Aerodynamic performance of a hovering hawkmoth with flexible wings: a computational approach.

Graduate School of Engineering, Chiba University, 1-33 Yayoi-cho, Inage-ku, Chiba 263-8522, Japan.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Impact Factor: 5.68). 08/2011; 279(1729):722-31. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1023
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Insect wings are deformable structures that change shape passively and dynamically owing to inertial and aerodynamic forces during flight. It is still unclear how the three-dimensional and passive change of wing kinematics owing to inherent wing flexibility contributes to unsteady aerodynamics and energetics in insect flapping flight. Here, we perform a systematic fluid-structure interaction based analysis on the aerodynamic performance of a hovering hawkmoth, Manduca, with an integrated computational model of a hovering insect with rigid and flexible wings. Aerodynamic performance of flapping wings with passive deformation or prescribed deformation is evaluated in terms of aerodynamic force, power and efficiency. Our results reveal that wing flexibility can increase downwash in wake and hence aerodynamic force: first, a dynamic wing bending is observed, which delays the breakdown of leading edge vortex near the wing tip, responsible for augmenting the aerodynamic force-production; second, a combination of the dynamic change of wing bending and twist favourably modifies the wing kinematics in the distal area, which leads to the aerodynamic force enhancement immediately before stroke reversal. Moreover, an increase in hovering efficiency of the flexible wing is achieved as a result of the wing twist. An extensive study of wing stiffness effect on aerodynamic performance is further conducted through a tuning of Young's modulus and thickness, indicating that insect wing structures may be optimized not only in terms of aerodynamic performance but also dependent on many factors, such as the wing strength, the circulation capability of wing veins and the control of wing movements.

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