Flapping-wing aircraft gets closer to reality after breakthrough

Nature is filled with countless examples that prove this design works impeccably

Scientists have come a step closer to mimicking the aerodynamics of flying animals in nature, which might lead to the creation of flapping-winged aircraft in the future, after a new breakthrough  in the field. The study, conducted by biomimetic researchers at New York University, finds that the ideal weight-distribution for hovering is totally opposite from what conventional aerodynamics theory dictates.

The team of researchers, led by Jun Zhang, made a series of experiments based around “a pyramid-shaped object hovering in a vertically oscillating airflow.” Interestingly enough, these look more like paper-bugs. Various such paper-bugs of different centers of mass were put to the test – top-heavy bugs were made by fixing a weight above the pyramid, and low center-of-mass bugs bore this weight below. The conclusions were extremely surprising at the end; the pyramid flew better bottom-side up than the other way around – completely the other way around current hovering aircraft like helicopters perform, and totally opposite from land-based stability theory. Zhang explains:

“It works somewhat like balancing a broomstick in your hand,” Zhang said. “If it begins to fall to one side, you need to apply a force in this same direction to keep it upright.”

The team believes such a design for aircraft would be incredibly difficult to build and expensive, and as such they don’t hold much faith of seeing flapping-wing aircraft any time soon. Be certain, however, that the military will be keeping a very keen eye on all the research in the field.

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