How different are gliders really?

Flight has always been a dream of mankind to attain. Sadly, we can’t flap wings and produce the amount of lift we need to achieve this kind of prolonged flight, but neither can most flying animals. A lot of animals that we think of as flying actually glide. We have figured out how to make flight work through gliding, as seen in early airplanes, and more specifically, hang gliders. Gliding all falls under one definition, but do us humans glide (by means of hang gliders) the same way that animals do?

Hang gliders only can launch into the air by generating the proper lift. Getting a running start down a slope generates lift, so that air is moving over the surface of the wing. The faster the glider is moving, the more air moving over the wing so more lift is produced. In opposition to this faster moving glider though, drag is created.


One specific gliding animal is the flying squirrel. They are built like any other squirrel except they have extra skin spanned between their wrists to their ankles. Unlike a hang glider, their flight cannot be generated by increasing air speed across the wings. Flying squirrels can climb just like any other squirrel, and can only fly by jumping from an elevated position. The skin that acts as the glider, creates lift by means of pocketing the air similar to a parachute. These squirrels can also parachute by limiting their forward motion and using the skin to float to the ground, or other tree branch.


Although their flights differ, the movements of the flying squirrel and hang glider are similar. Stabilization and balance for the hang glider is found in the bar. By moving it forward or back will balance the aircraft. The flying squirrel can do this same thing by use of its tail. Control of moving left and right is found through tilt in each glider. A hang glider will just need to tilt left or right to move in that way. The squirrel will only have to adjust their wrists/ankles for this desired movement. The moving of the wrists and ankles will adjust how open or closed the skin is to the air, essentially tilting it just like a hang glider.

Hang gliders and flying squirrels are clearly two very different things, but they both follow the same mechanics to flight. As long as lift is acquired, both will glide through the air with very little effort, and for all of their distinct differences, it shows just how similar all gliders really are, manmade or natural.