Bees can’t fly

A popular story in science folklore is that the aerodynamics of bees suggest that they should not be able to fly. It was hotly debated in at a time when human flight via aircraft was being mastered (around the 1930’s). Because physicists and aerodynamic specialists had started to develop theory of ‘predictable flight’ with machinery, they believed their knowledge applied to all forms of flight.

(Hand drawn by Sarah Cameron)

Of course bees do fly. A bee is very small. And, at that size, air acts as a much more viscous fluid than it does for airplanes and helicopters. So the laws of aerodynamics are quite different for bees and other insects. But it took some time before this was understood and that new theoretical models were developed relative to the size of the thing of flight.

The point for entrepreneurs is important, especially at a time when technology is challenging existing business models. So the next time someone tries to put the kybosh on your new idea or startup remember that based on yesterdays knowledge, bees can’t fly.



  1. Sam Sabey · June 1, 2011

    Ahhh, before the time Doctor Reynolds invented his famous number.

    This also means toy gliders operate in a vastly different aerodynamic range than their full size counterparts, allowing people to do this, once thought impossible:

    This is 468 mph – 753 km/h. Just recently this has broken over 500mph – 804 kmh. They said 400mph was “the limit” just 2 years ago.

    …and these guys hand build their carbon monsters. That is dedication.


    • Steve Sammartino · June 1, 2011

      Wowee – I gotta come flying with you one day.

      • Sam Sabey · June 1, 2011

        so do I! It’s been a long time. This whole startup caper puts all hobbies on hold!

  2. Jason Berek-Lewis · June 1, 2011

    Really enjoy – esp posts like “Bees can’t fly”. Thanks for the motivation!

    Jason (@jasanbereklewis via twitter)

  3. Nicola King · June 1, 2011

    I think you will find that the laws of aerodynamics are universal. Bumble bees which are the specific type about which there was debate exploit the same rules as everything else in the universe, they just do it in a way the early observing scientists did not have the technology to unravel.

  4. 4little1s · June 1, 2011

    Yep, another comment to add to the last one,…..I really liked the Bees post, thanks as kind of helped me take a fresh look at an idea I had kind of dismissed awhile ago.

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