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As there are active and passive surfaces in the flying animal, so there are, or should be, active and passive surfaces in the flying machine. Art should follow nature in this matter. The active surfaces in flying creatures are always greatly in excess of the passive ones, from the fact that the former virtually increase in proportion to the spaces through which they are made to travel. Nature not only distinguishes between active and passive surfaces in flying animals, but she strikes a just balance between them, and utilizes both.

She regulates the surfaces to the strength and weight of the flying creature and the air currents to which the surfaces are to be exposed and upon which they are to operate. In her calculations she never forgets that her flying subjects are to control and not to be controlled by the air. As a rule she reduces the passive surfaces of the body to a minimum; she likewise reduces as far as possible the actively moving or flying surfaces. While, however, diminishing the surfaces of the flying animal as a whole, she increases as occasion demands the active or wing surfaces by wing movements, and the passive or dead surfaces by the forward motion of the body in progressive flight.

She knows that if the wings are driven with sufficient rapidity they practically convert the spaces through which they move into solid bases of support; she also knows that the body in rapid flight derives support from all the air over which it passes. The manner in which the wing surfaces are increased by the wing movements will be readily understood from the accompanying illustrations of the blow-fly with its wings at rest and in motion figs. In fig. The wing would have much less purchase on fig.

But they are not dead surfaces: they represent the spaces occupied by the rapidly vibrating wings, which are actively moving flying organs. As, moreover, the wings travel at a much higher speed than any wind that blows, they are superior to and control the wind; they enable the insect to dart through the wind in whatever direction it pleases.

The reader has only to imagine figs. It is found to be so practically, as will be shown by and by. It is true that in beetles and certain other insects there are the elytra or wing cases—thin, light, horny structures inclined slightly upwards—which in the act of flight are spread out and act as sustainers or gliders. The elytra, however, are comparatively long narrow structures which occupy a position in front of the wings, of which they may be regarded as forming the anterior parts.

The elytra are to the delicate wings of some insects what the thick anterior margins are to stronger wings. The elytra, moreover, are not wholly passive structures. They can be moved, and the angles made by their under surfaces with the horizon adjusted. Finally, they are not essential to flight, as flight in the great majority of instances is performed without them. The elytra serve as protectors to the wings when the wings are folded upon the back of the insect, and as they are extended on either side of the body more or less horizontally when the insect is flying they contribute to flight indirectly, in virtue of their being carried forward by the body in motion.

Natural Flight. It is necessary, therefore, at this stage to direct the attention of the reader somewhat fully to the subject of flight, as witnessed in the insect, bird and bat, a knowledge of natural flight preceding, and being in some sense indispensable to, a knowledge of artificial flight. The bodies of flying creatures are, as a rule, very strong, comparatively light and of an elongated form,—the bodies of birds being specially adapted for cleaving the air. Flying creatures, however, are less remarkable for their strength, shape and comparative levity than for the size and extraordinarily rapid and complicated movements of their wings.

Bell Pettigrew first satisfactorily analysed those movements, and reproduced them by the aid of artificial wings. This physiologist in 3 showed that all natural wings, whether of the insect, bird or bat, are screws structurally, and that they act as screws when they are made to vibrate, from the fact that they twist in opposite directions during the down and up strokes. He also explained that all wings act upon a common principle, and that they present oblique, kite-like surfaces to the air, through which they pass much in the same way that an oar passes through water in sculling.

He further pointed out that the wings of flying creatures contrary to received opinions, and as has been already indicated strike downwards and forwards during the down strokes, and upwards and forwards during the up strokes. Lastly he demonstrated that the wings of flying creatures, when the bodies of said creatures are fixed, describe figure-of-8 tracks in space—the figure-of-8 tracks, when the bodies are released and advancing as in rapid flight, being opened out and converted into waved tracks.

It may be well to explain here that a claim has been set up by his admirers for the celebrated artist, architect and engineer, Leonardo da Vinci, to be regarded as the discoverer of the principles and practice of flight see Theodore Andrea Cook, Spirals in Nature and Art , In addition he makes occasional references to flight in his other manuscripts, which are also illustrated. It is claimed that Leonardo knew the direction of the stroke of the wing, as revealed by recent researches and proved by modern instantaneous photography. As a matter of fact, Leonardo gives a wholly inaccurate account of the direction of the stroke of the wing.

He states that the wing during the down stroke strikes downwards and backwards , whereas in reality it strikes downwards and forwards. They are also conical on section from within outwards and from before backwards, this shape converting the pinions into delicately graduated instruments balanced with the utmost nicety to satisfy the requirements of the muscular system on the one hand and the resistance and resiliency of the air on the other.

While all wings are graduated as explained, innumerable varieties occur as to their general contour, some being falcated or scythe-like, others oblong, others rounded or circular, some lanceolate and some linear. The wings of insects may consist either of one or two pairs—the anterior or upper pair, when two are present, being in some instances greatly modified and presenting a corneous condition.

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They are then known as elytra, from the Gr. Both pairs are composed of a duplicature of the integument, or investing membrane, and are strengthened in various directions by a system of hollow, horny tubes, known to entomologists as the neurae or nervures. These nervures taper towards the extremity of the wing, and are strongest towards its root and anterior margin, where they supply the place of the arm in birds and bats.

The neurae are arranged at the axis of the wing after the manner of a fan or spiral stair—the anterior one occupying a higher position than that farther back, and so of the others. As this arrangement extends also to the margins, the wings are more or less twisted upon themselves and present a certain degree of convexity on their superior or upper surface, and a corresponding concavity on their inferior or under surface,—their free edges supplying those fine curves which act with such efficacy upon the air in obtaining the maximum of resistance and the minimum of displacement.

An insect with wings thus hinged may, as far as steadiness of body is concerned, be not inaptly compared to a compass set upon gimbals, where the universality of motion in one direction ensures comparative fixedness in another. The effective stroke in insects, and this holds true also of birds, is therefore delivered downwards and forwards , and not, as the majority of writers believe, vertically, or even slightly backwards The wing in the insect is more flattened than in the bird; and advantage is taken on some occasions of this circumstance, particularly in heavy-bodied, small-winged, quick-flying insects, to reverse the pinion more or less completely during the down and up strokes.


The posterior margin of the wing is made to rotate, during the down stroke, in a direction from above downwards and from behind forwards—the anterior margin travelling in an opposite direction and reciprocating. The wing may thus be said to attack the air by a screwing movement from above. During the up or return stroke, on the other hand, the posterior margin rotates in a direction from below upwards and from before backwards, so that by a similar but reverse screwing motion the pinion attacks the air from beneath.

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In these instances the backward and forward strokes are made to counterbalance each other. Although the figure-of-8 represents with considerable fidelity the twisting of the wing upon its axis during extension and flexion, when the insect is playing its wings before an object, or still better when it is artificially fixed, it is otherwise when the down stroke is added and the insect is fairly on the wing and progressing rapidly.


In this case the wing, in virtue of its being carried forward by the body in motion, describes an undulating or spiral course, as shown in fig. This is necessary in order that the down and up strokes may glide into each other in such a manner as to prevent jerking and unnecessary retardation. This twisting is in a great measure owing to the manner in which the bones of the wing are twisted upon themselves, and the spiral nature of their articular surfaces—the long axes of the joints always intersecting each other at right angles, and the bones of the elbow and wrist making a quarter of a turn or so during extension and the same amount during flexion.

As a result of this disposition of the articular surfaces, the wing may be shot out or extended, and retracted or flexed in nearly the same plane, the bones composing the wing rotating on their axes during either movement fig.


The secondary action, or the revolving of the component bones on their own axes, is of the greatest importance in the movements of the wing, as it communicates to the hand and forearm, and consequently to the primary and secondary feathers which they bear, the precise angles necessary for flight. It in fact ensures that the wing, and the curtain or fringe of the wing which the primary and secondary feathers form, shall be screwed into and down upon the wind in extension, and unscrewed or withdrawn from the wind during flexion.

Thus the general outline of the wing corresponds closely with the outline of the propeller figs. It is, as a rule, deeply concave on its under or ventral surface, and in this respect resembles the wing of the heavy-bodied birds.


The figure-of-8 and kite-like action of the wing referred to lead us to explain how it happens that the wing, which in many instances is a comparatively small and delicate organ, can yet attack the air with such vigour as to extract from it the recoil necessary to elevate and propel the flying creature. As will be seen from these figures, the wing during its vibration sweeps through a comparatively very large space.

This space, as already explained, is practically a solid basis of support for the wing and for the flying animal. The wing attacks the air in such a manner as virtually to have no slip—this for two reasons.

The wing reverses instantly and acts as a kite during nearly the entire down and up strokes. The angles, moreover, made by the wing with the horizon during the down and up strokes are at no two intervals the same, but and this is a remarkable circumstance they are always adapted to the speed at which the wing is travelling for the time being. The increase and decrease in the angles made by the wing as it hastens to and fro are due partly to the resistance offered by the air, and partly to the mechanism and mode of application of the wing to the air.

The wing, during its vibrations, rotates upon two separate centres, the tip rotating round the root of the wing as an axis short axis of wing , the posterior margin rotating around the anterior margin long axis of wing. The compound rotation goes on throughout the entire down and up strokes, and is intimately associated with the power which the wing enjoys of alternately seizing and evading the air. The compound rotation of the wing is greatly facilitated by the wing being elastic and flexible.

It is this which causes the wing to twist and untwist diagonally on its long axis when it is made to vibrate.