Predators and Flocks (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Sat, 04 Dec 2004

Predators and Flocks

I've always read that the reason that animals congregate in flocks, schools, and swarms is that it's more difficult for a predator to attack an animal in a swarm. The predator goes for one animal, gets confused and veers off after another animal, veers after a third, and ends up catching none at all.

Today, I experienced this effect more directly, from the vantage point of both predator and prey.

We were flying model airplanes with the folks at Baylands. We brought the Pocket Combat Wings out of retirement, because there's been chatter on BayRC about people dogfighting Mini Speedwings, and we wanted to try dogfighting with more than just the two of us in the air.

We hit the jackpot today! The combat session had seven planes in the air at once, though it seemed like twice that as they twisted and twined and screamed and whined and tried to hit each other. Beautiful!

There's been some talk about rules and engine classes and that sort of thing. Speaking as a pilot of the smallest and least powerful plane there (I think I was the only one with a stock IPS motor), it doesn't matter a bit whether some planes are faster than others, or slightly bigger. Nobody can make contact anyway.

In some twenty minutes of intense dogfighting (and sore hands and raw thumbs!) there were maybe four hits total (and no kills -- in every case both wings continued flying). People tried different strategies: pick out one target and follow it (invariably to lose it quickly in the melee), fly straight and let everyone else attack you (except mini wings don't fly straight all that well, especially in high winds), fly straight back and forth through the center of the bait-ball, fly into the bait-ball and start doing tight loops, fly above the bait-ball and spin down through it ...

Didn't matter. It turned out to be impossible to aim for a particular plane as they all swarmed and twisted, and impossible to pick one and follow it. Life in a swarm is chaos, and all you can do is join in the chaotic dance.

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[ 22:21 Dec 04, 2004    More misc | permalink to this entry | ]

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