Bioinspired wingtip devices: A pathway to improve aerodynamic performance during low Reynolds number flight

Michael Lynch, Boris Mandadzhiev, Aimy Wissa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Birds are highly capable and maneuverable fliers, traits not currently shared with current small unmanned aerial vehicles. They are able to achieve these flight capabilities by adapting the shape of their wings during flight in a variety of complex manners. One feature of bird wings, the primary feathers, separate to form wingtip gaps at the distal end of the wing. This paper presents bio-inspired wingtip devices with varying wingtip gap sizes, defined as the chordwise distance between wingtip devices, for operation in low Reynolds number conditions of Re = 100 000, where many bird species operate. Lift and drag data was measured for planar and nonplanar wingtip devices with the total wingtip gap size ranging from 0% to 40% of the wing's mean chord. For a planar wing with a gap size of 20%, the mean coefficient of lift in the pre-stall region is increased by 7.25%, and the maximum coefficient of lift is increased by 5.6% compared to a configuration with no gaps. The nonplanar wingtip device was shown to reduce the induced drag. The effect of wingtip gap sizes is shown to be independent of the planarity/nonplanarity of the wingtip device, thereby allowing designers to decouple the wingtip parameters to tune the desired lift and drag produced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number036003
JournalBioinspiration and Biomimetics
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology


  • Avian-inspired flight
  • low Reynolds number
  • multiple winglets
  • segmented wingtip
  • slotted wing tips
  • wingtip devices


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