KENNY BREUER: If you just watch them in the
sky, they can fly like nothing else. MILES O’BRIEN: Whether they are in your
belfry or not, bats get a bad rep. In fact, up close, they’re
kind of cute. And they’re mammals not birds. The only mammals on Earth that
can fly under their own power. KENNY BREUER: You take video–high-speed
video of bats from multiple angles, from four different
high-speed cameras. So we’re interested in the mechanics
of bat flight and how they fly. SHARON SWARTZ: This is a facility that we use
to study the flight behavior of the bats. MILES O’BRIEN: With support from the National
Science Foundation, Biologist Sharon Swartz and Engineer Kenny Breuer at Brown University use
a wind tunnel to study bats in flight. KENNY BREUER: So this is a Mexican
free-tailed bat. And we take high speed analysis of this to figure
out exactly where the wing is moving. MILES O’BRIEN: The team can see the wake
bats leave behind, their lift and thrust, and how they maneuver. KENNY BREUER: A bat can make a
180 degree turn at full tilt in three wing beats and go back the other way.
Its a pretty amazing creature. MILES O’BRIEN: Unlike birds or insects,
bats wings are shaped like a human hand and are covered with skin so they grasp
the air in flight, and the skin stretches like a sail in a breeze. KENNY BREUER: They can bend all their
joints and then they can move the fingers to change the shape of the wing during flight. SHARON SWARTZ: We can see the thumb
and then the second and third and fourth and fifth fingers. And the skin is so stretchy.
And embedded within this skin are special muscles that allow it to use this wing in a way
that would be impossible for any other flying animal. MILES O’BRIEN: Imagine designing aircraft
with this dexterity. That’s what scientists say could happen.
And were just skimming the surface. SHARON SWARTZ: I did not grow up
loving bats. But for 20 years now, I have come to see the incredible beauty
in their bodies, and wings, and faces. The more I study them,
the more incredible things I learn. MILES O’BRIEN:
With so many bat species, 1,200 in all, studying each one could
drive anyone batty; but not here. For Science Nation, Im Miles OBrien.