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Aerodynamic Properties of Avian Flight as a Function of Wing Shape

[+] Author Affiliations
Andrew I. March, Charles W. Bradley, Ephraim Garcia

Cornell University

Paper No. IMECE2005-83011, pp. 955-963; 9 pages
  • ASME 2005 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
  • Fluids Engineering
  • Orlando, Florida, USA, November 5 – 11, 2005
  • Conference Sponsors: Fluids Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 0-7918-4219-3 | eISBN: 0-7918-3769-6
  • Copyright © 2005 by ASME


Presently, all man-made aircraft are optimized for one specific flight regime. Commercial aircraft fly at a specific cruising altitude at which they are most efficient, and military aircraft, which require excellent performance in many flight regimes are designed to be ‘good’ at all of them. A new concept in aviation, morphing aircraft, or aircraft that can fully change their shape, will allow for optimization at nearly any flight regime. This concept has been millennia in the making, well before mankind. Looking to various bird species, tails and wings can completely change shape to optimize their morphology for a given flight regime. Raptors, especially, have mastered the air in that they must out compete and overcome other birds while hunting. For soaring, these birds spread their wings fully to maximize their lift to drag ratio and maintain a low energy, long endurance flight. To maximize speed in a dive they will bring their wings close to their bodies to minimize drag. This study seeks to quantify the aerodynamic properties of the wing. From bird wings the aerodynamic properties of shape changing elastic structures can be understood. The coefficient of lift versus angle of attack plot of a bird wing is not like that of a typical airfoil, it has no distinct point where the wing stalls, instead the bird wing will twist into the flow. Additionally, the induced drag of an avian wing is significantly less than the theoretical induced drag on a wing predicted by the aspect ratio. A flow visualization around the slotted wingtips of a bird reveals smooth streaklines near the primary feathers. These feathers are canted downward and accordingly generate lift in the thrust direction of the wing, which acts to reduce the induced drag on the wing.

Copyright © 2005 by ASME
Topics: Shapes , Wings , Flight



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