Bistability in the rotational motion of rigid and flexible flyers

Yangyang Huang, Leif Ristroph, Mitul Luhar, Eva Kanso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We explore the rotational stability of hovering flight in an idealized two-dimensional model. Our model is motivated by an experimental pyramid-shaped object (Weathers et al., J. Fluid Mech, vol. 650, 2010, pp. 415-425; Liu et al., Phys. Rev. Lett., vol. 108, 2012, 068103) and a computational -shaped analogue (Huang et al., Phys. Fluids, vol. 27 (6), 2015, 061706; Huang et al., J. Fluid Mech., vol. 804, 2016, pp. 531-549) hovering passively in oscillating airflows; both systems have been shown to maintain rotational balance during free flight. Here, we attach the -shaped flyer at its apex in oscillating flow, allowing it to rotate freely akin to a pendulum. We use computational vortex sheet methods and we develop a quasi-steady point-force model to analyse the rotational dynamics of the flyer. We find that the flyer exhibits stable concave-down and concave-up behaviour. Importantly, the down and up configurations are bistable and co-exist for a range of background flow properties. We explain the aerodynamic origin of this bistability and compare it to the inertia-induced stability of an inverted pendulum oscillating at its base. We then allow the flyer to flap passively by introducing a rotational spring at its apex. For stiff springs, flexibility diminishes upward stability but as stiffness decreases, a new transition to upward stability is induced by flapping. We conclude by commenting on the implications of these findings for biological and man-made aircraft.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1043-1067
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Aug 25 2018


  • aerodynamics
  • flow-structure interactions
  • swimming/flying

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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