Everything old is new again

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“Don't throw the past away, You might need it some rainy day, Dreams can come true again, When everything old is new again." from Everything Old Is New Againby Peter Allen (1944-1992).


Remarkable innovation greets us every day. Here, in the waning days of summer, the last of the season’s flowers serve as a stage – showcasing innovation that had evaded our understanding until relatively recently.

A variety of bees make their way from flower to flower, gathering nectar and pollen. Laden with these treasures, they return to their nests to provide nourishment to those that wait there. While there is much to admire about all aspects of this mission, it is the transit from flower to flower, and flower to nest, that is truly a wonder of nature. The mechanisms underpinning bee flight have been a perplexing conundrum for the better part of a century.

In his 1934 treatise on insect flight, Antoine Magnan revealed that his colleague André Sainte-Laguë had calculated that bee flight was an aerodynamic impossibility.  Bee bodies, especially bumblebee bodies, were simply too large to be compensated by the haphazard nature of winged flight. And yet they flew. How was this possible?

Written By: Malcolm Campbell
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  1. In his 1934 treatise on insect flight, Antoine Magnan revealed that his colleague André Sainte-Laguë had calculated that bee flight was an aerodynamic impossibility.

    In 1934 aircraft design and control, together with the understanding of aerodynamics was primitive. The rapid computer correction of inherently unstable flight of modern combat aircraft, had not been envisaged.

    Bee bodies, especially bumblebee bodies, were simply too large to be compensated by the haphazard nature of winged flight. And yet they flew. How was this possible?

    Constant correctional adjustments!

    • In reply to #2 by Stafford Gordon:

      I wonder if the Pope knows about this and passes on the knowledge to his flock?

      He might consider that and perhaps even write an encyclical on it if he thought it would help to save the immortal spirits of the faithful from eternal perdition and what have you. In the meantime we can all marvel at those clever, hardworking bees and enjoy the honey.

  2. Such a fine tuned system that apparently would not work without perfection brings up the old creationist objection. How could a bumblebee evolve?

    My guess it is it would start with a much smaller creature with much less critical correction needs.

  3. When I was studying aircraft engineering, a few decades ago, The story I heard was that the comment about bees, was supposed to have been made in sarcasm. Basically someone had worked out ALL the criterion for winged flight. So when applied to the wing area and body mass of bees, they should not be able to fly. That is/was because the criterion failed to take into account that the bees flap their wings, hence the sarcastic comment, now taken out of context. (look at the ‘wings’ on a helicopter.)

    Same as Schroedinger’s cat comment, He was responding to a claim that a particle can be in two states at the same time, so he made up a though experiment that would sarcastically conclude that a cat would be both dead and alive at the same time.

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