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.

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