By Wendy Langhans
What is it about sport cars and speed? For years, automotive engineers have tried to pack the maximum amount of horsepower in the minimum amount of space. Now recent studies suggest a design enhancement that might provide a few more miles per hour - feathers.
Birds leave a wake of turbulence in the air, just like this Common Merganser leaves a wake of turbulence in the water.
Engineers at the University of Genoa, Italy, ran computer simulations on a cylinder coated with synthetic feather shafts - .5 mm thick, 4-6 cm long keratin bristles. They found that the drag force could be reduced by 15% .
That's because air flowing across a smooth cylinder creates an area of low pressure and vortices behind it (like the wake behind a boat). According to Conservation Magazine , "the spines weakened nearby air vortices, which would normally create drag, and boosted pressure behind the cylinder, pushing it forward." And according to my husband, the mechanical engineer, "when you reduce the drag force, you either increase the speed without increasing fuel consumption or maintain the speed and reduce fuel consumption."
Feathers on this sports car could improve the speed or increase the gas mileage. But I think it would be difficult to convince this driver.
There's a famous chase scene in Jurassic Park, where a jeep-load of people are trying to outrun a bloodthirsty T-Rex. Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) mutters to the driver, "Must go faster, must go faster." A few tense moments later, the jeep makes good it's escape. Perhaps if Tyrannosaurus rex had feathers  like it's cousin Dilong paradoxus, the outcome might have been different.
Must go faster.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Saturday, November 17, 8-10 AM. Bird walk in Towsley Canyon. All year round, the habitats of Towsley Canyon attract a wealth of bird-life. Beginners are welcome. Bring your binoculars. 2 hours, easy walk. For a map, go here .
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.