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Phys Rev Lett. 2009 Sep 11;103(11):118102. Epub 2009 Sep 11.

Flapping wing flight can save aerodynamic power compared to steady flight.

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Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA.


Flapping flight is more maneuverable than steady flight. It is debated whether this advantage is necessarily accompanied by a trade-off in the flight efficiency. Here we ask if any flapping motion exists that is aerodynamically more efficient than the optimal steady motion. We solve the Navier-Stokes equation governing the fluid dynamics around a 2D flapping wing, and determine the minimal aerodynamic power needed to support a specified weight. While most flapping wing motions are more costly than the optimal steady wing motion, we find that optimized flapping wing motions can save up to 27% of the aerodynamic power required by the optimal steady flight. We explain the cause of this energetic advantage.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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