Characterizing and modeling the enhancement of lift and payload capacity resulting from thrust augmentation in a propeller-assisted flapping wing air vehicle

Thumbnail Image


Publication or External Link





International Journal of Micro Air Vehicles 2018, Vol. 10(1) 50–69 ! The Author(s) 2017 DOI: 10.1177/1756829317734836


Biologically-inspired flapping wing flight is attractive at low Reynolds numbers and at high angles of attack, where fixed wing flight performance declines precipitously. While the merits of flapping propulsion have been intensely investigated, enhancing flapping propulsion has proven challenging because of hardware constraints and the complexity of the design space. For example, increasing the size of wings generates aerodynamic forces that exceed the limits of actuators used to drive the wings, reducing flapping amplitude at higher frequencies and causing thrust to taper off. Therefore, augmentation of aerodynamic force production from alternative propulsion modes can potentially enhance biologicallyinspired flight. In this paper, we explore the use of auxiliary propellers on Robo Raven, an existing flapping wing air vehicle (FWAV), to augment thrust without altering wing design or flapping mechanics. Designing such a platform poses two major challenges. First, potential for negative interaction between the flapping and propeller airflow reducing thrust generation. Second, adding propellers to an existing platform increases platform weight and requires additional power from heavier energy sources for comparable flight time. In this paper, three major findings are reported addressing these challenges. First, locating the propellers behind the flapping wings (i.e. in the wake) exhibits minimal coupling without positional sensitivity for the propeller placement at or below the platform centerline. Second, the additional thrust generated by the platform does increase aerodynamic lift. Third, the increase in aerodynamic lift offsets the higher weight of the platform, significantly improving payload capacity. The effect of varying operational payload and flight time for different mixed mode operating conditions was predicted, and the trade-off between the operational payload and operating conditions for mixed mode propulsion was characterized. Flight tests revealed the improved agility of the platform when used with static placement of the wings for various aerobatic maneuvers, such as gliding, diving, or loops.


Partial funding for Open Access provided by the UMD Libraries' Open Access Publishing Fund.