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G I TAYLOR LECTURE - The Silent Flight of the Owl

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Beverley Larner.

When hunting many, but not all, species of owl manage to fly almost silently in the audible frequency range of both themselves and their prey. A complete understanding of how this is done has yet to be found, but it is believed that three rather unusual features of the owl wing and feathers play a significant role. These features include a leading-edge comb of barbs, a porous and flexible trailing edge brush, and a particularly unusual microstructure in the feathers which leads to a velvet-like wing suction surface. Although the first feature is found on other raptors, the second two are quite unique to owls which hunt in acoustic stealth. In this talk I will describe a range of theoretical and experimental research which has been conducted to attempt to understand these mechanisms. It is well-known in other contexts, including aircraft landing noise and wind turbines, that a turbulent boundary layer passing over a wing trailing edge is a potentially potent source of noise, and so a particular focus of our work has been to investigate the ways in which the owl’s adaptations may have weakened this noise mechanism. An owl-inspired trailing-edge noise control device will be described.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Philosophical Society series.

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