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Published August 2001 | Published
Journal Article Open

The control of flight force by a flapping wing : lift and drag production


We used a dynamically scaled mechanical model of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster to study how changes in wing kinematics influence the production of unsteady aerodynamic forces in insect flight. We examined 191 separate sets of kinematic patterns that differed with respect to stroke amplitude, angle of attack, flip timing, flip duration and the shape and magnitude of stroke deviation. Instantaneous aerodynamic forces were measured using a two-dimensional force sensor mounted at the base of the wing. The influence of unsteady rotational effects was assessed by comparing the time course of measured forces with that of corresponding translational quasi-steady estimates. For each pattern, we also calculated mean stroke-averaged values of the force coefficients and an estimate of profile power. The results of this analysis may be divided into four main points. (i) For a short, symmetrical wing flip, mean lift was optimized by a stroke amplitude of 180° and an angle of attack of 50°. At all stroke amplitudes, mean drag increased monotonically with increasing angle of attack. Translational quasi-steady predictions better matched the measured values at high stroke amplitude than at low stroke amplitude. This discrepancy was due to the increasing importance of rotational mechanisms in kinematic patterns with low stroke amplitude. (ii) For a 180° stroke amplitude and a 45° angle of attack, lift was maximized by short-duration flips occurring just slightly in advance of stroke reversal. Symmetrical rotations produced similarly high performance. Wing rotation that occurred after stroke reversal, however, produced very low mean lift. (iii) The production of aerodynamic forces was sensitive to changes in the magnitude of the wing's deviation from the mean stroke plane (stroke deviation) as well as to the actual shape of the wing tip trajectory. However, in all examples, stroke deviation lowered aerodynamic performance relative to the no deviation case. This attenuation was due, in part, to a trade-off between lift and a radially directed component of total aerodynamic force. Thus, while we found no evidence that stroke deviation can augment lift, it nevertheless may be used to modulate forces on the two wings. Thus, insects might use such changes in wing kinematics during steering maneuvers to generate appropriate force moments. (iv) While quasi-steady estimates failed to capture the time course of measured lift for nearly all kinematic patterns, they did predict with reasonable accuracy stroke-averaged values for the mean lift coefficient. However, quasi-steady estimates grossly underestimated the magnitude of the mean drag coefficient under all conditions. This discrepancy was due to the contribution of rotational effects that steady-state estimates do not capture. This result suggests that many prior estimates of mechanical power based on wing kinematics may have been grossly underestimated.

Additional Information

An erratum has been published: http://jeb.biologists.org/cgi/content/full/204/19/3401 © 2001 The Company of Biologists Limited. Accepted 18 May 2001. This work was supported by grants from the NSF (IBN-9723424), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research (FDN00014-99-1-0892). We wish to thank Fritz Lehmann, Claire Balint, Namrata Gundiah, Jim Birch and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.

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August 21, 2023
August 21, 2023