The many modern fruits of bionics includes flight (Allen 2010; Piotrowski 1987). This science is not new: As far back as Noach people built water dams after watching beavers. German scientists modeled their first jet plane after the shark’s efficient body design that allows it to rapidly travel through the water. Early jet planes were even painted to look like sharks. Siepen put it well, “man still has much to learn from birds about flying. Men shape their planes like birds and soar in imitation of them, but tailspins and other calamities unknown to birds are inseparable from man’s adventures in an element not his own, be he ever so skillful” (Siepen 1929, p. 767). Ever hear of a bird crashing to the earth due to wind shear or ice? Even though we have copied birds, we have a long way to go before our copy is perfected to a level equal to the abilities of birds and other flying creatures.
Many creatures are designed to run, fly, glide. These are all engineering marvels that humans have now effectively copied. Airplanes require ingenious feats of engineering, but, compared to birds, they are poorly maneuverable. The initial idea of flying came from birds, however many flying improvements were inspired by other flying creatures as well.
Dragonflies can carry as much as fifteen times their own weight as they travel through the air, yet most high performance aircraft cannot lift much more than their own weight. Intrigued, scientists studied dragonfly wings and found that they function by generating lift as a result of producing an airflow “whirlwind.” Efforts are now being made to apply this principle to aircraft by designing wings that produce greater lift by “whirling the air” (Allen 2010, p. 116–117; Yulsman 1984, p. 87).
Owls use special curved feathers on the front row of their wings that change the direction of the air as it flows past, allowing them to fly at slower speeds than most other birds. Slower flight is also quieter—obviously of great value in hunting prey at night. Owls can sneak up on small game, such as rabbits and mice, with nary a whisper and frisk away what will shortly become a meal. For this reason, the study of owl flight has had a major influence on airplane and helicopter design, enabling them to not only fly faster in normal air travel, but also to fly at much slower speeds. The advantages are enormous: a few of the more obvious ones include less noise, shorter runways, and less costly airports.
We are very impressed with our modern, efficient jet engines, but octopi have effectively used jet-like propulsion millennia before us. Their system expands a muscular “sack” in their streamlined body to suck water in, then vigorously contract it to force a water jet spray out of a small, well-designed opening. This spray has enough force to propel them forward.