14 March 2012

Flycatchers boost lift by Leading Edge Vortex

In a new study, published online today (14 March 2012) in Biology Letters, our lab shows that the high-lift mechanism Leading Edge Vortex (LEV) appear to be common to most animal flyers, as it appears in slow flying pied flycatchers. These birds hover and fly slowly when foraging on aerial insects, and they have a powerful downstroke when the LEV boost the lift by 100%. This is much stronger than found in for example hummingbirds, but that could be explained by the fact that the flycatcher has a feathered (inactive) upstroke. As flycatchers catch insects they need to be equally good at maneuvering in the air, and the LEV helps them to achieve the required turn radii. This mechanism was thought to be restricted to insects, as it was key to explaining why e.g. a bumblebee can fly, and subsequently our group has found this in slowly flying bats. Now, we extend the set of animas using LEV in slow flight to include also normal hoverers (i.e. animals having an inclined stroke plane and inactive back-/upstroke) in this spectacular study.

06 March 2012

New wake study of a bat from Brown university

In a new study, published on-line in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the Brown University group report on wake measurements from the Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), using the PIV technique in a wind tunnel (Hubel et al.). This species differs in morphology and ecology from previously studied bat species, having higher aspect ratio wings and mainly flying in he open airspace when feeding on insects. So, does that make it's wake and aerodynamic properties different from other bats? The answer is "no"! Even if the authors argue that the Brazilian free-tailed bat has a wake very similar to that of the swift (Apus apus), it shows all of the characteristic wake features previously observed in bats. These include wing-root vortices and revers-vortices shed at the end of the upstroke. According to the authors when comparing the new data with previously studied bats: "the structure of their wakes is remarkably similar". Hence, it seems as if the notion of a typical "bat wake" receives support from this new study. Further studies will hopefully answer what features of the bat design make bat wakes different from those of birds.