The effects of wing twist in slow-speed flapping flight of birds: Trading brute force against efficiency

William Thielicke, Eize J Stamhuis

OnderzoeksoutputAcademicpeer review

10 Citaten (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


In aircraft propellers that are used to propel aircraft forward at some speed, propeller blade twist is important to make the individual propeller 'wings' operate at a relatively constant effective angle of attack over the full span. Wing twist is sometimes also assumed to be essential in flapping flight, especially in bird flight. For small insects, it has however been shown that wing twist has little effect on the forces generated by a flapping wing. The unimportance of twist was attributed to the prominent role of unsteady aerodynamic mechanisms. These were recently also shown to be important in bird flight. It has therefore become necessary to verify the role of wing twist in the flapping flight of birds. The aim of the study is to compare the efficiency and the aerodynamic forces of twisted and non-twisted wings that mimic the slow-speed flapping flight of birds. The analyses were performed by using physical models with different amounts of spanwise twist (0°, 10°, 40°). The flow was mapped in three-dimensions using digital particle image velocimetry. The spanwise circulation, the induced drag, the lift-to-drag ratio and the span efficiency were determined. Twist and Strouhal number (St) both determine the local effective angles of attack of the flapping wing. Wings with low average effective angles of attack (resulting from high twist and/or low St) are more efficient, but generate significantly lower aerodynamic forces. High average effective angles of attack result in lower efficiency and high aerodynamic forces. Efficiency and the magnitude of aerodynamic forces are competing parameters. Wing twist is beneficial only in the cases where efficiency is most important-e.g. in cruising flight. Take-off, landing and maneuvering, however, require large and robust aerodynamic forces to be generated. The additional force comes at the cost of efficiency, but it enables birds to perform extreme manoeuvres, increasing their overall fitness.

Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)056015
TijdschriftBioinspiration & biomimetics
Nummer van het tijdschrift5
StatusPublished - 16-aug-2018

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