Bird wings act as a suspension system that rejects gusts

Jorn A. Cheney, Jonathan Stevenson, Nicholas E Durston, Jialei Song, James R. Usherwood, Richard J. Bomphrey*, Shane P Windsor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
168 Downloads (Pure)


Musculoskeletal systems cope with many environmental perturbations without neurological control. These passive preflex responses aid animals to move swiftly through complex terrain. Whether preflexes play a substantial role in animal flight is uncertain. We investigated how birds cope with gusty environments and found that their wings can act as a suspension system, reducing the effects of vertical gusts by elevating rapidly about the shoulder. This preflex mechanism rejected the gust impulse through inertial effects, diminishing the predicted impulse to the torso and head by 32% over the first 80 ms, before aerodynamic mechanisms took effect. For each wing, the centre of aerodynamic loading aligns with the centre of percussion, consistent with enhancing passive inertial gust rejection. The reduced motion of the torso in demanding conditions simplifies crucial tasks, such as landing, prey capture and visual tracking. Implementing a similar preflex mechanism in future small-scale aircraft will help to mitigate the effects of gusts and turbulence without added computational burden.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20201748
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1937
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2020


  • Bird flight
  • wing
  • suspension
  • turbulence
  • gust rejection


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