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The influence of wing–wake interactions on the production of aerodynamic forces in flapping flight
James M. Birch, Michael H. Dickinson


We used two-dimensional digital particle image velocimetry (DPIV) to visualize flow patterns around the flapping wing of a dynamically scaled robot for a series of reciprocating strokes starting from rest. The base of the wing was equipped with strain gauges so that the pattern of fluid motion could be directly compared with the time history of force production. The results show that the development and shedding of vortices throughout each stroke are highly stereotyped and influence force generation in subsequent strokes. When a wing starts from rest, it generates a transient force as the leading edge vortex (LEV) grows. This early peak, previously attributed to added-mass acceleration, is not amenable to quasi-steady models but corresponds well to calculations based on the time derivative of the first moment of vorticity within a sectional slice of fluid. Forces decay to a stable level as the LEV reaches a constant size and remains attached throughout most of the stroke. The LEV grows as the wing supinates prior to stroke reversal, accompanied by an increase in total force. At stroke reversal, both the LEV and a rotational starting vortex (RSV) are shed into the wake, forming a counter-rotating pair that directs a jet of fluid towards the underside of the wing at the start of the next stroke. We isolated the aerodynamic influence of the wake by subtracting forces and flow fields generated in the first stroke, when the wake is just developing, from those produced during the fourth stroke, when the pattern of both the forces and wake dynamics has reached a limit cycle. This technique identified two effects of the wake on force production by the wing: an early augmentation followed by a small attenuation. The later decrease in force is consistent with the influence of a decreased aerodynamic angle of attack on translational forces caused by downwash within the wake and is well explained by a quasi-steady model. The early effect of the wake is not well approximated by a quasi-steady model, even when the magnitude and orientation of the instantaneous velocity field are taken into account. Thus, the wake capture force represents a truly unsteady phenomenon dependent on temporal changes in the distribution and magnitude of vorticity during stroke reversal.

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