Physics: Why can bumblebees fly?

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Physics: Why can bumblebees fly?: physics

According to the rule of aerodynamics, they are not likely to be able to because they are too thick and dumpy in relation to their small wings. But still, the bumblebee does not bother, it simply flies from flower to flower and gets the sweet nectar from the flowers. - Is that really a miracle? Can she actually outsmart physics and do what is impossible?

A biologist meets an aerodynamicist

The myth of the poor chubby bumblebee, which is not supposed to fly at all, but does not care about it and still does it, goes back to the French mathematician André Sainte-Laguë, who was an associate of the famous French entomologist Antoine Magnan. In the book "The Flight of the Insects" in 1934 he wrote that bumblebees could not actually fly, because their pair of wings would only have a flying surface of 0.7 square centimeters. Thus, the bumblebee would not be able to generate enough lift to lift its weight of 1.2 grams into the air.
At first, the story was passed as a joke among the students and university staff. Also the world-wide press reported pleased about the miracle, which the Hummel daily commits, and provided thus amusing amusement among the population. Eventually, however, the joke became more. Biologists and physicists reckoned, brooded, and talked at conferences about the Hummel paradox, but no one really came up with an answer.

A question can not be answered

After the discovery of André Sainte-Laguë, the researchers worldwide began to get to the bottom of the phenomenon. At first, you thought the problem would be solved quickly, but that was a mistake. While many universities were still studying the Hummel around 1940, the small, yellowish-black insect drove the lecturers to despair in turn. It simply did not want to find a solution to the question of how the bumblebee now manages to fly. As a result, the number of those investigating the Hummel paradox has been decreasing from year to year. Macabre, but in other areas, humanity has made rapid progress. The jet propulsion system was invented and developed, the sound barrier was breached, first space probes were launched and at the end of the sixties even the first humans were transported to the moon.
Somehow, man was able to understand the laws of physics, calculate them correctly, and take advantage of them. But still, the bumblebee remained a profound mystery to which no one could find an answer. And that should stay that way for more than two decades.

The bumblebee error that became a myth

In 1989 John McMasters, an ambitious hobby insect researcher and also an engineer at Boeing, published an article exploring the bumblebee paradox. What nobody has seriously considered: bumblebees are much smaller than aircraft. Even if you have to move in the same air as airplanes and consequently have to interact with the same density and viscosity, they have a completely different flow field due to their magnitude according to the Reynolds number, which leads to other inertial to ductile forces.


First theories were already developed in the 1930s by physicists and biologists, but rejected for some inexplicable reasons. Particularly important are vortices that are generated around the wings, as they provide crucial for additional buoyancy. Furthermore, another aspect was considered only insufficient, which also contributes to the solution of the problem: The wings of bumblebees are extremely mobile, which is why they rotate strongly. Due to physical laws, this leads to a virtual enlargement of the wings. Because of this flexibility, the little bumblebee instead of the actual 0.7 square inches of proud 0.95 square centimeters are available. A masterpiece of nature that has to be copied by the engineers of this world.
In 1996, thanks to state-of-the-art camera and wind tunnel technology, Professor Charles Ellington of the University of Cambridge was able to demonstrate experimentally the amazing properties of bumblebees: the existence of the vertebrae could be visualized and thus proved. The bumblebee by no means defies the laws of physics, but is extremely adept at taking advantage of them.

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