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Can Bumblebees Fly?
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Bumblebee, you are cleared for takeoff!


Obviously bumblebees can and do fly. Calculations based on fixed-wing studies or simplified linear oscillating airfoil wings fail to show how enough lift can be generated to get the huge mass of a bumblebee, compared to its wing size, off the ground. That’s not surprising because the bumblebees’ wings are not fixed, but moving. They are also not simple airfoils like an airplane wing and they don’t move in a simple way. A number of studies have been conducted to try to understand this bee’s unique method of flying.

Learning how bumblebees fly requires taking into consideration the roughness and flexibility of their wings. Bumblebees actually have 4 wings with a larger pair in front and a smaller pair in the back fastened to the front wings by a series of tiny hooks. As the wings move, they bend and create air flow separation and an effect called dynamic stall which results in a large air vortex above the wing. These vortices provide greater lift with minimal energy.

Don’t think that the flight of the bumblebee doesn’t take much energy. The bumblebee’s wings beat 130 or more times per second. The flight muscles which power the wings are large for the bee’s size, taking up almost the entire volume of the thorax, the mid-section of the bee. In fact, the buzzing you hear is not the beat of the wings, but the pulsing vibration of the powerful flight muscles. Scientists have found that bumblebees still buzz when their wings are removed.

In cooler temperatures the bumblebee has to warm up before flying. It cannot fly unless its wing muscle temperature is at least 86 degrees F (30 degrees C). When the surrounding temperature is cooler, the bumblebee shivers to raise its wing muscle temperature before it can take off. Depending on air temperature and the bee’s temperature (such as from sitting in the sunshine) it may take from a few seconds up to 15 minutes to raise the temperature enough for takeoff. In the meantime the bee is sort of sitting on the runway waiting for clearance.

Bumblebee flight is being studied using lasers and special cameras. Much remains to be done to understand it, but the maneuverability and efficiency of bumblebee flight tells us that we need to understand it better in order to improve our own methods of flying.

To suggest that such a system could come about by mere chance, strains credibility to the limit. The enormous complexity of the motion, the design of the wings, and the support system that moves the wings all speak of highly planned and designed structures. There is a Supreme Intelligence whose wisdom of design is seen in even the smallest of creatures.

“bumblebee,” “dynamic stall,” “airfoil,” Wikipedia




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