While I don't doubt that passenger airplane design and development follow the authors' well-argued pattern of larger bodies and similar structures, the claim that this somehow allows an observer to "see" evolution as one would desire to see birds evolve shows just how loosely the term is applied even within the academic community. It comes as no surprise to anyone that the change airplanes experience are a result of intelligent designers who are constantly testing designs to select the changes that would make the vehicle more efficient and functional. These changes are not random mutations in a genome, but thoughtful extrapolations enacted with purpose.
If I were to say that birds evolved the way airplanes do, becoming more efficient because of design changes that were thoughtful extrapolations enacted with purpose, that would be a good definition of intelligent design. Darwinists would have a fit if I were to define evolution in this way, for the goal of evolution is to explain diversity and complexity without a designer.
I believe studies like this may be interesting and useful, but they tell us nothing about neo-Darwinian theory. The problem is that the evolution is famously understood as a wiggle-word as David Klinghoffer has documented. It can mean anything from change over time to natural selections acting on random mutations to all living organisms descending from a common ancestor.4
It seems that the authors of this article have taken the meaning of evolution in one its broadest senses. They define the term when commenting on the image provided above:
Yes, we should care because bird's-eye-views such as Fig. 1 open everybody's eyes to the natural phenomenon called "evolution." Evolution means a flow organization (design) that changes over time. In biology, evolution is largely a mental construct built on imagination, because the time scale of animal evolution is immense relative to the time available to us for observations. We cannot witness animal evolution, and this places the biology argument for evolution at a disadvantage. It would be useful to have access to the evolution of one species in real time.You can see how subtly the authors try to apply the changes in airplane design to biological evolution, but such application is without merit, for they never discuss the mechanism of the change within the biological counterpart to the airplane. Who are these designers that are coming up with new bird body types? The assumption seems to be, well I'm actually not sure what it proves. Things change. Humans improve designs because they want their efforts to be efficient and rewarding, both financially and emotionally. But if passenger airplane designs satisfy the need to see evolution in action, then the intelligent design community offers a better explanation of the diversity of bird types than the neo-Darwinian model ever will.
Looking at Fig. 1 satisfies precisely this need.5
2. Bejan A., J. D. Charles and S. Lorente. "The evolution of airplanes." J. Appl. Phys. 116, 044901 (2014); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4886855 Web. http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/jap/116/4/10.1063/1.4886855 25 July 2014.
4. Klinghoffer, David. "The Eight Meanings of ‘Evolution’." Evolution News and Views. Web. 26 Aug 2011. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/08/the_eight_meanings_of_evolutio050011.html
5. Bejan, 2014.
Image credit: J. Appl. Phys. 116, 044901 (2014); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4886855