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Alternating gliding and active propulsion is a potentially energy saving strategy for small-scale flight. With the goal of finding optimal wing shapes for flapping-gliding robots we evaluate the quasi-steady aerodynamic performance of four butterfly species (Monarch (Danaus plexippus), the Orange Aeroplane (Pantoporia consimilis), the Glasswing (Acraea andromacha) and the Four-barred Swordtail (Protographium Ieosthenes)). We fabricate at-scale wing models based on measured wing shapes and vary the forewing angle in nine steps to account for the ability of the butterfly to change the relative orientation of its forewing and hindwing during flight. For comparison we include twelve non-biological planforms as performance benchmarks for the butterfly wing shapes. We then test these 48 wing models at 2m/s, 3.5m/s and 5m/s (Reynolds number between 2597 and 12632) in a low speed wind tunnel which allows lift and drag force measurements of centimeter-size wings. The results indicate that the forewing orientation which maximizes the wing span offers the best gliding performance and that overall the gliding ratios are highest at 3.5m/s. The wing shapes with the best gliding ratio are found in the Glasswing butterfly with a maximum of 6.26 which is very high compared to the gliding performance of similarly sized flying robots. The results from this study are important for the development of novel biologically-inspired flying micro robots as well as for biomechanics studies in biology.
Date of Conference: 7-12 Oct. 2012