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Secrets Of Insect Flight Revealed: Modeling The Aerodynamic Secrets Of One Of Nature's Most Efficient Flyers

Date:
September 18, 2009
Source:
University of New South Wales
Summary:
Researchers are one step closer to creating a micro-aircraft that flies with the maneuverability and energy efficiency of an insect after decoding the aerodynamic secrets of insect flight.

Smoke visualization in Oxford University's wind tunnel showing the airflow over a flying locust's wings.
Credit: Animal Flight Group, Dept. of Zoology, Oxford University and Dr John Young, UNSW@ADFA

Researchers are one step closer to creating a micro-aircraft that flies with the manoeuvrability and energy efficiency of an insect after decoding the aerodynamic secrets of insect flight.

Dr John Young, from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, and a team of animal flight researchers from Oxford University's Department of Zoology, used high-speed digital video cameras to film locusts in action in a wind tunnel, capturing how the shape of a locust's wing changes in flight. They used that information to create a computer model which recreates the airflow and thrust generated by the complex flapping movement.

The breakthrough result, published in the journal Science this week, means engineers understand for the first time the aerodynamic secrets of one of Nature's most efficient flyers – information vital to the creation of miniature robot flyers for use in situations such as search and rescue, military applications and inspecting hazardous environments.

"The so-called `bumblebee paradox' claiming that insects defy the laws of aerodynamics, is dead. Modern aerodynamics really can accurately model insect flight," said Dr Young, a lecturer in the School of Aerospace, Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the Australian Defence Force Academy (UNSW@ADFA).

"Biological systems have been optimised through evolutionary pressures over millions of years, and offer many examples of performance that far outstrips what we can achieve artificially.

"An insect's delicately structured wings, with their twists and curves, and ridged and wrinkled surfaces, are about as far away as you can get from the streamlined wing of an aircraft," Dr Young said.

"Until very recently it hasn't been possible to measure the actual shape of an insect's wings in flight – partly because their wings flap so fast, and partly because their shape is so complicated.

"Locusts are an interesting insect for engineers to study because of their ability to fly extremely long distances on very limited energy reserves."

Once the computer model of the locust wing movement was perfected, the researchers ran modified simulations to find out why the wing structure was so complex.

In one test they removed the wrinkles and curves but left the twist, while in the second test they replaced the wings with rigid flat plates. The results showed that the simplified models produced lift but were much less efficient, requiring much more power for flight.

"The message for engineers working to build insect-like micro-air vehicles is that the high lift of insect wings may be relatively easy to achieve, but that if the aim is to achieve efficiency of the sort that enables inter-continental flight in locusts, then the details of deforming wing design are critical," Dr Young said.

The Oxford team were Dr Simon Walker, Dr Richard Bomphrey, Dr Graham Taylor and Professor Adrian Thomas of the Animal Flight Group in the Department of Zoology.

The research paper, "Details of Insect Wing Design and Deformation Enhance Aerodynamic Function and Flight Efficiency," appears in the September 18 issue of Science.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of New South Wales. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. John Young, Simon M. Walker, Richard J. Bomphrey, Graham K. Taylor, Adrian L. R. Thomas. Details of Insect Wing Design and Deformation Enhance Aerodynamic Function and Flight Efficiency. Science, 2009; DOI: 10.1126/science.1175928

Cite This Page:

University of New South Wales. "Secrets Of Insect Flight Revealed: Modeling The Aerodynamic Secrets Of One Of Nature's Most Efficient Flyers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 September 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090917144125.htm>.
University of New South Wales. (2009, September 18). Secrets Of Insect Flight Revealed: Modeling The Aerodynamic Secrets Of One Of Nature's Most Efficient Flyers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090917144125.htm
University of New South Wales. "Secrets Of Insect Flight Revealed: Modeling The Aerodynamic Secrets Of One Of Nature's Most Efficient Flyers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090917144125.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

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