Because everything needs a study, scientists compared the evolution of airplanes to living things. They found the two follow a similar pattern. Granted, technology advancements have pushed airplane evolution a bit faster than the laws of nature.

“The evolution of Earth’s species occurred on a timescale far too large for humans to witness,” said Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke University and lead author of the study, in a news release. “But the evolution of our use of technology and airplanes to transport people and goods has taken place in little more than a single lifetime, making it visible to those who look. Evolution is a universal phenomenon encompassing technology, river basins and animal design alike, and it is rooted in physics as the constructal law.”

What is constructal law? Bejan developed it about 20 years ago and it states that for any system to survive it must evolve to increase its access to flow. Take the human vascular system for example. It evolved to provide better blood access through major arteries and down to capillaries.

Bejan says other systems evolved using the same patterns including rivers, tree branches and even the highways you drive today.

Bejan and his team poured over thousands of statistics on aircraft and patterns began to form. One chart shows how the relationship of body mass to airplane speeds is almost identical to the mass and speed statistics in a variety of animals.


Any advancements in airplanes that didn’t fit the pattern ultimately failed. Bejan points to the Concorde as an example.

“The Concorde was too far off from the ratios that evolution has produced in passenger jets,” explained Bejan. “It would have had to adhere to the constructal design rules to succeed.”

According to Bejan, the Concorde ultimately failed because of its limited passenger capacity, poor fuel economy, low mass-to-velocity ratio, extreme fuselage-to-wingspan ration and its massive engines.

Bejan believes his study shows which airplane designs work the best. “This study gives the rough sketch of what airplane designs will put you in the game,” said Bejan. “For design companies, it is money in the bank.”


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