The Skin of the World’s Fastest Shark Could Be Used in Aviation

The United States Army has provided a fund for research on the skin of the mako shark to help build faster aircraft. Mako sharks, considered as the world’s fastest sharks or the ‘cheetahs of ocean’ have millions of tiny raised scales along their fins and sides believed to be the reason for their lightning speed according to the researchers of the University of Alabama.


The shortfin mako’s scales are flexible, translucent,  and shaped like tiny shark teeth. Their scales are contoured, giving a smooth skin from nose to tail, but its opposite side is rough. According to The Independent, Dr. Amy Lang, an aeronautical engineer, led the research presented at a meeting of the American Physical Society Meeting in Boston. When a mako shark is swimming and the water flow changes, its scales rise automatically.

“It’s entirely passive and happens in about 0.2 milliseconds,” Lang said. Lang and her fellow researchers discovered that flow separation (supplementary drag and pressure in the water) was significantly reduced by the scales and the most adaptable scales were identified in the areas with most flow separation.

Although the additional drag from flow separation is a challenge in the air, it can be moderated. Lang used the dimples on a golf ball as an example of separation control that weakens the pressure by keeping attached flow around the ball.


“You can hit a golf ball with dimples 30 percent farther than if the same ball were smooth,” she added.  Lang and her colleagues’ research, also funded by Boeing could affect the efficiency and agility of aircraft and helicopters. The group of researchers conducted water tunnel experiments with the use of real mako shark skin samples.  They found out the mako’s scales work well both in the air and in water.