A computational model of the flight dynamics and aerodynamics of a jellyfish-like flying machine

Fang Fang, Kenneth L. Ho, Leif Ristroph, Michael J. Shelley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We explore theoretically the aerodynamics of a recently fabricated jellyfish-like flying machine (Ristroph & Childress, J. R. Soc. Interface, vol. 11 (92), 2014, 20130992). This experimental device achieves flight and hovering by opening and closing opposing sets of wings. It displays orientational or postural flight stability without additional control surfaces or feedback control. Our model 'machine' consists of two mirror-symmetric massless flapping wings connected to a volumeless body with mass and moment of inertia. A vortex sheet shedding and wake model is used for the flow simulation. Use of the fast multipole method allows us to simulate for long times and resolve complex wakes. We use our model to explore the design parameters that maintain body hovering and ascent, and investigate the performance of steady ascent states. We find that ascent speed and efficiency increase as the wings are brought closer, due to a mirror-image 'ground-effect' between the wings. Steady ascent is approached exponentially in time, which suggests a linear relationship between the aerodynamic force and ascent speed. We investigate the orientational stability of hovering and ascent states by examining the flyer's free response to perturbation from a transitory external torque. Our results show that bottom-heavy flyers (centre of mass below the geometric centre) are capable of recovering from large tilts, whereas the orientation of the top-heavy flyers diverges. These results are consistent with the experimental observations in Ristroph & Childress (J. R. Soc. Interface, vol. 11 (92), 2014, 20130992), and shed light upon future designs of flapping-wing micro aerial vehicles that use jet-based mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)621-655
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - May 25 2017


  • flow-structure interactions
  • propulsion
  • swimming/flying

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics


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