Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Drag


Small-winged drones can face highly varied aerodynamic requirements, such as high manoeuvrability for flight among obstacles and high wind resistance for constant ground speed against strong headwinds that cannot all be optimally addressed by a single aerodynamic profile. Several bird species solve this problem by changing the shape of their wings to adapt to the different aerodynamic requirements. Here, we describe a novel morphing wing design composed of artificial feathers that can rapidly modify its geometry to fulfil different aerodynamic requirements. We show that a fully deployed configuration enhances manoeuvrability while a folded configuration offers low drag at high speeds and is beneficial in strong headwinds. We also show that asymmetric folding of the wings can be used for roll control of the drone. The aerodynamic performance of the morphing wing is characterized in simulations, in wind tunnel measurements and validated in outdoor flights with a small drone.

Concepts: Aerodynamics, Reynolds number, Drag, Flight, Wing, Lift, Aircraft, Aerospace engineering


In this study, the steady forced convection flow and heat transfer due to an impermeable stretching surface in a porous medium saturated with a nanofluid are investigated numerically. The Brinkman-Forchheimer model is used for the momentum equations (porous medium), whereas, Bongiorno’s model is used for the nanofluid. Uniform temperature and nanofluid volume fraction are assumed at the surface. The boundary layer equations are transformed to ordinary differential equations in terms of the governing parameters including Prandtl and Lewis numbers, viscosity ratio, porous medium, Brownian motion and thermophoresis parameters. Numerical results for the velocity, temperature and concentration profiles, as well as for the reduced Nusselt and Sherwood numbers are obtained and presented graphically.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Thermodynamics, Heat, Fluid mechanics, Differential equation, Heat transfer, Drag, Boundary layer


Insect- and bird-size drones-micro air vehicles (MAV) that can perform autonomous flight in natural and man-made environments are now an active and well-integrated research area. MAVs normally operate at a low speed in a Reynolds number regime of 10(4)-10(5) or lower, in which most flying animals of insects, birds and bats fly, and encounter unconventional challenges in generating sufficient aerodynamic forces to stay airborne and in controlling flight autonomy to achieve complex manoeuvres. Flying insects that power and control flight by flapping wings are capable of sophisticated aerodynamic force production and precise, agile manoeuvring, through an integrated system consisting of wings to generate aerodynamic force, muscles to move the wings and a control system to modulate power output from the muscles. In this article, we give a selective review on the state of the art of biomechanics in bioinspired flight systems in terms of flapping and flexible wing aerodynamics, flight dynamics and stability, passive and active mechanisms in stabilization and control, as well as flapping flight in unsteady environments. We further highlight recent advances in biomimetics of flapping-wing MAVs with a specific focus on insect-inspired wing design and fabrication, as well as sensing systems.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Moving in a moving medium: new perspectives on flight’.

Concepts: Insect, Aerodynamics, Bat, Drag, Flight, Wing, Flying and gliding animals, Aerospace engineering


In this paper, we analyze the trajectory and body attitude data of Felix Baumgartner’s supersonic free fall through the atmosphere on October 14, 2012. As one of us (UW) was scientific advisor to the Red Bull Stratos team, the analysis is based on true body data (body mass, wetted pressure suit surface area) and actual atmospheric data from weather balloon measurements. We also present a fully developed theoretical analysis and solution of atmospheric free fall. By matching the flight data against this solution, we are able to derive and track the drag coefficient CD from the subsonic to the transonic and supersonic regime, and back again. Although the subsonic drag coefficient is the expected CD = 0.60 ± 0.05, surprisingly the transonic compressibility drag coefficient is only 19% of the expected value. We provide a plausible explanation for this unexpected result.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Atmospheric pressure, Atmosphere, Drag, Supersonic, Drag coefficient, Hypersonic


Large ears enhance perception of echolocation and prey generated sounds in bats. However, external ears likely impair aerodynamic performance of bats compared to birds. But large ears may generate lift on their own, mitigating the negative effects. We studied flying brown long-eared bats, using high resolution, time resolved particle image velocimetry, to determine the aerodynamics of flying with large ears. We show that the ears and body generate lift at medium to cruising speeds (3-5 m/s), but at the cost of an interaction with the wing root vortices, likely reducing inner wing performance. We also propose that the bats use a novel wing pitch mechanism at the end of the upstroke generating thrust at low speeds, which should provide effective pitch and yaw control. In addition, the wing tip vortices show a distinct spiraling pattern. The tip vortex of the previous wingbeat remains into the next wingbeat and rotates together with a newly formed tip vortex. Several smaller vortices, related to changes in circulation around the wing also spiral the tip vortex. Our results thus show a new level of complexity in bat wakes and suggest large eared bats are less aerodynamically limited than previous wake studies have suggested.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Bat, Drag, Spiral, Fixed-wing aircraft, Lift, Wingtip vortices


This study investigates the aerodynamics of the falcon Falco peregrinus while diving. During a dive peregrines can reach velocities of more than 320 km h(-1). Unfortunately, in freely roaming falcons, these high velocities prohibit a precise determination of flight parameters such as velocity and acceleration as well as body shape and wing contour. Therefore, individual F. peregrinus were trained to dive in front of a vertical dam with a height of 60 m. The presence of a well-defined background allowed us to reconstruct the flight path and the body shape of the falcon during certain flight phases. Flight trajectories were obtained with a stereo high-speed camera system. In addition, body images of the falcon were taken from two perspectives with a high-resolution digital camera. The dam allowed us to match the high-resolution images obtained from the digital camera with the corresponding images taken with the high-speed cameras. Using these data we built a life-size model of F. peregrinus and used it to measure the drag and lift forces in a wind-tunnel. We compared these forces acting on the model with the data obtained from the 3-D flight path trajectory of the diving F. peregrinus. Visualizations of the flow in the wind-tunnel uncovered details of the flow structure around the falcon’s body, which suggests local regions with separation of flow. High-resolution pictures of the diving peregrine indicate that feathers pop-up in the equivalent regions, where flow separation in the model falcon occurred.

Concepts: Force, Falconry, Falcon, Trajectory, Projectile, Drag, Peregrine Falcon, Falconidae


The theories of aero- and hydrodynamics predict animal movement and device design in air and water through the computation of lift, drag, and thrust forces. Although models of terrestrial legged locomotion have focused on interactions with solid ground, many animals move on substrates that flow in response to intrusion. However, locomotor-ground interaction models on such flowable ground are often unavailable. We developed a force model for arbitrarily-shaped legs and bodies moving freely in granular media, and used this “terradynamics” to predict a small legged robot’s locomotion on granular media using various leg shapes and stride frequencies. Our study reveals a complex but generic dependence of stresses in granular media on intruder depth, orientation, and movement direction and gives insight into the effects of leg morphology and kinematics on movement.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Interaction, Aerodynamics, Force, Model, Classical mechanics, Drag, Lift


Smart Morphable Surfaces enable switchable and tunable aerodynamic drag reduction of bluff bodies. Their topography, resembling the morphology of golf balls, can be custom-generated through a wrinkling instability on a curved surface. Pneumatic actuation of these patterns results in the control of the drag coefficient of spherical samples by up to a factor of two, over a range of flow conditions.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Differential geometry, Reynolds number, Drag, Aerospace engineering


It has recently been demonstrated that it was possible to individually trap 70μm droplets flowing within a 500μm wide microfluidic channel by a 24MHz single element piezo-composite focused transducer. In order to further develop this non-invasive approach as a microfluidic particle manipulation tool of high precision, the trapping force needs to be calibrated to a known force, i.e., viscous drag force arising from the fluid flow in the channel. However, few calibration studies based on fluid viscosity have been carried out with focused acoustic beams for moving objects in microfluidic environments. In this paper, the acoustic trapping force (F(trapping)) and the trap stiffness (or compliance k) are experimentally determined for a streaming droplet in a microfluidic channel. F(trapping) is calibrated to viscous drag force produced from syringe pumps. Chebyshev-windowed chirp coded excitation sequences sweeping the frequency range from 18MHz to 30MHz is utilized to drive the transducer, enabling the beam transmission through the channel/fluid interface for interrogating the droplets inside the channel. The minimum force (F(min)(,)(trapping)) required for initially immobilizing drifting droplets is determined as a function of pulse repetition frequency (PRF), duty factor (DTF), and input voltage amplitude (V(in)) to the transducer. At PRF=0.1kHz and DTF=30%, F(min)(,)(trapping) is increased from 2.2nN for V(in)=22V(pp) to 3.8nN for V(in)=54V(pp). With a fixed V(in)=54V(pp) and DTF=30%, F(min)(,)(trapping) can be varied from 3.8nN at PRF=0.1kHz to 6.7nN at PRF=0.5kHz. These findings indicate that both higher driving voltage and more frequent beam transmission yield stronger traps for holding droplets in motion. The stiffness k can be estimated through linear regression by measuring the trapping force (F(trapping)) corresponding to the displacement (x) of a droplet from the trap center. By plotting F(trapping) -x curves for certain values of V(in) (22/38/54V(pp)) at DTF=10% and PRF=0.1kHz, k is measured to be 0.09, 0.14, and 0.20nN/μm, respectively. With variable PRF from 0.1 to 0.5kHz at V(in)=54 V(pp), k is increased from 0.20 to 0.42nN/μm. It is shown that a higher PRF leads to a more compliant trap formation (or a stronger F(trapping)) for a given displacement x. Hence the results suggest that this acoustic trapping method has the potential as a noninvasive manipulation tool for individual moving targets in microfluidics by adjusting the transducer’s excitation parameters.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Fluid mechanics, Viscosity, Liquid, Surface tension, Fluid, Reynolds number, Drag


To maintain the quality of the feathers, birds regularly undergo moult. It is widely accepted that moult affects flight performance, but the specific aerodynamic consequences have received relatively little attention. Here we measured the components of aerodynamic drag from the wake behind a gliding jackdaw (Corvus monedula) at different stages of its natural wing moult. We found that span efficiency was reduced (lift induced drag increased) and the wing profile drag coefficient was increased. Both effects best correlated with the corresponding reduction in spanwise camber. The negative effects are partially mitigated by adjustments of wing posture to minimize gaps in the wing, and by weight loss to reduce wing loading. By studying the aerodynamic consequences of moult, we can refine our understanding of the emergence of various moulting strategies found among birds.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Drag, Wing, Flying and gliding animals, Jackdaw, Corvus, Lift