Journal of Fluid Mechanics


Optimal flexibility of a flapping appendage in an inviscid fluid


a1 School of Mathematics, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332-0160, USA


We present a new formulation of the motion of a flexible body with a vortex-sheet wake and use it to study propulsive forces generated by a flexible body pitched periodically at the leading edge in the small-amplitude regime. We find that the thrust power generated by the body has a series of resonant peaks with respect to rigidity, the highest of which corresponds to a body flexed upwards at the trailing edge in an approximately one-quarter-wavelength mode of deflection. The optimal efficiency approaches 1 as rigidity becomes small and decreases to 30–50% (depending on pitch frequency) as rigidity becomes large. The optimal rigidity for thrust power increases from approximately 60 for large pitching frequency to ∞ for pitching frequency 0.27. Subsequent peaks in response have power-law scalings with respect to rigidity and correspond to higher-wavenumber modes of the body. We derive the power-law scalings by analysing the fin as a damped resonant system. In the limit of small driving frequency, solutions are self-similar at the leading edge. In the limit of large driving frequency, we find that the distribution of resonant rigidities ~k−5, corresponding to fin shapes with wavenumber k. The input power and output power are proportional to rigidity (for small-to-moderate rigidity) and to pitching frequency (for moderate-to-large frequency). We compare these results with the range of rigidity and flapping frequency for the hawkmoth forewing and the bluegill sunfish pectoral fin.

(Received January 11 2008)

(Revised July 02 2008)