Flapping-Wing Micro-Air-Vehicles: Theoretical and Practical Challenges

October 10,  2014


Haithem Taha, Assistant Professor

Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering,

University of California, Irvine



Birds and insects inspire engineers to design flapping-wing micro-air-vehicles (FWMAVs) that are able to perform D3 (dull, dirty, and dangerous) missions in confined and highly constrained areas. A FWMAV represents a complex multi-disciplinary system whose analysis invokes the frontiers of the mechanical and aerospace engineering disciplines. From the aerodynamic point of view, a nonlinear, unsteady flow is created by the flapping motion. In addition, non-conventional contributors, such as the leading edge vortex, to the aerodynamic loads become dominant in flight. On the other hand, the flight dynamics of a FWMAV constitutes a nonlinear, non-autonomous dynamical system; specifically a time-periodic system. Furthermore, the stringent weight and size constraints that are always imposed on FWMAVs invoke design with minimal actuation, which results in an under-actuated dynamical system.


In this presentation, I will show some of the above technical challenges and the approaches adopted to resolve them. In particular, I will show our development of an analytical unsteady aerodynamic model that accounts for arbitrarily non-conventional lift mechanisms, such as the leading edge vortex.  I will also show the necessity of combining geometric control theory and averaging to perform higher-order averaging for an appropriate study of flapping flight dynamics. Finally, I will discuss our proposed design methodology for the actuation mechanism that makes use of the saturation phenomenon to provide the required kinematics for both of hovering and forward flight using only one actuator.