Passively morphing ornithopter wings constructed using a novel compliant spine: Design and testing

A. A. Wissa, Y. Tummala, J. E. Hubbard, M. I. Frecker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Ornithopters or flapping wing uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) have potential applications in civil and military sectors. Amongst the UAVs, ornithopters have a unique ability to fly in low Reynolds number flight regimes and also have the agility and maneuverability of rotary wing aircraft. In nature, birds achieve such performance by exploiting various wing kinematics known as gaits. The objective of this work is to improve the steady level flight performance of an ornithopter by implementing a continuous vortex gait using a novel passive compliant spine inserted in the ornithopters wings. This paper presents an optimal compliant spine concept for ornithopter applications. A quasi-static design optimization procedure was formulated to design the compliant spine. Finite element analysis was performed on a first generation spine and the spine was fabricated. This prototype was then tested by inserting it into an ornithopters wing leading edge spar. The effect of inserting the compliant spine into the wings on the electric power required, the aerodynamic loads and the wing kinematics was studied. The ornithopter with the compliant spines inserted in its wings consumed 45% less power and produced an additional 16% of its weight in mean lift compared to the same ornithopter without the compliant spine. The results indicate that this passive morphing approach is promising for improved steady level flight performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number094028
JournalSmart Materials and Structures
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2012
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


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