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J Exp Biol. 2004 Apr;207(Pt 10):1689-702.

Wing inertia and whole-body acceleration: an analysis of instantaneous aerodynamic force production in cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus) flying across a range of speeds.

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  • 1Concord Field Station, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, 100 Old Causeway Road, Bedford, MA 01730, USA.


We used a combination of high-speed 3-D kinematics and three-axis accelerometer recordings obtained from cockatiels flying in a low-turbulence wind tunnel to characterize the instantaneous accelerations and, by extension, the net aerodynamic forces produced throughout the wingbeat cycle across a broad range of flight speeds (1-13 m s(-1)). Our goals were to investigate the variation in instantaneous aerodynamic force production during the wingbeat cycle of birds flying across a range of steady speeds, testing two predictions regarding aerodynamic force generation in upstroke and the commonly held assumption that all of the kinetic energy imparted to the wings of a bird in flapping flight is recovered as useful aerodynamic work. We found that cockatiels produce only a limited amount of lift during upstroke (14% of downstroke lift) at slower flight speeds (1-3 m s(-1)). Upstroke lift at intermediate flight speeds (7-11 m s(-1)) was moderate, averaging 39% of downstroke lift. Instantaneous aerodynamic forces were greatest near mid-downstroke. At the end of each half-stroke, during wing turnaround, aerodynamic forces were minimal, but inertial forces created by wing motion were large. However, we found that the inertial power requirements of downstroke (minimum of 0.29+/-0.10 W at 7 m s(-1) and maximum of 0.56+/-0.13 W at 1 m s(-1)) were consistent with the assumption that nearly all wing kinetic energy in downstroke was applied to the production of aerodynamic forces and therefore should not be added separately to the overall power cost of flight. The inertial power requirements of upstroke (minimum of 0.16+/-0.04 W at 7 m s(-1) and maximum of 0.35+/-0.11 W at 1 m s(-1)) cannot be recovered in a similar manner, but their magnitude was such that the power requirements for the upstroke musculature (minimum of 54+/-13 W kg(-1) at 7 m s(-1) and maximum of 122+/-35 W at 1 m s(-1)) fall within the established range for cockatiel flight muscle (<185 W kg(-1)).

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