An experimental study of an airfoil with a bio-inspired leading edge device at high angles of attack

Boris A. Mandadzhiev, Michael K. Lynch, Leonardo P. Chamorro, Aimy A. Wissa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Robust and predictable aerodynamic performance of unmanned aerial vehicles at the limits of their design envelope is critical for safety and mission adaptability. Deployable aerodynamic surfaces from the wing leading or trailing edges are often used to extend the aerodynamic envelope (e.g. slats and flaps). Birds have also evolved feathers at the leading edge (LE) of their wings, known as the alula, which enables them to perform high angles of attack maneuvers. In this study, a series of wind tunnel experiments are performed to quantify the effect of various deployment parameters of an alula-like LE device on the aerodynamic performance of a cambered airfoil (S1223) at stall and post stall conditions. The alula relative angle of attack, measured from the mean chord of the airfoil, is varied to modulate tip-vortex strength, while the alula deflection angle is varied to modulate the distance between the tip vortex and the wing surface. Integrated lift force measurements were collected at various alula-inspired device configurations. The effect of the alula-inspired device on the boundary layer velocity profile and turbulence intensity were investigated through hot-wire anemometer measurements. Results show that as alula deflection angle increases, the lift coefficient also increase especially at lower alula relative angles of attack. Moreover, at post stall wing angles of attack, the wake velocity deficit is reduced in the presence of alula device, confirming the mitigation of the wing adverse pressure gradient. The results are in strong agreement with measurements taken on bird wings showing delayed flow reversal and extended range of operational angles of attack. An engineered alula-inspired device has the potential to improve mission adaptability in small unmanned air vehicles during low Reynolds number flight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number094008
JournalSmart Materials and Structures
Issue number9
StatePublished - Aug 17 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Signal Processing
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


  • alula
  • bioinspired adaptive structures
  • stall mitigation
  • wind tunnel test


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