Inertia may limit efficiency of slow flapping flight, but mayflies show a strategy for reducing the power requirements of loiter

Usherwood, J R (2009) Inertia may limit efficiency of slow flapping flight, but mayflies show a strategy for reducing the power requirements of loiter. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 4 (1).

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Abstract

Predictions from aerodynamic theory often match biological observations very poorly. Many insects and several bird species habitually hover, frequently flying at low advance ratios. Taking helicopter-based aerodynamic theory, wings functioning predominantly for hovering, even for quite small insects, should operate at low angles of attack. However, insect wings operate at very high angles of attack during hovering; reduction in angle of attack should result in considerable energetic savings. Here, I consider the possibility that selection of kinematics is constrained from being aerodynamically optimal due to the inertial power requirements of flapping. Potential increases in aerodynamic efficiency with lower angles of attack during hovering may be outweighed by increases in inertial power due to the associated increases in flapping frequency. For simple hovering, traditional rotary-winged helicopter-like micro air vehicles would be more efficient than their flapping biomimetic counterparts. However, flapping may confer advantages in terms of top speed and manoeuvrability. If flapping-winged micro air vehicles are required to hover or loiter more efficiently, dragonflies and mayflies suggest biomimetic solutions.