Aerodynamic models for insect flight

  • Mohd Faisal Abdul Hamid

Student thesis: Phd


Numerical models of insect flapping flight have previously been developed and used to simulate the performance of insect flight. These models were commonly developed via Blade Element Theory, offering efficient computation, thus allowing them to be coupled with optimisation procedures for predicting optimal flight. However, the models have only been used for simulating hover flight, and often neglect the presence of the induced flow effect. Although some models account for the induced flow effect, the rapid changes of this effect on each local wing element have not been modelled. Crucially, this effect appears in both axial and radial directions, which influences the direction and magnitude of the incoming air, and hence the resulting aerodynamic forces.This thesis describes the development of flapping wing models aimed at advancing theoretical tools for simulating the optimum performance of insect flight. Two models are presented: single and tandem wing configurations for hawk moth and dragonfly, respectively. These models are designed by integrating a numerical design procedure to account for the induced flow effects. This approach facilitates the determination of the instantaneous relative velocity at any given spanwise location on the wing, following the changes of the axial and radial induced flow effects on the wing. For the dragonfly, both wings are coupled to account for the interaction of the flow, particularly the fact that the hindwing operates in the slipstream of the forewing.A heuristic optimisation procedure (particle swarming) is used to optimise the stroke or the wing kinematics at all flight conditions (hover, level, and accelerating flight). The cost function is the propulsive efficiency coupled with constraints for flight stability. The vector of the kinematic variables consists of up to 28 independent parameters (14 per wing for a dragonfly), each with a constrained range derived from the maximum available power, the flight muscle ratio, and the kinematics of real insects; this will prevent physically-unrealistic solutions of the wing motion. The model developed in this thesis accounts for the induced flow, and eliminates the dependency on the empirical translation lift coefficient. Validations are shown with numerical simulations for the hover case, and with experimental results for the forward flight case. From the results obtained, the effect of the induced velocity is found to be greatest in the middle of the stroke. The use of an optimisation process is shown to greatly improve the flapping kinematics, resulting in low power consumption in all flight conditions. In addition, a study on dragonfly flight has shown that the maximum acceleration is dependent on the size of the flight muscle.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAntonino Filippone (Supervisor) & Hector Iacovides (Supervisor)


  • flapping wing
  • insect flight
  • tandem wing

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