Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Airfoil


Flying lizards of the genus Draco are renowned for their gliding ability, using an aerofoil formed by winglike patagial membranes and supported by elongated thoracic ribs. It remains unknown, however, how these lizards manoeuvre during flight. Here, I present the results of a study on the aerial behaviour of Dussumier’s Flying Lizard (Draco dussumieri) and show that Draco attaches the forelimbs to the leading edge of the patagium while airborne, forming a hitherto unknown type of composite wing. The attachment of the forelimbs to the patagium suggests that that aerofoil is controlled through movements of the forelimbs. One major advantage for the lizards is that the forelimbs retain their complete range of movement and functionality for climbing and running when not used as a part of the wing. These findings not only shed a new light on the flight of Draco but also have implications for the interpretation of gliding performance in fossil species.

Concepts: Aerodynamics, Lizard, Flight, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Flying and gliding animals, Airfoil, Leading edge slats


Ornithopters, or flapping-wing aircraft, offer an alternative to helicopters in achieving manoeuvrability at small scales, although stabilizing such aerial vehicles remains a key challenge. Here, we present a hovering machine that achieves self-righting flight using flapping wings alone, without relying on additional aerodynamic surfaces and without feedback control. We design, construct and test-fly a prototype that opens and closes four wings, resembling the motions of swimming jellyfish more so than any insect or bird. Measurements of lift show the benefits of wing flexing and the importance of selecting a wing size appropriate to the motor. Furthermore, we use high-speed video and motion tracking to show that the body orientation is stable during ascending, forward and hovering flight modes. Our experimental measurements are used to inform an aerodynamic model of stability that reveals the importance of centre-of-mass location and the coupling of body translation and rotation. These results show the promise of flapping-flight strategies beyond those that directly mimic the wing motions of flying animals.

Concepts: Bird, Flight, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Flying and gliding animals, Aircraft, Airfoil, Ornithopter


A prominent feature of gliding flight in snakes of the genus Chrysopelea is the unique cross-sectional shape of the body, which acts as the lifting surface in the absence of wings. When gliding, the flying snake Chrysopelea paradisi morphs its circular cross-section into a triangular shape by splaying its ribs and flattening its body in the dorsoventral axis, forming a geometry with fore-aft symmetry and a thick profile. Here, we aimed to understand the aerodynamic properties of the snake’s cross-sectional shape to determine its contribution to gliding at low Reynolds numbers. We used a straight physical model in a water tunnel to isolate the effects of 2D shape, analogously to studying the profile of an airfoil of a more typical flyer. Force measurements and time-resolved (TR) digital particle image velocimetry (DPIV) were used to determine lift and drag coefficients, wake dynamics and vortex-shedding characteristics of the shape across a behaviorally relevant range of Reynolds numbers and angles of attack. The snake’s cross-sectional shape produced a maximum lift coefficient of 1.9 and maximum lift-to-drag ratio of 2.7, maintained increases in lift up to 35 deg, and exhibited two distinctly different vortex-shedding modes. Within the measured Reynolds number regime (Re=3000-15,000), this geometry generated significantly larger maximum lift coefficients than many other shapes including bluff bodies, thick airfoils, symmetric airfoils and circular arc airfoils. In addition, the snake’s shape exhibited a gentle stall region that maintained relatively high lift production even up to the highest angle of attack tested (60 deg). Overall, the cross-sectional geometry of the flying snake demonstrated robust aerodynamic behavior by maintaining significant lift production and near-maximum lift-to-drag ratios over a wide range of parameters. These aerodynamic characteristics help to explain how the snake can glide at steep angles and over a wide range of angles of attack, but more complex models that account for 3D effects and the dynamic movements of aerial undulation are required to fully understand the gliding performance of flying snakes.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Snake, Lift, Airfoil, Angle of attack, Chrysopelea, Lift coefficient


We report the effects of posture and morphology on the static aerodynamic stability and control effectiveness of physical models based on the feathered dinosaur, [Formula: see text]Microraptor gui, from the Cretaceous of China. Postures had similar lift and drag coefficients and were broadly similar when simplified metrics of gliding were considered, but they exhibited different stability characteristics depending on the position of the legs and the presence of feathers on the legs and the tail. Both stability and the function of appendages in generating maneuvering forces and torques changed as the glide angle or angle of attack were changed. These are significant because they represent an aerial environment that may have shifted during the evolution of directed aerial descent and other aerial behaviors. Certain movements were particularly effective (symmetric movements of the wings and tail in pitch, asymmetric wing movements, some tail movements). Other appendages altered their function from creating yaws at high angle of attack to rolls at low angle of attack, or reversed their function entirely. While [Formula: see text]M. gui lived after [Formula: see text]Archaeopteryx and likely represents a side experiment with feathered morphology, the general patterns of stability and control effectiveness suggested from the manipulations of forelimb, hindlimb and tail morphology here may help understand the evolution of flight control aerodynamics in vertebrates. Though these results rest on a single specimen, as further fossils with different morphologies are tested, the findings here could be applied in a phylogenetic context to reveal biomechanical constraints on extinct flyers arising from the need to maneuver.

Concepts: Aerodynamics, Drag, Dinosaur, Feather, Lift, Airfoil, Angle of attack, Aerospace engineering


The alula is a small structure located at the joint between the hand-wing and arm-wing of birds and is known to be used in slow flight with high angles of attack such as landing. It is assumed to function similarly to a leading-edge slat that increases lift and delays stall. However, in spite of its universal presence in flying birds and the wide acceptance of stall delay as its main function, how the alula delays the stall and aids the flight of birds remains unclear. Here, we investigated the function of alula on the aerodynamic performance of avian wings based on data from flight tasks and wind-tunnel experiments. With the alula, the birds performed steeper descending flights with greater changes in body orientation. Force measurements revealed that the alula increases the lift and often delays the stall. Digital particle image velocimetry showed that these effects are caused by the streamwise vortex, formed at the tip of the alula, that induces strong downwash and suppresses the flow separation over the wing surface. This is the first experimental evidence that the alula functions as a vortex generator that increases the lift force and enhances manoeuvrability in flights at high angles of attack.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Drag, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Lift, Airfoil, Angle of attack


Hummingbirds are the only birds that can sustain hovering. This unique flight behaviour comes, however, at high energetic cost. Based on helicopter and aeroplane design theory, we expect that hummingbird wing aspect ratio (AR), which ranges from about 3.0 to 4.5, determines aerodynamic efficacy. Previous quasi-steady experiments with a wing spinner set-up provide no support for this prediction. To test this more carefully, we compare the quasi-steady hover performance of 26 wings, from 12 hummingbird taxa. We spun the wings at angular velocities and angles of attack that are representative for every species and measured lift and torque more precisely. The power (aerodynamic torque × angular velocity) required to lift weight depends on aerodynamic efficacy, which is measured by the power factor. Our comparative analysis shows that AR has a modest influence on lift and drag forces, as reported earlier, but interspecific differences in power factor are large. During the downstroke, the power required to hover decreases for larger AR wings at the angles of attack at which hummingbirds flap their wings (p < 0.05). Quantitative flow visualization demonstrates that variation in hover power among hummingbird wings is driven by similar stable leading edge vortices that delay stall during the down- and upstroke. A side-by-side aerodynamic performance comparison of hummingbird wings and an advanced micro helicopter rotor shows that they are remarkably similar.

Concepts: Aerodynamics, Force, Drag, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Lift, Airfoil, Helicopter rotor


Combined jumping and gliding locomotion, or ‘jumpgliding’, can be an efficient way for small robots or animals to travel over cluttered terrain. This paper presents functional requirements and models for a simple jumpglider which formalize the benefits and limitations of using aerodynamic surfaces to augment jumping ability. Analysis of the model gives insight into design choices and control strategies for higher performance and to accommodate special conditions such as a slippery launching surface. The model informs the design of a robotic platform that can perform repeated jumps using a carbon fiber spring and a pivoting wing. Experiments with two different versions of the platform agree with predictions from the model and demonstrate a significantly greater range, and lower cost-of-transport, than a comparable ballistic jumper.

Concepts: Carbon, Performance, Model, Das Model, Surface, Robotics, Torus, Airfoil


Using high-speed videography, we investigated how fruit flies compensate for unilateral wing damage, in which loss of area on one wing compromises both weight support and roll torque equilibrium. Our results show that flies control for unilateral damage by rolling their body towards the damaged wing and by adjusting the kinematics of both the intact and damaged wings. To compensate for the reduction in vertical lift force due to damage, flies elevate wingbeat frequency. Because this rise in frequency increases the flapping velocity of both wings, it has the undesired consequence of further increasing roll torque. To compensate for this effect, flies increase the stroke amplitude and advance the timing of pronation and supination of the damaged wing, while making the opposite adjustments on the intact wing. The resulting increase in force on the damaged wing and decrease in force on the intact wing function to maintain zero net roll torque. However, the bilaterally asymmetrical pattern of wing motion generates a finite lateral force, which flies balance by maintaining a constant body roll angle. Based on these results and additional experiments using a dynamically scaled robotic fly, we propose a simple bioinspired control algorithm for asymmetric wing damage.

Concepts: Energy, Force, Classical mechanics, Drag, Wing, Fixed-wing aircraft, Lift, Airfoil


Airplanes and helicopters use high aspect ratio wings to reduce the power required to fly, but must operate at low angle of attack to prevent flow separation and stall. Animals capable of slow sustained flight, such as hummingbirds, have low aspect ratio wings and flap their wings at high angle of attack without stalling. Instead, they generate an attached vortex along the leading edge of the wing that elevates lift. Previous studies have demonstrated that this vortex and high lift can be reproduced by revolving the animal wing at the same angle of attack. How do flapping and revolving animal wings delay stall and reduce power? It has been hypothesized that stall delay derives from having a short radial distance between the shoulder joint and wing tip, measured in chord lengths. This non-dimensional measure of wing length represents the relative magnitude of inertial forces versus rotational accelerations operating in the boundary layer of revolving and flapping wings. Here we show for a suite of aspect ratios, which represent both animal and aircraft wings, that the attachment of the leading edge vortex on a revolving wing is determined by wing aspect ratio, defined with respect to the centre of revolution. At high angle of attack, the vortex remains attached when the local radius is shorter than four chord lengths and separates outboard on higher aspect ratio wings. This radial stall limit explains why revolving high aspect ratio wings (of helicopters) require less power compared with low aspect ratio wings (of hummingbirds) at low angle of attack and vice versa at high angle of attack.

Concepts: Aspect ratio, Chord, Fixed-wing aircraft, Lift, Aircraft, Wing design, Airfoil, Angle of attack


In this study, we explore the use of synthetic jet (SJ) in manipulating the vortices around a rigid heaving airfoil, so as to enhance its aerodynamic performance. The airfoil heaves at two fixed pitching angles, with the Strouhal number, reduced frequency and Reynolds number chosen as St=0.3, k=0.25 and Re=100, respectively, all falling in the ranges for natural flyers. As such, the vortex force plays a dominant role in determining the airfoil’s aerodynamic performance. A pair of in-phase SJs is implemented on the airfoil’s upper and lower surfaces, operating with the same strength but in opposite directions. Such a fluid-structure interaction problem is numerically solved using a lattice Boltzmann method (LBM) based numerical framework. It is found that, as the airfoil heaves with zero pitching angle, its lift and drag can be improved concurrently when the SJ phase angle Φ<sub>sj</sub> relative to the heave motion varies between π/4 and 3π/4. But this concurrent improvement does not occur as the airfoil heaves with π/6 pitching angle. Detailed inspection of the vortex evolution and fluid stress over the airfoil surface reveals that, if at good timing, the suction and blowing strokes of the SJ pair can effectively delay or promote the shedding of leading edge vortices, and mitigate or even eliminate the generation of trailing edge vortices, so as to enhance the airfoil’s aerodynamic performance. Based on these understandings, an intermittent operation of the SJ pair is then proposed to realize concurrent lift and drag improvement for the heaving airfoil with π/6 pitching angle.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Fluid mechanics, Reynolds number, Drag, Wing, Lift, Airfoil