and minimize a downdraft.

These aerodynamic activities were formerly not considered achievable for birds because of the complex flight dynamics and sensory feedback that would be necessary to perform such an accomplishment.
The complicated mechanisms involved in V formation flight indicate extraordinary consciousness and capability of birds to react to the wingpath of nearby flock-mates.  Birds in V formation seem to have developed intricate phasing strategies to deal with the dynamic wakes produced by flapping wings.

Why birds flying in V-formation frequently rotate positions?

Even though the V formation benefits all of the birds, the bird in the lead position has to work the hardest. When this bird tires, it will drop out of the lead position and fall further back into one of the lines of the V. Another bird from further back will rapidly move forward to take the leading position and maintain the formation. The two birds in the furthest trailing positions also tire more rapidly than those in the middle, so these positions are also rotated frequently to spread the most fatiguing locations throughout the flock.
This cyclical reshuffle gives all birds the responsibility of being the leader as well as a chance to benefit in the middle of the formation.
A second basis that may elucidate why birds fly in a ‘V’ formation is because this orientation permits the birds to intercommunicate better. The V formation allows the birds with good visual contact of each other to keep the flock together. This communication minimizes the possibility of losing birds along the way as the formation crosses vast distances during migration.

Why a close formation flight among a group of aircraft is often difficult?

Albeit manned aircraft can also exploit the benefits of formation flight, it is difficult to do so since we still lag behind nature in the ability of our technology to “feel” the air and adapt to it for optimum performance. Close formation flight among a group of aircraft is often difficult to maintain because of the turbulence created by the lead aircraft.
Perhaps one day we will be able to develop advanced technologies that make aircraft as sensitive to their surroundings as the body of a bird is today. We may then be able to make better use of formation flight to improve the efficiency of flying vehicles.

Do military aircrafts operating in V-formation enjoy the same benefits of reduced drag as do birds or other benefits as do birds?

Military planes do still operate in V formations, but they are typically spaced too far apart to enjoy the benefits of reduced drag. These aircraft instead fly in formation primarily to maintain visibility of all the aircraft in the squadron in the same way that birds do. 

Objective behind conducting the study:

To bring the northern bald ibis back to Europe, as the birds were lost because of uncontrollable hunting. That is why researchers are making efforts to retrain the birds to navigate a migration route that is not used by the birds anymore. Researchers proved this after fitting 14 northern bald ibises with lightweight sensors. The birds were trained to migrate on a 1,000-km route from Austria to Tuscany by following a micro-light.

  • The study helped researchers to understand that birds change their positions and alter the timing of their wing flaps so as to have an aerodynamic advantage.
  • When birds fly in the V formation, swirls of upward-moving air is generated by the wings of the bird ahead that helps other birds to take advantage to fly easily without using any energy.
  • Many companies are lured by this idea of saving energy by gaining lifts from other birds to develop Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, that can fly in the energy-efficient V formation.

The study was published in the journal Nature and was conducted by an international team led by Steven Portugal of the Royal Veterinary College in London.



Latest E-Books