The giant-winged, wandering albatrosses that live on the Kerguelen Islands, a speck in the southern Indian Ocean, are built for distance. Their flights can range for thousands of miles as the birds glide low on winds over the open ocean for weeks at a time.
Such long flights require energy efficiency. Aerospace engineers and researchers in Germany and France are gaining a better understanding of how these birds soar with seemingly little effort. Insights from their research could help optimize flightpaths and control surfaces of gliders and unmanned air vehicles, craft novel uses of ever-smaller global positioning systems and point the way to a more precise understanding of flight habits and patterns.