Optimization of the Aerodynamics of Small-scale Flapping Aircraft in Hover

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



Flapping flight is one of the most widespread mean of transportation. It is a complex unsteady aerodynamic problem that has been studied extensively in the past century. Nevertheless, by its complex nature, flapping flight remains a challenging subject. With the development of micro air vehicles, researchers need new computational methods to design these aircrafts efficiently.

In this dissertation, I will present three different methods of optimization for flapping flight with an emphasis on hovering with each their advantages and drawbacks. The first method was developed by Hall et al. It is an extremely fast and powerful three-dimensional approach. However, the assumptions made to develop this theory limit its use to lightly loaded wings. In addition, it only models the motion of the trailing edge and not the actual motion of the wing.

In a second part, I will present a two-dimensional unsteady potential method. It uses a freely convected wake which removes the lightly loaded restriction. This method shows the existence of an optimal combination of plunging and pitching motion. The motion is optimal in the sense that for a required force vector, the aerodynamic power is minimal.

The last method incorporates the three-dimensional effects. These effects are especially important for low aspect ratio wings. Thus, a three-dimensional unsteady potential vortex method was developed. This method also exhibits the presence of an optimal flapping/pitching motion. In addition, it agrees really well with the two previous methods and with the actual kinematics of birds during hovering flapping flight.

To conclude, some preliminary design tools for flapping wings in forward and hovering flight are presented in this thesis.





Lebental, Sidney (2008). Optimization of the Aerodynamics of Small-scale Flapping Aircraft in Hover. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/692.


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.