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Re: Bumblebees are the best bees Was: Re: Orcas are homosexual!

On Fri, 26 Feb 1999 renfro@tntech.edu wrote:

> On Thu, 25 Feb 1999, Britton Kerin wrote:
> > It has the interesting property of having wings which entymologists say
> > should no way allow them to fly.  The bumble bee's stubborn persistence
> > in doing so was last I checked as item of interest to NASA, the
> > airforce, and others who have a stake in such matters. 
> Minor point, but the first bit there is an urban legend (but wait, there's
> a real Debian tie-in at the bottom of the message!). IIRC, though I can't
> find the original source, an entomologist and an aerodynamicist were at a
> party (Germany? 1920's, maybe?). 

In my enthusiasm for these bugs I havn't run into this.  But since the
empirical evidence definately points to bumblebees being flyers, I have
never doubted there must be *some* sensible way to predict the
possibility.  Still, even casual observation clearly shows bumblebees
weight/wing area ration to be truly extraordinary, and it may be for this
reason as well as because of the urban legend that they attract attention.

> The entomologist asked the aerodynamicist about how bees fly.  After some
> quick-and-dirty cocktail napkin calculations using very rough
> approximations of bee mass and wing area, plus some unrealistic
> assumptions (bumblebee wings are not rigid during flight, for example, so
> they can't be analyzed like regular airplane wings), the aerodynamicist
> said that his calculations indicated that the bumblebee was too heavy for
> its wing size. 
> The entomologist latched onto this finding like a starving squirrel to the
> last nut on earth, so to speak.  He declared that Nature could do things
> that human science found impossible.  And this legend has propagated

Well, this is certainly true in general at any rate.  Nature doesn't
cheat, in just plays by the rules it sets for us and wins on many fronts.  
Flapping flight is particularly tricky, as it requires all kinds of funky
composites or hairy mechanical control, and it's difficult to keep the
loading on the power plant steady.  It's been done lately though, even on
relatively small scales using conventional engines.  I am not in general a
nature power type person, but where small scale fluid mechanics are
concerned, I don't think anybody is yet equipt to take things for granted.  
Until the supercomputer era it would certainly have been impossible to say
with any confidence exactly what went on in the immediate vicinity of an
insect's wings.

> throughout the years, even though more detailed studies have verified both
> the aerodynamicist's results (if you lacquer a dead bee's wings into a
> rigid position and throw it, it won't glide. Contrast this to
> similarly-tested birds, which will), and the externally verifiable fact
> that bumblebees do, in fact, fly, and that they need to beat their wings
> really fast in order to do so.

Empirical evidence is the best evidence, and they certainly arn't going to
fly by beating their wings slower :)  But neither is this a complete
explanation of what goes on.

> Ok, so I've ranted enough on this bit -- time to get back on topic.
> One or several bumblebees would make a decent mascot, not because their
> flight defies science, but because the inner details of their flight
> process gives them abilities beyond that of many flying creatures.

This is essentially what I was trying to say.  Unless of course these
bulbous bugs actually have a tiny fusion cell stashed somewhere which they
use to overdrive their wings.

> Debian tie-in: you wouldn't think you could get 400+ volunteers to produce
> a distribution that will "fly", but due to some unique internal processes,
> we (hell, *you*, I'm actually just a user/advocate) defy the conventional
> wisdom and make it happen. 

I'm not much of a contributor either to be honest (though I have stuff in
progress), but I guess that's the symbolism I was thinking of. Ten years
ago, commercial software vendors wouldn't have given us the chance of
a wingless fruit fly. Not to get what Dian Fossey (ok mayby I am a little
nature power in some ways) would call schmaltzy, but I like to think of
the FSF as our small stubby stubborn wings.

> --
> Mike Renfro  / Instructor, Basic Engineering Program
> 931 372-3601 / renfro@tntech.edu


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