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Design, Experiment and Aerodynamic Calculation of a Flapping Wing Rotor

Micro Aerial Vehicle

Conference Paper  in  Collection of Technical Papers - AIAA/ASME/ASCE/AHS/ASC Structures, Structural Dynamics and Materials Conference · April 2011
DOI: 10.2514/6.2011-1988

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4 authors, including:

Shijun Guo Daochun Li

Cranfield University Beihang University (BUAA)


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52nd AIAA/ASME/ASCE/AHS/ASC Structures, Structural Dynamics and Materials Conference<BR> 19th AIAA 2011-1988
4 - 7 April 2011, Denver, Colorado

Design, Experiment and Aerodynamic Calculation of a

Flapping Wing Rotor Micro Aerial Vehicle

Daochun Li1, Shijun Guo2, Natalia Di Matteo3, Daqing Yang4,

Department of Aerospace Engineering, School of Engineering,
Cranfield University, Beds, MK43 0AL, UK

In this paper, investigation was made into the design, experiment, and aerodynamic
analysis of a novel flapping wing rotor applicable to micro aerial vehicles (MAV). Attention
was firstly focused on the design of a simple, reliable and lightweight flapping rotor
configuration and wing structure to meet the challenging demands for high mechanical and
power efficiency and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capability of an MAV. The
experimental work demonstrated the feasibility and effectiveness of the innovative design.
The paper presents an approach of experiment and processing the measured flapping wing
total dynamic forces to extract the unsteady aerodynamic force. A potential-flow-based
method, unsteady panel method was used to calculate the lift created by flapping wing
system. As the method is two dimensional, strip theory is adopted to evaluate the
aerodynamics of three dimensional flapping wings. Compared with measured data, the
numerical results show good agreement with the first order lift component, which is caused
by the rigid wing.

aij = matrix element
bx,z = unitary influence of body sources on the body
Cp = pressure coefficient on the airfoil surface
Fin = inertial force of the wing
H = wing displacement in plunging direction
H0 = amplitude of the wing mass center
L = total lift of the flapping wing
L0 = average value of the lift
NP = number of panel on the body
Nw = number of time steps
m = wing mass
mx,z = unitary influence of body doublets on the body
U∞ = free stream speed
vT = the tangential velocity over the airfoil
wx,z = unitary influence of wake doublets on the body
α = the initial angle of incidence
φ = distribution of potential in the flow field
µ = doublet strength distribution
ω = flapping frequency
MAV = micro aerial vehicles
VTOL = vertical take-off and landing
FFT = fast Fourier transform

Research Fellow, Department of Aerospace Engineering, d.li@cranfield.ac.uk.
Reader, Department of Aerospace Engineering, s.guo@cranfield.ac.uk, AIAA Member.
Postgraduate Student, Department of Aerospace Engineering, Student Member of AIAA.
Postgraduate Student, Department of Aerospace Engineering.
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Copyright © 2011 by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc. All rights reserved.
I. Introduction

S timulated by the flapping wing aerodynamic efficiency and superior flight performance of birds and flying
insects at low Reynolds Number, many researchers have made substantial work on developing flapping wing
micro aerial vehicles (MAV)1-2. In 1996, the U.S. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched
a three-year MAV program with the goal of creating a flyer less than 15 centimeters in dimension for military
surveillance and reconnaissance3. US Air Force Research Laboratory has the goal to develop a bird-sized MAV by
2015 and an insect-sized MAV by 2030. To gain further insight of the flow field and mechanics of the insect
flapping wing, an insect like flapping wing mechanisms of double spherical Scotch yoke to mimic the insect
flapping wing motion was developed by śbikowski et al. in Cranfield University4-5. Tsai and Fu6 obtained the
average lift of a planar membrane wing through 3D aerodynamic calculation firstly, and then made an ultra-light,
small size flapping MAV of gross weight less than the average lift. In the MAV, the concept of four-bar linkage was
adapted. Electrical-discharge wire cutting technique was used to reduce the body mass of the flapping MAV from 11
to 5.9 g. In the same time, flight endurance of the MAV was increased to 6 minutes 7 seconds7. Recently, a single-
wing-rotating MAV was developed by Ulrich et al8-9 to emulate the natural samara. In the investigation, a dynamic
model was created to study the pitch and heave control of the Samara MAV. It shows the advantage of the highly
efficient stable autorotation and landing at terminal velocity without sustaining any damage.
Based on the previous research, it is noted that the weight cost would be too heavy for human made mechanism
to mimic the complex insect flapping motion. To minimize the weight cost and power demand, Guo et al. developed
an alternative concept of flapping wing rotor and a multi-bar linkage of flexible hinge mechanism for flapping
amplification10-13. As the limit of piezoelectric actuator, a lift of only 0.2 gram was created in Ref. 11. In order to
increase flapping-rotor lift, this current paper presents a new design of flapping wing rotor MAV, which is actuated
by a mini electric motor.
The investigation into the aerodynamics of flapping wings has many challenges due to the unsteadiness of the
flow. Theodorsen14 and Garrick15 were the first trying to give an expression to the forces produced by a flat plate
plunging and pitching with small amplitudes. If the limitations of small oscillations and flat plate are removed, there
is no available analytical expression for predicting the aerodynamic forces of flapping wing. This has led the
research to the development of numerical methods to compute the flow field around the wing. CFD methods are the
most suitable to capture the phenomena that occur in unsteady aerodynamics. The main issues arising when using
Navier-Stokes or Euler-based methods are the time involved and the difficulty in regenerating the grid at each time
step. Therefore, potential-flow-base methods have been developed by most of the researchers. Fairgrieve and De
Laurier16 were the first to investigate the effect of large amplitude on the efficiency of an oscillating flat plat. Their
method is based on a time marching scheme that computes at each step the aerodynamic forces with the wake free to
move in the motion plane. Recently, Ansari17 developed a model for the computation of the forces acting on a flat
plate oscillating in pitching and plunging. This approach accounts for two wakes shedding respectively from the
leading and trailing edges of the wing section. Base on the work by Jones and Platzer18, 19 and Katz and Plotkin20, a
numerical method was developed by Liani and Guo et al21. It can compute forces in time domain for an airfoil with
arbitrary thickness. This method was coupled with strip theory to calculate the unsteady aerodynamics of the rotor
flapping MAV designed in this paper.

II. The Flapping Wing Rotor Model and Test Setup

Based on the new flapping wing rotor design concept, a micro flapping wing rotor test model was designed and
built as shown in Fig. 1(a). It is made of the following primary components: an electric motor and a Lithium battery
to supply power for the model; a gear mechanism to decrease the rotation speed, and a short off-centered bar linked
to a driving rod to transform the rotation to vertical linear motion as shown in Fig. 1(b). The driving rod forces a pair
of wings to flap through a U-shape lever mechanism. The U-shape mechanism is free to rotate around the driving
rod and seat on a bearing connected to the upper end of a fixed vertical rod, which is mounted at the base. The wing
is made of three spar beams supporting a thin polymer foil skin of 8cm length and 4cm width. The beams are made
of 2 layers of carbon/epoxy laminate. The total mass of the flapping wing rotor model is 9.1 gram. The flapping
wings produce the aerodynamic force including lift and thrust that drives the wings moving at a rotating speed
around the drive rod. The motion will produce more aerodynamic force and result in a higher speed. As an angle of
incidence is set to the wings, a maximum rotating speed and force is limited by the drag and the input driving power.
Although similar to a rotorcraft, the main difference and advantage of this particular design is its toque free rotor
mechanism, hence called a flapping wing rotor MAV.
In the experiment, to measure the dynamic force produced by the flapping wings, the whole model was mounted
on a force transducer, as shown in Fig. 2. Through an amplifier unit of amplification gain of 1k, the amplified
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electric signal was acquired by using a multi channel A/D converter with up to 50 kHz sampling rate per channel.
The signal was then input to a computer to be processed by using the software Tracer DAQ V2.1.6.1 and further
analyzed by using MATLAB.

a). b).

Figure 1. The flapping wing rotor MAV model

Figure 2. Experimental units for real time test data measurement

III. Unsteady Aerodynamic Model

A potential-flow-based unsteady panel method was used to calculate the lift created by the flapping wing. Based
on the inviscid assumption, the flow can be described by Laplace equation20, 21,
∇ 2φ = 0 (1)
where φ is the potential function. The solution of this equation with the boundary conditions of no disturbance at
the far field and impermeability on the body surface is given in the form of integrals on the surface of the body and
on the wake. The panel method gives a solution to Eq. (1) through the discretization of the flow field boundary. The
surface of the wing section is discretized with panels. On each of the panels, sources and doublets of unknown
strength are placed. The strength of these singularities may be computed based on the application of the Neumann
condition on the body. Therefore the condition of zero normal wash on each panel of the body is enforced. When a
zeroth-order discretization is used, the panels in which the body is split up are flat. The normal wash field and the
strength of the doublets are constant over each panel. The values of the normal wash representative of the panel are
the ones found in the mid point. The condition of impermeability of each panel is

Np Np Np Np Np Np

∑∑ ( bxi, j nxi + bzi, j nzi )χ j + ∑∑ ( mxi , j nxi + mzi , j nzi )µ j + ∑∑ ( wxi, j nxi + wzi , j nzi )∆φk = vbi ni
i =1 j =1 i =1 j =1 i =1 j =1

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where NP stands for the number of panels and Nw for the current time step. Besides, bx, bz, mx, mz, and wx, wz are the
coefficients of the sources on the body, doublets on the body and doublets on the wake respectively. Equation (2)
provides a set of NP equation in NP +1 unknowns. So the equation known as the Kutta-Joukowski condition will be
used. The form of the Kutta-Joukowski condition employed in this paper is based on the theory given in Katz and
Plotkin20, in the following form
∆φk = µ N p − µ1 (3)
Equation (2) and (3) form a set of NP +1 equations with NP +1 unknowns. It can be rewritten in the metrical form
as following
 a11 a12 L a1N P a1NW   µ1   RHS1 
 
 a21 a22 L a2 N P a2 NW   µ2   RHS2 
 M M O M M  M  = M  (4)
    
 aN P 1 aN P 2 L aN P N P aN P NW   µ N P   RHS N P 
    
 −1 0 L 1 −1   ∆φ NW   0 

Once Eq. (4) has been solved, the aerodynamic force can be computed by integrating pressure coefficients over
the airfoil surface. For unsteady motions, the pressure coefficients are defined as
vT2 2 ∂φ
C p = −1 + + 2 (5)
U ∞ U ∞ ∂t

where vT is the tangential velocity over the airfoil, as the normal velocity is zero due to the no-through flow
condition. Before advancing to the next time step, the wake needs to be updated computing the velocities induced at
each vortex location. It is observed that the potential at a point P(x, z) produced by a doublets of edges P1(x1, 0) and
P2(x2, 0) is given by
µ  z z 
φ= arctan − arctan  (6)
2π  x − x2 x − x1 

where µ is the doublet strength distribution. When the unsteady aerodynamics for a single wing section is ready,
strip theory was used to extend the 2D aerodynamic to compute the lift of 3D flapping wing rotor MAV described in
section II. For the pair of flapping wings, the total aerodynamic force can be obtained by integrating the distributed
force alone the span.
L(t ) = 2∑ cos (α )Li (7)
i =1
where p is the number of the wing sections; α is the initial angle of incidence. Li is the lift acted on section-i.

IV. Results and Discussion

A. Experimental results
In the experiment, the original wing was mounted onto the actuator with an incidence angle of 35deg. With the
same MAV model and test setup, the dynamic force created by the flapping wing was recorded twice as data set 1
and data set 2. A set of test data in time history within one second is shown in Fig. 3. It is noted that the dynamic
forces are not exactly periodic. Some effects due to any thin film skin deformation and free play in the hinge and
bearing are inevitable. The test data was thus processed by a frequency analysis to filter out these effects as much as
possible. In the process, Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) was used to transfer the response time history into frequency
domain. The resulting frequency response of the two sets test data are shown in Fig. 4a and Fig. 4b respectively. It is
noted that the no zero response value occurs at zero frequency indicating an average dynamic force mainly due to
steady aerodynamic force in the test data. At the point of zero frequency, the amplitude shown in Fig. 4 is the
average value of dynamic force time history, which was verified by integrating the test data along time. In this
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current experiment, constant values of 0.04825N (data set 1) and 0.04756 N (data set 2) are obtained. From Fig. 4,
we find that there are different peak values near the 2nd frequency between the two sets of data. These peaks should
be caused by the noise, and will be removed.
Based on the processed test data in frequency analysis, the aerodynamic lift time histories can be rebuilt with the
following equation
L = L0 + ∑ Ai sin(ωi t ) (8)
i =1

where L0 is the mean value of the time history. Ai and ωi are the amplitude and frequency of the i-order harmonic.
The average value of data set 1 and data set 2 are used here. Figure 5 shows the results with single or multi
harmonics. Single harmonic expression can’t approximate the time history of dynamic force, and that more
harmonics can give much realistic simulation of the actual time history. There is no obvious difference between 2-
harmonics and 5-harmonics expressions.

a). b).

Figure 3. Time histories of measured dynamic force: a) data set 1; b) data set 2


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Figure 4. Frequency analysis of measured dynamic force: a) data set 1; b) data set 2

a). b).

Figure 5. Filtered dynamic force: a) single harmonic; b) multi harmonics.

The dynamic force mainly includes unsteady aerodynamics and inertial force. In order to obtain the net unsteady
aerodynamics, inertial force of the flapping wing will be estimated in the following way. It is assumed that the
flapping wing vibrates in the form of
H ( t ) = H 0 sin(2πωt ) (9)
where H0 is the amplitude of the wing mass center in plunging direction. In this case, the wing is assumed to be rigid
and that the mass center of the wing is located at the geometric center. ω is the flapping frequency, which can be
obtained from Fig. 4. The first frequency of 25.10 Hz is adopted. Here the pitching motion is ignored. According to
Newton's second law, the inertial force can be described as

Fin ( t ) = 2mH
&& ( t ) = − ( 2πω ) 2 H m sin ( 2πωt )
0 (10)

where m is the mass of a single wing. With the wing mass m = 0.3 g, and H0 = 0.0145m, the time history of inertial
force is calculated, as shown in Fig. 6. Then the net aerodynamic lift produced by the flapping wing is obtained from
the single and multi harmonics approximation of the test data.

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Figure 6. Net lift of flapping wing: a) single harmonic; b) multi harmonics.

B. Numerical results
Based on the unsteady panel method described in section III, a Fortran code was created to calculate the lift
produced by the flapping wing rotor MAV. As an example, a wake convection of a flapping two-dimensional wing
section is provided in Fig. 7. According to Eq. (7), the total lift of the flapping wing rotor MAV was obtained, which
was compared with experimental lift, as shown in Fig. 8. An average lift of 0.0271N (2.77 gram) is obtained from
the numerical method, which is smaller than experiment value (4.89 gram) by 43.35%. The reason might be that the
wings were assumed to be rigid in the numerical calculation of lift, and only single harmonic motion was
considered. However, from the frequency analysis in Fig. 4, the second mode takes an important role in the unsteady
aerodynamics. The flexible deformation of the wing should have significant contribution to the flapping lift. In fact,
the peak values agree well when only the first harmonic of experimental dynamic force was considered, as shown in

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Figure 7. Wake convection of a wing section


Figure 8. Comparison between numerical and experimental lift: a) single harmonic; b) multi harmonics

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V. Conclusion
In this paper, investigation was made into the design, experiment, and unsteady aerodynamics calculation of a
flapping wing rotor MAV. Apart from the traditional rigid lever mechanism and symmetrical flapping wing
configuration, this current research produced a new design concept of flapping rotor MAV configuration. The
flapping rotor concept has the potential of making the MAV in a much simple configuration to achieve VTOL than
the traditional flapping aircraft or more efficient than the helicopter. By applying the unsteady penal method and
strip theory, a Fortran program code was made to computing the lift produced by the flapping wing rotor MAV.
To demonstrate the design and validate the analysis, a flapping wing rotor test model was built and experiment
was carried out to measure the lift time history. To compare with the numerical results, the test data was processed
by employing the frequency analysis. From the experimental results, an average lift value of equivalent to 4.89 gram
was obtained, which is much larger than the numerical results. This is mainly because of the assumption of rigid
flapping wing, and only a single harmonic vibration mode was taken in the theoretic calculation. It is noted that the
experimental lift mainly composed of the first two modes, with the first mode corresponding to the primary flapping
motion, and the second mode caused by elastic deflection of the flapping wing. Nevertheless, the predicted peak
value of lift time history agrees well with the experimental results.

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