Vortex wake and flight kinematics of a swift in cruising flight in a wind tunnel

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In this paper we describe the flight characteristics of a swift (Apus apus) in cruising flight at three different flight speeds (8.0, 8.4 and 9.2 m s(-1)) in a low turbulence wind tunnel. The wingbeat kinematics were recorded by high-speed filming and the wake of the bird was visualized by digital particle image velocimetry (DPIV). Certain flight characteristics of the swift differ from those of previously studied species. As the flight speed increases, the angular velocity of the wingbeat remains constant, and so as the wingbeat amplitude increases, the frequency decreases accordingly, as though the flight muscles were contracting at a fixed rate. The wings are also comparatively inflexible and are flexed or retracted rather little during the upstroke. The upstroke is always aerodynamically active and this is reflected in the wake, where shedding of spanwise vorticity occurs throughout the wingbeat. Although the wake superficially resembles those of other birds in cruising flight, with a pair of trailing wingtip vortices connected by spanwise vortices, the continuous shedding of first positive vorticity during the downstroke and then negative vorticity during the upstroke suggests a wing whose circulation is gradually increasing and then decreasing during the wingbeat cycle. The wake (and implied wing aerodynamics) are not well described by discrete vortex loop models, but a new wake-based model, where incremental spanwise and streamwise variations of the wake impulse are integrated over the wingbeat, shows good agreement of the vertical momentum flux with the required weight support. The total drag was also estimated from the wake alone, and the calculated lift:drag ratio of approximately 13 for flapping flight is the highest measured yet for birds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)717-730
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Biological Sciences


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