Aircraft designers have borrowed many of the features that evolved during 150 million years of bird flight. This is known as bio-inspiration. An early example of bio-inspiration was the airfoil shape (see here). By 1920, aircraft also started to stow their landing gear to reduce drag just like birds. In 1980, upturned wing tips appeared as winglets on jet airplanes mimicking the wings of many birds (see here).
The Grey Heron (above) shows another feature that has been used in planes. The small cluster of feathers in the middle of the wing (see arrows below) is called the “alula”. It is attached to the bird’s thumb and is deployed at slow speeds to alter the flow of air over the wing and prevent a stall.
Some airplanes have slotted wings with a retractable “slat” on the leading edge that serves the same purpose (see below).
LEARN MORE ABOUT BIRDS AND AIRPLANES
KIDS QUESTION: In the museum exhibit, we asked: What is a big difference between the shape of a bird’s tail and the tail of an aircraft?
The answer is: The airplane tail has a vertical part which is not present in a bird’s tail.
In a typical aircraft, the vertical components are the vertical stabilizer and a rudder.