Simulation of Insect Flight
Stephen Childress and Jane Wang

Fly animation based on:
C. P. Ellington,
The Aerodynamics of Hovering Insect Flight
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 305, 1 (1984).
160Kbyte-mpeg movie

In the course of evolution, insects have mastered the airspace and are capable, for example, of hovering, a difficult feat. Insect flight also presents an ingenious controlling system in complex unsteady fluids. The interaction between the wings and the surrounding flows produces a robust flying mechanism, which is far more advanced than our current technology.

An important difference between hovering and forward flight is that during hovering insects fly in unsteady complex vortical flows generated by flapping and rotation of their wings. The starting and stopping vortices from both the leading and trailing edges interact non-trivially to produce a high lift. Former aerodynamic analysis of hovering insects are based on quasi-steady state assumptions. As reviewed by Ellington, this type of analysis fails to explain the large lift required by certain insects (e.g., dragon-flies and bumble bees) during hovering flight.

Our approach is to use the state of the art in computation of the Navier-Stokes equation as a basic tool to study the aerodynamics of insect flight and basic questions about unsteady viscous flows. Currently we are performing a series of computer experiments that model a range of wing motions, from the simplest motion to somewhat complex flapping and rotating motions. The figures show snapshots of the vorticity field around an elliptical wing, which follows the motion of a dragon-fly taken from previous field studies.

[1] C. P. Ellington, The Aerodynamics of Hovering Insect Flight
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. { B 305}, 1 (1984).

[2] W. E and J. Liu, Essentially Compact Schemes for Unsteady Viscous Incompressible Flows
J. Comp. Phys. 126, 122 (1996).

[3] R. A. Norberg, Hovering Flight of the Dragonfly, in Swimming and Flying in Nature
vol 2, New York: Plenum (1975).

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