Dynamics and control of formation flight


Birds fly in structured flocks delivering energetic and navigational benefits. In this project the student will use a suite of novel techniques to assess the performance and behaviour of individual birds within a flock. Measurements will be made during free flight and in a wind tunnel. The data will be used to create a model describing the control laws that govern position in the flock. The model will then be tested by applying aerodynamic and mechanical perturbation of the flock members. Finally, the relevance of the work to the control and endurance of novel unmanned air systems will be evaluated.


2014 Portugal SJ, Hubel TY, Fritz J, Heese S, Trobe D, Voelkl B, Hailes S, Wilson AM ,Usherwood JR. Upwash exploitation and downwash avoidance by flap phasing in ibis formation flight. Nature505: 399-402


2011 Usherwood JR, Stavrou M, Lowe JC, Roskilly K, Wilson AM. Flying in a flock comes at a cost in pigeons. Nature.  474 494-497


2005 Usherwood JR, Hedrick TL, McGowan CP Biewener AA. Dynamic pressure maps for wings and tails of pigeons in slow, flapping flight, and their energetic implications. J. Exp. Biol. 208: 355-369.

Biological Areas:



Animal disease, health and welfare