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Why Penguins Can’t Fly

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Animal Updates | Birds | Penguins | Volunteering

Thursday, August 16, 2012


And why they may choose not to fly according to Avery the Penguin.

According to physics there are clear scientific reasons why penguins can’t fly. But according to Avery the penguin there are several reason why penguins WON’T fly.

There are four basic factors involved with a penguin’s inability to fly in the medium of air: lift, weight, thrust and drag.


In order to get off the ground a penguin must generate enough lift to overcome gravity. This can be attempted by a penguin by flapping it’s wings sending air downward to try to produce lift. They could also use Bernoulli’s Principle by utilizing a fast waddle to try to generate enough airflow over its outstretched airfoil shaped wings to cause the pressure above the wings to lessen creating lift underneath the wing. This is how airplanes do it.


What the penguin is trying to overcome is gravity’s effect on its body known as weight. Unfortunately with its heavy (for a bird) body and the penguin’s marine environment optimized wings it could never generate enough lift to overcome gravity to get its weight off the ground without a lot of help from thrust.


Even if a penguin gets into the air using thrust such as in a porpoise it could never sustain flight because their puny wings could never generate enough forward motion in the thinner medium of air to overcome the forces of drag and gravity on its body.


This is the one factor where a penguin, at least ballistically, has a plus. Penguin bodies are very streamlined causing minimal friction or drag with water or air. This is why they are able to launch themselves out of the water after high speed underwater runs when they porpoise but it’s not enough of a factor to keep them airborne.

These same four factors, by the way, are the reasons why penguins are so fast and maneuverable underwater. Through the thicker medium of water a penguin’s wings produce plenty of lift and thrust. Their body weight causes little downward force and their body shape causes little drag in their watery environment.

Avery discovered what I was going to write about this week and had to e-mail me his two cents on the subject.

Why Penguins Won’t Fly According to Avery the (Tweeting) Penguin

According to Avery penguins actually can fly but there are four reasons why most of them choose not to.

  1. Penguins hate waiting in lines at the airport.
  2. Inflight meals don’t include raw herring and capelin.
  3. The overhead compartments are too high for a penguin to get their carry-on items into.
  4. Penguins don’t get frequent flier mileage from the airlines so they can’t earn upgrades to first class.

When Avery wants to fly he doesn’t use physics, he uses a travel agent.

Why Penguins Can’t Fly
A penguin's body is optimized for underwater maneuvering, not aerial flight.  | Hugh Ryono
Why Penguins Can’t Fly
Patsy can get airborne ballistically for a short time by porpoising but sustain flight is out of a penguin's reach.  | Hugh Ryono

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