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A plane that lands like a bird

Everyone knows what it’s like for an airplane to land: The slow maneuvering into an approach pattern, the long descent, and the brakes slamming on as soon as the plane touches down, which seems to just barely bring it to a rest a mile later. Birds, however, can switch from barreling forward at full speed to lightly touching down on a target as narrow as a telephone wire. Why can’t an airplane be more like a bird, asked MIT researchers, who have demonstrated a new control system that allows a foam glider with only a single motor on its tail to land on a perch, just like a pet parakeet.

The work could have important implications for the design of robotic planes, greatly improving their maneuverability and potentially allowing them to recharge their batteries simply by alighting on power lines, according to researchers.