The Pentagon has indirectly revealed that it wants to study the reasons why certain species of snake can apparently fly through the air without the use of wings or any type of gliding features on their bodies. The snakes, once believed to have gained the power of flight through magical means are still a subject of great mystery. And the defense department suggests the military applications of mimicking the ability could prove to be useful.
The snakes, actually members of very few species known as the Chrysopelea family are capable of leaping from high trees or cliff ledges and then slithering on the air, turning and maneuvering with incredible accuracy before finally landing on a single accurate point at distances upwards of a hundred feet away or more (a tree 200 feet tall is sufficiently high for a snake to reach a distance of almost 1,000 feet), depending on the height of their first leap. The gliding snakes accomplish this using only their scaly bodies without any known wings, air pockets, feathers, or anything else that physically changes their bodies. The technique uses a system similar to a ribbon floating on the air, although one of the major differences is a snake weighs far more than most ribbons. And you thought snakes on a plane was a bad idea… these snakes accomplish flight entirely on their own.
The Chrysopelea has been a subject of interest for zoologists for years, but why would the Pentagon suddenly show an interest in these incredible flying snakes? The answer is simple: whatever mastery of aerodynamics these creatures use may at some point be useful to defense and the deployment of supplies. If the snake uses a system such as this with this level of success, what could we do with a robot trained to fly in the same way? And are the snake’s aerodynamic effects cumulative? In other words, if one snake glides fairly well, could two robotic versions working in conjunction work even better? And for that matter, what about a hundred, each sharing a heavy weight?
So are the Pentagon and Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) interested in using the snakes themselves? Likely no, but their technique will likely hold clues to future projects that Darpa may be very interested in. Potential uses as we described may include robotics, but is it possible that using research gathered from these incredible and mysterious creatures could one day allow us insight into a technique human beings could use to fall from high distances in a more efficient way?
Indirectly, the research could lead to answers on one of the most pressing questions in evolutionary biology today – that is to discover the precise evolutionary path that eventually allowed birds to escape the pull of gravity and soar through the air held aloft on wings of trial and error. So the full extent of this research may prove to be quite influential in time and may find itself offering new clues into aerodynamics.