Phasing of dragonfly wings can improve aerodynamic efficiency by removing swirl

Usherwood, J R and Lehmann, F O (2008) Phasing of dragonfly wings can improve aerodynamic efficiency by removing swirl. JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY INTERFACE, 5 (28). pp. 1303-1307.

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Dragonflies are dramatic, successful aerial predators, notable for their flight agility and endurance. Further, they are highly capable of low-speed, hovering and even backwards flight. While insects have repeatedly modified or reduced one pair of wings, or mechanically coupled their fore and hind wings, Dragonflies and damselflies have maintained their distinctive, independently controllable, four-winged form for over 300 Myr. Despite efforts at understanding the implications of flapping flight with two pairs of wings, previous studies have generally painted a rather disappointing picture: interaction between fore and hind wings reduces the lift compared with two pairs of wings operating in isolation. Here, we demonstrate with a mechanical model dragon fly that, despite presenting no advantage in terms of lift, flying with two pairs of wings can be highly effective at improving aerodynamic efficiency. This is achieved by recovering energy from the wake wasted as swirl in a manner analogous to coaxial contra-rotating helicopter rotors. With the appropriate fore-hind wing phasing, aerodynamic power requirements can be reduced up to 22 per cent compared with a single pair of wings, indicating one advantage of four-winged flying that may apply to both dragonflies and, in the future, biomimetic micro air vehicles.