Imagining New Aircraft Wings from Shark Skin

Dr. Amy Warneke Lang, an aerospace engineer and assistant professor at the University of Alabama, has teamed up with biologists to study shark skin, and how it helps certain sharks to swim quickly.

"Shark skin has dual roles for the shark," she explained. "It looks smooth, but it is actually made up of millions of tiny teeth, which you can feel if you rub the skin back; it bristles and feels like sandpaper. These work as a sort of coat of armor for the shark, and also as a million tiny vortex generators, stirring the water as it flows over the shark just enough to create the kind of turbulence very close to the surface that allows the shark to slip through the water easily, and, if it wants to, quicker."

The applications for such research, funded by a Lindbergh Foundation Grant

Dr. Amy Lang

in 2007-08, and more recently by a National Science Foundation Grant, are interesting for aviation. Lang imagines that technology developed from her research could be employed to increase the effectiveness of moving or flexing control surfaces on aircraft, perhaps preventing airflow from stalling or detaching from the control surfaces.

Maybe one day you'll be able to purchase a film or tape that you can apply to your aircraft that helps it to slip through the air more efficiently, with less drag. Tthen you can thank the Lindbergh Foundation and Dr. Lang for helping to make your flying a little less expensive and perhaps even a bit safer.

Contributing Editor Amy Laboda is a freelance writer and editor of Aviation for Women magazine. She's an ATP-rated pilot and instrument and multi-engine Flight Instructor with a passion for teaching and flying in light aircraft. Her steady rides these days are a 18-year old Kitfox IV and a fresh Van's RV-10.

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