How Far Can an Albatross Fly?
An Albatross can fly around the world without landing, glide hundreds of miles at a time without flapping its wings (which span up to 12 feet), and travel at speeds of over 50 Mph. Unsurprisingly the Albatross is an inspiration for those interested in aeronautics and aviation due to its mastering of “dynamic soaring” (a flying technique used to gain energy by repeatedly crossing the boundary between air masses of significantly different velocity) which allows it to fly with little or no effort.
“If you could travel millions of miles fueled by clean, self-renewing, zero-emissions energy, you’d be an albatross.” – National Geographic
Wings of the Albatross: A National Geographic documentary from their YouTube channel.
FACT: The albatross spends most of its life gliding through the skies, typically only landing to mate, breed, and give birth.
FACT: In theory the albatross can almost fly around the entire earth without flapping. It only needs to flap when taking off from the ground or in special instances. It gets about 80 – 90% of all the energy needed for flight from the wind itself.
How Far Can an Albatross Fly Without Stopping?
We don’t know exactly how far an Albatross can fly without stopping, the answer might be forever (they even sleep in the air).
According to National Geographic, “a parent albatross may fly more than 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) to deliver one meal to its chick” and, “A 50-year-old albatross has flown, at least, 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers).” A bird tracked to study distances was difficult to measure, but one banded bird was recorded traveling 6000 km in twelve days.
There is no evidence that 10,000 miles is a limit.
Dynamic Soaring: How the Wandering Albatross Can Fly for Free.
FACT: An Albatross can fly around the world without landing, glide hundreds of miles at a time without flapping its wings (which span up to 12 feet), and travel at speeds of over 50 Mph.
How Can an Albatross Fly So Far?
The Albatross isn’t the world’s best flier but it is perhaps the world’s best glider, and a master of a technique called “dynamic soaring.”
The albatross uses “dynamic soaring” a technique where it gains altitude by angling its wings while flying into the wind. When they angle down, they can reach speeds over 50 miles per hour effortlessly after traveling up to 50 feet high. It can cover about 20 miles distance “for free” by dropping about 1 mile in altitude.
This same technique is used by other birds and Air Force pilots, and it exploits the different layers of wind blowing above any surface. As one excellent article from IEEE.org which discusses the discovery of the mechanics of dynamic soaring puts it:
“Students of the albatross’s flight understood early on that the bottom-most layer of wind blowing above any surface, including that of water, will incur friction and thus slow down. This layer itself then becomes an obstacle that slows the layer just above it (though not by much), in a process that continues upward. The result is a 10-meter to a 20-meter-high region known as a boundary layer or shear wind field, through which the wind speed increases smoothly and dramatically the higher you go in the field. Dynamic soaring maneuvers extract energy from that field, enabling the albatross to fly in any direction, even against the wind, with hardly any effort.”
Dynamic Soaring: USAF. The Turkey Vulture also utilizes dynamic soaring. Dynamic flying is accomplished by new aviation software and hardware which is utilized by the Air Force and by commercial airliners such as the 787. The same techniques can be employed by another type of aviation including drones (UAVs).
Other Reasons an Albatross is an Excellent Flier
Aside from dynamic soaring, the other reasons the albatross can fly/glide so far and effortlessly have to do with its wingspan, acute senses, and aerodynamic biology.
- The albatross can sense small changes in air pressure and wind direction and respond accordingly, adjusting it’s flying to exploit even the tiniest changes. This is what allows it to utilize dynamics soaring so effortlessly, it can tell when the air mass changes by detecting slight pressure changes and wind directions. In this way, it effortlessly exploits the wind layers.
- Just like an aircraft, an albatross has a special tendon in each shoulder that allows its wings to lock in place which aids in gliding.
TIP: An albatross can stop and walk on land, but they don’t do this much, most of their prey is in the water (cephalopods, fish, crustaceans, and offal) and taking-off is the most exhaustive part of their (sometimes daily) routine”.