Covert-inspired flaps for lift enhancement and stall mitigation

Chengfang Duan, Aimy Wissa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Even though unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are taking on more expansive roles in military and commercial applications, their adaptability and agility are still inferior to that of their biological counterparts like birds, especially at low and moderate Reynolds numbers. A system of aeroelastic devices used by birds, known as the covert feathers, has been considered as a natural flow-control device for mitigating flow separation, enhancing lift, and delaying stall. This study presents the effects of a covert-inspired flap on two airfoils with different stall characteristics at Reynolds numbers in the order of 105, where small scale UAVs operate. Detailed experiments and simulations are used to investigate how the covert-inspired flap affects lift and drag on an airfoil that exhibits sharp or sudden stall (i.e. the NACA 2414 airfoil) and one that exhibits soft or gradual stall (i.e. an E387(A) airfoil). The effects of the flap chord-wise locations and deflection angles on lift and drag is investigated, through wind tunnel experiments, for two types of flaps namely, a freely-moving flap and a static flap. Results show that the static covert-inspired flap can delay stall by up to 5° and improve post-stall lift by up to 23%. However, the post-stall lift improvement characteristics and sensitivities are highly affected by the airfoil choice. For the soft stall airfoil (i.e. E387(A)), the stall onset delay is insensitive to changing the flap deflection angle, and the flap becomes ineffective when the flap location is changed. In contrast, for the sharp stall airfoil (i.e. NACA 2414), the post-stall lift improvements can be tuned using the flap deflection angle, and the flap remains effective over a wide range of chord-wise locations. Numerical studies reveal that the lift improvements are attributed to a step in the pressure distribution over the airfoil, which allows for lower pressures on the suction side upstream of the flap. The distinctions between the flap-induced lift enhancements on the soft and sharp stall airfoils suggest that the flap can be used as a tunable flow control device for the sharp stall airfoil, while for the soft stall airfoil, it can solely be used as a stall mitigation device that is either on or off.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number046020
JournalBioinspiration and Biomimetics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


  • Bio-inspired flow control
  • Covert-inspired flap
  • Lift enhancement
  • Stall mitigation


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