Future Airplanes Could Have Fish-Like Scales. Here’s Why

plane with scales
Digital Trends Graphic

If the average person was asked to think of ways that future airplanes could be improved, “making them more fish-like” probably isn’t going to be among the top suggestions. But if researchers from City, University of London are correct, this could be one of the best decisions aircraft manufacturers could make.

In a new study, involving researchers from City and Germany’s University of Stuttgart, investigators set out to explore how fish-inspired scales could be used to improve the aerodynamics of aircraft by reducing drag. This, in turn, would mean faster aircraft speeds and less fuel consumption.

“We investigated how the surface of fish, with patterns of overlapping scales, [are used as] a means of reducing the drag of the fish body,” Professor Christoph Bruecker, City’s Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Nature-Inspired Sensing and Flow Control for Sustainable Transport, told Digital Trends. “The scales seemingly reduce

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Aerodynamicists reveal link between fish scales and aircraft drag — ScienceDaily

The team’s findings have been published in Nature: Scientific Reports: “Transition delay using biomimetic fish scale arrays,” and in the Journal of Experimental Biology: “Streak formation in flow over biomimetic fish scale arrays.”

Reducing drag means faster aircraft speeds and less fuel consumption — an important area of study for aerodynamicists such as Professor Bruecker, City’s Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Nature-Inspired Sensing and Flow Control for Sustainable Transport, and City’s Sir Richard Oliver BAE Systems Chair for Aeronautical Engineering.

Through their biomimetic study, Professor Bruecker’s team has discovered that the fish-scale array produces a zig-zag motion of fluid in overlapping regions of the surface of the fish, which in turn causes periodic velocity modulation and a streaky flow that can eliminate Tollmien-Schlichting wave induced transition to reduce skin friction drag by more than 25 percent.

An examination of oil flow visualisation using computational fluid dynamics

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