In the never-ending quest to improve the performance of military aircraft, the U.S. Army is testing an unusual material that may make airplanes and helicopters faster and stronger: the skin of the mako shark. New research currently being done at the University of Alabama is exploring why mako sharks can reach unbelievable speeds underwater. According to a recent report from Army Technology, makos have been known to reach “speeds of up to 70mph or 80mph.”

The researchers are hoping to unlock the mystery of the mako’s skin, and possibly develop a synthetic version for use on aircraft. The secret could be the small scales that cover the animal’s body. The scales, which are approximately 0.2mm in length, “can flex at angles more than 40° from the shark’s body” and are triangular in shape.

“It impedes the flow from reversing near the skin, which would otherwise lead to what we call flow separation,” said Dr. Amy Lang, an aeronautical engineer at the University of Alabama who is leading the experiments. “This is the drag you experience if you stick your hand out your car window vertical to the airflow.”

Lang compared the scales’ performance to the dimples found on golf balls. During a presentation at an American Physical Society meeting that took place in Boston this week, Dr. Lang explained how dimpled balls travel “30 percent farther” than smooth balls, according to a report from The Independent. Although circular dimples on an aircraft may affect its lift, the triangular scales found on the mako may be the key to improving aircraft speeds without sacrificing other characteristics.