Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Engineer Looks to Dragonflies, Bats for Flight Lessons

17.12.2012
Ever since the Wright brothers, engineers have been working to develop bigger and better flying machines that maximize lift while minimizing drag.

There has always been a need to efficiently carry more people and more cargo. And so the science and engineering of getting large aircraft off the ground is very well understood.

But what about flight at a small scale? Say the scale of a dragonfly, a bird or a bat?

Hui Hu, an Iowa State University associate professor of aerospace engineering, said there hasn’t been a need to understand the airflow, the eddies and the spinning vortices created by flapping wings and so there haven’t been many engineering studies of small-scale flight. But that’s changing.

The U.S. Air Force, for example, is interested in insect-sized nano-air vehicles or bird-sized micro-air vehicles. The vehicles could fly microphones, cameras, sensors, transmitters and even tiny weapons right through a terrorist’s doorway.

So how do you design a little flier that’s fast and agile as a house fly?

Hu says a good place to start is nature itself.

And so for a few years he’s been using wind tunnel tests and imaging technologies to learn why dragonflies and bats are such effective fliers. How, for example, do flapping frequency, flight speed and wing angle affect the lift and thrust of a flapping wing?

Hu’s studies of bio-inspired aerodynamic designs began in 2008 when he spent the summer on a faculty fellowship at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Over the years he’s published papers describing aerodynamic performance of different kinds of flapping wings.

A study based on the dragonfly, for example, found the uneven, sawtooth surface of the insect’s wing performed better than a smooth airfoil in the slow-speed, high-drag conditions of small-scale flight. Using particle image velocimetry – an imaging technique that uses lasers and cameras to measure and record flows – Hu found the corrugated wing created tiny air cushions that kept oncoming airflow attached to the wing’s surface. That stable airflow helped boost performance in the challenging flight conditions. By describing the underlying physics of dragonfly flight, Hu and Jeffery Murphy, a former Iowa State graduate student, won a 2009 Best Paper Award in applied aerodynamics from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Another study of bat-like wings found the built-in flexibility of membrane-covered wings helped decrease drag and improve flight performance.

And what about building tiny flying machines that use flapping wings? Can engineers come up with a reliable way to make that work?

Hu has been looking into that, too.

He’s using piezoelectrics, materials that bend when subject to an electric current, to create flapping movements. That way flapping depends on feeding current to a material, rather than relying on a motor, gears and other moving parts.

Hu has also used his wind tunnel and imaging tests to study how pairs of flapping wings work together – just like they do on a dragonfly. He learned wings flapping out of sync (one wing up while the second is down) created more thrust. And tandem wings working side by side, rather than top to bottom, maximize thrust and lift.

Hu said these kinds of physics and aerodynamics lessons – and many more – need to be learned before engineers can design effective nano- and micro-scale vehicles.

And so he’s getting students immersed in the studies.

Hu has won a $150,000, three-year National Science Foundation grant that sends up to 12 Iowa State students to China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University for eight weeks of intensive summer research. The students work at the university’s J.C. Wu Aerodynamics Research Center to study bio-inspired aerodynamics and engineering problems.

“We’re just now learning what makes a dragonfly work,” Hu said. “There was no need to understand flight at these small scales. But now the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force say there is a need and so there’s an effort to work on it. We’re figuring out many, many interesting things we didn’t know before.”

Hui Hu, Aerospace Engineering, 515-294-0094, huhui@iastate.edu
Mike Krapfl, News Service, 515-294-4917, mkrapfl@iastate.edu

Mike Krapfl | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.iastate.edu

More articles from Machine Engineering:

nachricht PRESTO – Highly Dynamic Powerhouses
15.05.2017 | JULABO GmbH

nachricht Making lightweight construction suitable for series production
24.04.2017 | Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V.

All articles from Machine Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Gold shines through properties of nano biosensors

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Greenland ice flow likely to speed up: New data assert glaciers move over sediment, which gets more slippery as it gets wetter

17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences

Mars 2020 mission to use smart methods to seek signs of past life

17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>