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The flight of the albatross

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3 Author(s)
Johannes Traugott ; Trimble Navigation, of Sunnyvale, Calif ; Anna Nesterova ; Gottfried Sachs

THE MALE ALBATROSS IS FINALLY BACK FROM his foraging, and now there is no time to lose. His mate has been patiently sitting on their nest awaiting his return, without food, for nearly a month, and we have to get to her before she flies off to forage for herself. · Our colleague, biologist Anna Nesterova, crawls slowly toward the bird. All of a sudden, she lunges: With her left hand she expertly grabs the 10-kilogram albatross by the beak, and with her right arm she hugs its body and lifts it off the nest and its precious cargo, a single egg. Together we then fix a GPS logger onto the feathers of the bird's back with adhesive tape and glue. · Soon after we release her, the mother albatross takes two or three steps into the furious wind, opens her 3-meter-wide wings, and takes flight. Four weeks from now, she'll return to this island in the southern Indian Ocean bearing a data log of where and how she flew-data that at last will put to the test our theories of how she stays aloft so long, almost never touching down, barely even flapping her long, elegant wings. If we could get our aerial robots to emulate that feat, they might someday orbit Earth for months, surfers of the winds of the uttermost sky.

Published in:

IEEE Spectrum  (Volume:50 ,  Issue: 7 )