A question of technology: Why can bumblebees fly?

She is fluffy and chubby.

A question of technology: Why can bumblebees fly?

She is fluffy and chubby. Maybe that's why the myth persists that the bumblebee shouldn't actually be able to fly. Where exactly this erroneous assumption comes from is not proven beyond doubt. But it is true that bumblebees can fly very well thanks to sophisticated technology.

That the flight of the bumblebee defies the laws of aerodynamics is a modern myth that stubbornly persists. The reason given is that the bumblebee's wings are not large enough in relation to its body. There is also talk of the Hummel paradox. It is now clear, however, that the flight of the bumblebee corresponds to these laws of aerodynamics.

There are different versions of how the misleading claim that the bumblebee shouldn't fly came about. One goes back to students of the German physicist Ludwig Prandtl (1875-1953). Accordingly, the students told of a meeting between a well-known aerodynamicist and a biologist, during which the question of the bumblebee's ability to fly arose. The aerodynamicist calculated the weight and wing area of ​​the bumblebee and found that the lift was not sufficient to fly.

The other version of the origin of the myth: In his book "The Flight of Insects" in 1934, the French entomologist Antoine Magnan referred to calculations by the mathematician Andre Sainte-Laguë. Accordingly, an airplane cannot fly if its wings and fuselage have the same area and weight ratio to one another as the wings and body of a bumblebee. But obviously bumblebees can fly. just why?

On the one hand, it quickly becomes clear that the comparison between the bumblebee and the airplane is flawed: In contrast to the airplane, the bumblebee moves its wings in flight. And not, as Magnan might have assumed, from the top down. Rather, the bumblebee flaps its wings from back to front and back again. This creates a vortex at the edge of the wing, the so-called leading edge vortex. Charles Ellington was able to demonstrate this in a moth for the first time in 1996. The leading edge vortex also gives the bumblebee and other insects the necessary lift to be able to fly.

The whole thing is based on the "Bernoulli effect", which is named after the Swiss physicist Daniel Bernoulli. The leading edge vortex bends the airflow on the top of the wing, causing the air pressure there to decrease. Because the air pressure on the underside is now higher, the lift that enables flight is created. This is reinforced by the small hind wings of the bumblebee. The ability of the bumblebee to fly is therefore based on physical laws.

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