Posts Tagged ‘bird-flight’


October 20, 2020

My arresting fascination with bird flight started in 1968 while crossing the Atlantic by the cheapest possible means — an old rust-bucket called The Aurelia. To discourage the passengers from eating, the captain would steer the vessel from one weather system to the next. During one such diversion I was amazed to see a tiny warbler, with its characteristic swooping flight, appearing and disappearing amongst the gigantic waves. Eventually he landed on the ships rail and we got him as far as Long Island in a shoe-box. Alas he never made the final lap, falling dead as he flew up and off towards the shore we could already scent.

As a scientist I felt I had to understand Christopher’s ( we called him after Columbus) amazing feat, Even if he didn’t succeed some of his kind do. How could such a tiny ounce of pluck and feathers make it three thousand miles across the vasty deep? I taught myself aerodynamics, took up gliding and exploited my occupation as an astronomer to watch birds performing aerial miracles in all corners of the globe: Condors in the Andes, Albatrosses off New Zealand, Siberian Storks in Africa, Frigate Birds in the Caribbean, Terns on the Barrier Reef, Sandhill Cranes in New Mexico, Vultures in the Caucusus, Ravens above the Black Mountains, Shearwaters from Skomer, gulls theramalling in front of my glider half way across Britain in search of………

Eventually (it took ten years) the penny dropped as I was washing up after Christmas dinner: The Christopher Equation. How shocking it was, how beautiful…. how totally unexpected! There is a taster on simple aerodynamics, including a derivation of the Christopher Equation at

Wandering Albatross flying over rough sea, Southern Atlantic Ocean (Diomedea exulans).

Above is a Great Wandering Albatross circling a ship far down in the Southern Ocean. With its 12 foot wingspan it can fly tirelessly at 60 mph without beating a wing .Surely it is one of the true wonders of the world. It is being wiped out by Long-line fishermen who couldn’t care a f**k. After all there’s no money in Albatrosses. Copyright Mike Hill/getty images.


When one sets off on a quest in Science one can have no idea where it might eventually lead. One day I dropped in to the magnificent Natural History Museum in New York. There, hanging from the ceiling, was the fossil skeleton of a pterosaur twenty feet across, with bones like an ox. By then I knew enough avian aerodynamics to know that it couldn’t have possibly flown. Never, never never! Physics and physiology were all against it. Why then did it have colossal wings and vestigial hooks for legs? Here was another mystery profound which was to lead eventually to the idea of Recyclable Oil; an idea which could eventually save this Earth.

I couldn’t get anyone to listen. The idea of Recyclable Oil was just too outlandish, especially when it was linked to the even madder idea of Pterodactyl’s Blood. And yet every year since, palaeontologists have been digging up ever larger pterosaurs in Texas, some ten metres in wingspan. There has to be a scientific explanation. I sometimes think Christopher was trying to whisper a secret in my ear, a secret that might save the natural world, and all those wonderful species, from the Orang Utang to the Great Wandering Albatross, that Man is harrying to extinction.

If you are interested in bird flight, and its wondrous implications, you might try my novel Pterodactyl’s Blood (Amazon paperback, 2020 £!2.99). It’s described elsewhere on this site.

My son son Mathias and I have tried to present our ideas, in the form of scientific papers and seminars to the scientific establishment — but they won’t listen. The problem is really one of academic burrowing. No academic presently has the disparate mix of skills, ranging from aerodynamics to palaentology, to even referee our papers. But that’s no new thing. Creeping in between existing specialisms has often been the only way for science to advance. But while we’re struggling with that you can look at one of our papers at:

while if you look here`

there is a link to our Power Point presentation with lots of sexy slides.