Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Aerospace Engineering

First Advisor

Hui Hu

Second Advisor

Z. J. Wang


The development of a dynamic unstructured grid high-order accurate spectral difference (SD) method for the three dimensional compressible Navier-Stokes (N-S) equations and its applications in flapping-wing aerodynamics are carried out in this work. Grid deformation is achieved via an algebraic blending strategy to save computational cost. The Geometric Conservation Law (GCL) is imposed to ensure that grid deformation will not contaminate the flow physics. A low Mach number preconditioning procedure is conducted in the developed solver to handle the bio-inspired flow. The capability of the low Mach number preconditioned SD solver is demonstrated by a series of two dimensional (2D) and three dimensional (3D) simulations of the unsteady vortex dominated flow.

Several topics in the flapping wing aerodynamics are numerically and experimentally investigated in this work. These topics cover some of the cutting-edge issues in flapping wing aerodynamics, including the wake structure analysis, airfoil thickness and kinematics effects on the aerodynamic performances, vortex structure analysis around 3D flapping wings and the kinematics optimization. Wake structures behind a sinusoidally pitching NACA0012 airfoil are studied with both experimental and numerical approaches. The experiments are carried out with Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) and two types of wake transition processes, namely the transition from a drag-indicative wake to a thrust-indicative wake and that from the symmetric wake to the asymmetric wake are distinguished. The numerical results from the developed SD solver agree well with the experimental results. It is numerically found that the deflective direction of the asymmetric wake is determined by the initial conditions, e.g. initial phase angle.

As most insects use thin wings (i. e., wing thickness is only a few percent of the chord length) in flapping flight, the effects of airfoil thickness on thrust generation are numerically investigated by simulating the flow fields around a series of plunging NACA symmetric airfoils with thickness ratio ranging from 4.0% to 20.0% of the airfoil chord length. The contribution of viscous force to flapping propulsion is accessed and it is found that viscous force becomes thrust producing, instead of drag producing, and plays a non-negligible role in thrust generation for thin airfoils. This is closely related to the variations of the dynamics of the unsteady vortex structures around the plunging airfoils.

As nature flyers use complex wing kinematics in flapping flight, kinematics effects on the aerodynamic performance with different airfoil thicknesses are numerically studied by using a series of NACA symmetric airfoils. It is found that the combined plunging and pitching motion can outperform the pure plunging or pitching motion by sophisticatedly adjusting the airfoil gestures during the oscillation stroke. The thin airfoil better manipulates leading edge vortices (LEVs) than the thick airfoil (NACA0030) does in studied cases, and there exists an optimal thickness for large thrust generation with reasonable propulsive efficiency. With the present kinematics and dynamic parameters, relatively low reduced frequency is conducive for thrust production and propulsive efficiency for all tested airfoil thicknesses. In order to obtain the optimal kinematics parameters of flapping flight, a kinematics optimization is then performed. A gradient-based optimization algorithm is coupled with a second-order SD Navier-Stokes solver to search for the optimal kinematics of a certain airfoil undergoing a combined plunging and pitching motion. Then a high-order SD scheme is used to verify the optimization results and reveal the detailed vortex structures associated with the optimal kinematics of the flapping flight. It is found that for the case with maximum propulsive efficiency, there exists no leading edge separation during most of the oscillation cycle.

In order to provide constructive suggestions to the design of micro-air-vehicles (MAVs), 3D simulations of the flapping wings are carried out in this work. Both the rectangular and bio-inspired wings with different kinematics are investigated. The formation process of two-jet-like wake patterns behind the finite-span flapping wing is found to be closely related to the interaction between trailing edge vortices and tip vortices. Then the effects of the wing planforms on the aerodynamics performance of the finite-span flapping wings are elucidated in terms of the evolution and dynamic interaction of unsteady vortex structures.

Copyright Owner

Meilin Yu



File Format


File Size

190 pages