In the animal kingdom, free flight is used by birds, bats and insects to travel between food, shelter and breeding areas. Some of the most spectacular animal migrations are those made by birds, for example high altitude flights by bar-headed geese over the Himalayas, extreme endurance migrations over 10,000 km by godwits and terns and sustained air speed records of 80 kph for days on end by great snipe.
Flight is also used by animals over smaller distances, for example raptors soaring on thermals to gain altitude and the aerobatics of flying swifts. Birds are widely considered the consummate champions of the skies, and the technology with which to study their aerobatic performances are now revealing incredible insights into their physiology.
For humans, free flight includes harnessing dynamic and thermal lift in sailplanes, paragliders and hang gliders; falling with forward motion in sky diving, BASE jumping and wing suit flying and being buoyed up by gases lighter than air in balloons.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Coke Smith, SEARCH Projects, Bertrand Piccard. Records: FAI, 2017.