Battle of the Wedgetails

Battle of the Wedgetails

Comparing one of the wonders of nature to a marvel of human engineering.

Comparing one of the wonders of nature to a marvel of human engineering.

Scott WegenerJun 8, 2023, 10:30 PM

I love a good flyover. I live under a flight path where planes bank around to line up for their approach to Sydney Airport. Mowing the lawn takes me a bit longer than most as I periodically pause to marvel at planes, like the giant A380 double decker, which curves over my house at a 25-degree roll angle.

I’m keen to get back to the Australian International Air Show at Avalon, Victoria, which returns this year after having skipped one of its biennial occurrences due to Covid-19. For any plane gazer, this is an event with an amazing collection of some of mankind’s greatest modern-day flying machines.

Amongst all the powerful technology that whizzes past at this event is a rather intriguing-looking plane affectionately known as the Wedgetail.

While the outside of the E-7A Wedgetail aircraft is essentially a Boeing 737—the average-sized plane most flights on the east coast of Australia are made on—its standout external feature is what some describe as a surfboard on its roof. Well, some say surfboard, but to me it looks more like an ironing board (and come to think of it, the uniforms the airforce recruits wear do look well-ironed).

The Wedgetail name is a reference to Australia’s largest bird of prey, the wedge-tailed eagle, which can have a wingspan of more than two metres. However, it isn’t the bird’s impressive wingspan that invited the naming of the plane as the plane’s wingspan is nothing notable. What they do share is an amazing ability of sight while soaring at altitude.

The aircraft’s vision has a long-range surveillance radar allowing it to track airborne (and maritime) targets, just like an airport’s traffic control tower—but mobile. It has 10 mission crew consoles, where operators can manage the observation and communication of hundreds of objects in an area more than 400km wide. It’s truly a clever plane.

So how does that compare to the wedge-tailed eagle’s vision skills? Well first, we should generally marvel on how the bird’s eye auto-focuses and captures light to be computed for colour, shade, shape, distance and movement. This is something we take for granted in birds (and humans) but is ever-so genius when it’s been self-grown and doesn’t use any computer chips.

To read more, go to Signs of the Times

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