Effect of frontal gusts and stroke deviation in forward flapping flight and deconstructing the aerodynamics of a fruit bat

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


This dissertation broadly seeks to understand the effect different kinematic parameters, external forces, and dynamic wing conformation have on the fluid dynamics of flapping flight. The primary motivation is to better grasp the fundamental fluid phenomena driving efficient flapping flight in the Reynolds number regime of birds, bats, and man made fliers of similar scale. The CFD solver (GenIDLEST) used is a Navier-Stokes solver in a finite volume formulation on non-staggered structured multiblock meshes. It has the capability for both body-fitted moving grid simulations and Immersed Boundary Method (IBM) for simulating complex bodies moving within a fluid.

To that purpose we investigate the response of a rigid flapping thin surface planar wing in forward flight, at Re=10,000, subjected to frontal gusts. Gusts are a common ecological hazard for flapping fliers, especially in crowded environments. Among the various temporal and spatial scales of gust possible, we look at the phasing and duration of very large spatial scale gusts and their impact on the unsteady fluid dynamics of flapping within a single flapping cycle. The gust is characterized by a step function with time scale much smaller than the flapping time period. Having the advantage of prescribing the motion, as well as the timing and duration of the gust, this allowed the observation of the effect of angle of attack (AOA) and wing rotation on the evolution of the Leading Edge Vortex (LEV) and, hence the instantaneous lift and thrust profiles, by varying the parameters. During the downstroke, frontal gusts accelerated the flow development resulting in early separation of existing LEVs and formation of new ones on the wing surface which influenced the force generation by increasing the lift and thrust. These phenomena underscored the importance of the unsteady vortex structures as the primary force generators in flapping flight.The effect of the gust is observed to be diminished when it occurs during rapid supination of the wing. Unlike the influence of the vortices during the downstroke, the upstroke primarily reacted to effective AOA changes.

A key characteristic of the kinematics of fliers in nature is stroke deviation. We investigate this phenomenon using a similar framework as above on a rigid thin surface flat-plate flapping wing in forward flight. Stroke deviation happens due to a variety of factors including wing flexion, wing lateral translation, and wing area change and here we investigate the different stroke deviation trajectories. Various trajectories were analyzed to assess the different capabilities that such kinematics might offer. The instantaneous lift and thrust profiles were observed to be influenced by a combination of the Leading Edge Vortex (LEV) and the Trailing Edge Vortex (TEV) structures existing in the flow at any given time. As an index of the cost of performance across all cases, the power requirements for the different cases, based on the fluid torques, are analyzed. Anti-clockwise figure-of-eight-cycle deviation is shown to be very complex with high power costs while having better performance. The clockwise elliptic-cycle held promise in being utilized as a viable stroke deviation trajectory for forward flight over the base non stroke deviation case.

Armed with insight gained from these simple flapping structures, we are able to conduct the analysis of the flapping flight data obtained on a fruit bat. Understanding the full complexity of bat flight and the ways in which bat flight differs from that of other vertebrate flight requires attention to the intricate functional mechanics and architecture of the wings and the resulting unsteady transient mechanisms of the flow around the wings. We extract the detailed kinematic motion of the bat wing from the recorded data and then simulate the bat wing motion in the CFD framework for a range of Reynolds numbers. The Strouhal number calculated from the data is high indicating that the flow physics is dominated by the oscillatory motion. From the data the bat exhibits fine control of its mechanics by actively varying wing camber, wing area, torsional rotation of the wing, forward and backward translational sweep of the wing, and wing conformation to dictate the fluid dynamics. As is common in flapping flight, the primary force generation is through the attached unsteady vortices on the wing surface. This force output is modulated by the bat through varying wing camber and the wing area. Proper orthogonal decomposition of the wing kinematics is undertaken to compile a simpler set of kinematic modes that can approximate the original motion used by the fruit bat. These modes are then analyzed based on aerodynamic performance and power cost for more efficient flight. Understanding the physics of these modes will help us use them as prescribed kinematics for mechanical flappers as well as improve upon them from nature.



Computational fluid dynamics (CFD), Flapping Flight, Micro Air Vehicles, Flexible Wings, Bat Flight, Wind Gusts, Stroke Deviation