Environment

  • Issue 117 / May - June 2017



    Slender But Strong Dragonflies

    Ted Keene

    Many scientists have been conducting studies examining the natural world for clues that will hopefully improve human flight engineering. One of the studies they launched explored the miraculous design of dragonflies. Dragonflies are insects of the Odonata order. They’re distinctive from other insects of the same order because of their multifarious eyes, amazingly designed twin pairs of strong, transparent wings, and aerodynamically elongated bodies. The dragonfly’s independently flapping wings and body enable it to make unlimited maneuvers while flying, allowing it to capture prey by appearing stationary. The dragonfly conceals its quick aerial movements by generating a visual illusion – at least, according to scientist Akiko Mizu­tani, of the Centre for Visual Science at the Australian National University, and scientist, Dr Javaan Chahl, of the Defense Science and Technology Organization (www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Feb06).


    The dragonfly’s four wings allow it to deploy significant amounts of airflow through these wings, generating the lift necessary to keep itself balanced while striking its prey. This combination of airflow and the complex maneuvers the dragonfly can make have astonished researchers. A dragonfly can make complicated maneuvers even while approaching its prey at a speed of 60 km/h. It can also suspend itself in the air.

    According to Akiko Mizutani’s observations, “while chasing its prey, dragonflies shadow their enemies in complex maneuvers that military fighter pilots can only dream of.”2. This statement highlights the fact that dragonflies are one of the most agile and maneuverable insects in the world. Dragonflies were, in fact, designed to be very talented predators that intelligently utilize their agility and speed. 

    A dragonfly’s wings enable its speed and agility. All four wings are transparent, very strong, and flexible, and they have wingspans of up to 16 cm (about 6 inches). The front and rear pairs, however, have been designed with different shapes. According to research carried out at Cornell University by Z. Jane Wang, professor of theoretical and applied mechanics, a dragonfly uses drag to support its weight. A lot of research done on airplanes has focused on minimizing drag, which decreases in-flight efficiency. Since the slender, elegant dragonfly uses a lot of aerodynamic drag to carry its weight, the insect holds the potential for deep insight into a complex detail of flight.    

    Dr Chahl said, "If we could have an aircraft… which could do some of the things that a dragonfly can do, then we would have something that nobody has, or is predicted to have, for some time” (www.abc.net.au/news/stories).

    The US military has recognized the amazing implications this could have for developing technologies — from the ability of fighter aircraft to approach the enemy undetected, just like a dragonfly, to greater maneuverability, to enhanced helicopter logistics. The scientists who believe the insect’s flight control could have applications in new planes and helicopters must realize that replicating the complex design of a dragonfly for flight controls demands a highly intelligent designer and producer. It’s not a coincidence that the very first helicopter, designed by Westland Aircraft Company, was named Dragonfly. The helicopter was a rough and very simplified imitation of a dragonfly.


     


     


    These observations don’t just help our technological know-how – they help us to appreciate the incredible design that exists in nature. Looking at the dragonfly, it becomes obvious how complex nature’s systems are.  



    The tiny body of a fly has a relationship and connection with most of the elements and causes in the universe; in fact, it is a summary or index of them. If it is not attributed to the Eternal, Powerful One, those elements and physical causes should be present and operate in it of their own accord. It is even required that they should be present and work in each of the cells of its eyes, which are tiny samples of its body. For if the causes or agents responsible for something’s existence are of a physical nature, they should be present in the immediate vicinity of, rather, inside their result. Therefore, attributing a fly to “natural” causes and elements requires that those causes and elements should be present and work in each of its cells. (Said Nursi, The Gleams, 23rd Gleam)

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