The three-dimensional leading-edge vortex of a "hovering' model hawkmoth

C. van den Berg, C.P. Ellington

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Recent flow visualization experiments with the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, revealed a small but clear leading-edge vortex and a pronounced three-dimensional flow. Details of this flow pattern were studied with a scaled-up, robotic insect ('the flapper') that accurately mimicked the wing movements of a hovering hawkmoth. Smoke released from the leading edge of the flapper wing confirmed the existence of a small, strong and stable leading-edge vortex, increasing in size from wingbase to wingtip. Between 25 and 75% of the wing length, its diameter increased approximately from 10 to 50% of the wing chord. The leading-edge vortex had a strong axial flow velocity, which stabilized it and reduced its diameter. The vortex separated from the wing at approximately 75% of the wing length and thus fed vorticity into a large, tangled tip vortex. If the circulation of the leading-edge vortex were fully used for lift generation, it could support up to two-thirds of the hawkmoth's weight during the downstroke. The growth of this circulation with time and spanwise position clearly identify dynamic stall as the unsteady aerodynamic mechanism responsible for high lift production by hovering hawkmoths and possibly also by many other insect species.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)329-340
    JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Biological Sciences
    Publication statusPublished - 1997


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