You’d be justifiably alarmed to see an aircraft’s wing twist through 45 degrees, but the flapping wings of a hoverfly deform like this 300 times every second.
Add to this a large flap which flips up at right angles to the rest of the wing during manoeuvres, and you have what is generally termed an “unconventional” configuration.
With the aid of lasers and high-speed cameras filming at 4000 frames per second, Oxford University scientists have begun to unravel the hoverfly’s secrets by reconstructing how the wings’ three-dimensional shape changes through the stroke.
Intriguingly, the hinged flap at the base of the wing seems to be intimately involved in the hoverfly’s extraordinary manoeuvering performance.
Aircraft designers are unlikely to stop using rigid wings anytime soon, but for small and highly manoeuvrable micro-aircraft, bendy wings might just be the next big thing. Watch the video here.
A report of the research, ‘Deformable wing kinematics in free-flying hoverrflies’, is published online in Journal of the Royal Society, Interface.
The research was undertaken by Dr Simon Walker, Professor Adrian Thomas and Dr Graham Taylor of the Oxford Animal Flight Group, part of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford.