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Flight of the bumble bee


Aeronautical theory espoused until relatively recent times conclude that bumble bees shouldn't be able to fly. On the other hand, we've probably seen aircraft that look more like a whale than what our conception of an aircraft should look like and wonder "how does that thing get up in the air?" If you've heard the orchestral interlude Flight of the Bumble Bee, written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, composed in 1899-1900, and closed your eyes, you probably easily imagined the sound to be that of a bumble bee. The opera was written before the Wright Brothers first flight in 1904, and the music has little or nothing to do with the theory of flight.

Aviation -

Aeronautical theory espoused until relatively recent times conclude that bumble bees shouldn't be able to fly.

On the other hand, we've probably seen aircraft that look more like a whale than what our conception of an aircraft should look like and wonder "how does that thing get up in the air?"

If you've heard the orchestral interlude Flight of the Bumble Bee, written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, composed in 1899-1900, and closed your eyes, you probably easily imagined the sound to be that of a bumble bee. The opera was written before the Wright Brothers first flight in 1904, and the music has little or nothing to do with the theory of flight.

Some insects have beautiful wings that enable them to glide, while a bee glides like a brick. If the bee stops its rapid wing beat, it immediately tumbles to earth.

Bees cannot fly by flapping their wings like a gull or a hawk. Their wings are so small that if they left the hive in an attempted glide, their honey mission would be suddenly aborted. The wings are so small and their anatomy so improbably built for flight that it's nothing less than amazing that the bee can do anything but a wobbly walk.

It's little wonder that some men built machines with wildly gyrating wings in an attempt to get into the air. They must have figured that if a bee can do it, anything can. Bees gain lift quite efficiently by vibrating their wings up and down about 200 times a second. Incidently, that vibration is accomplished by their thorax muscles, and that's what make the buzz.

The scientists have finally figured it out. The whiz kids at Oxford University have come to the conclusion that brute force rather than aerodynamic efficiency is the key to bumblebee flight. The researchers used smoke, a wind tunnel and high-speed cameras to observe the insects.

"Our observations show that, instead of the aerodynamic finesse found in most other insects, bumblebees have adopted a brute force approach powered by a huge thorax and fueled by energy-rich nectar," said Dr. Richard Bomphrey of the department of zoology. The old myth that "bumblebees shouldn't be able to fly," adds Science Daily was caused by calculations using aerodynamic theory of 1918-19 just 15 years after the Wright brothers made the first powered flight.

Now that we know how they manage to fly, it would be fascinating to figure out the secret to their navigation skills. They find a source of pollen, return to the hive, "tell" the other bees where it is and they buzz with uncanny accuracy to the designated spot. Let's face it they had their equivalent to GPS (Global Positioning System) long before the United States Department of Defense decided to let us all in on it.

The mysteries of nature are unfathomable.

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