The Scalable Design of Flapping Micro-Air Vehicles Inspired by Insect Flight

  • David LentinkEmail author
  • Stefan R. Jongerius
  • Nancy L. Bradshaw


Here we explain how flapping micro air vehicles (MAVs) can be designed at different scales, from bird to insect size. The common believe is that micro fixed wing airplanes and helicopters outperform MAVs at bird scale, but become inferior to flapping MAVs at the scale of insects as small as fruit flies. Here we present our experience with designing and building micro flapping air vehicles that can fly both fast and slow, hover, and take-off and land vertically, and we present the scaling laws and structural wing designs to miniaturize these designs to insect size. Next we compare flapping, spinning and translating wing performance to determine which wing motion results in the highest aerodynamic performance at the scale of hummingbirds, house flies and fruit flies. Based on this comparison of hovering performance, and our experience with our flapping MAV, we find that flapping MAVs are fundamentally much less energy efficient than helicopters, even at the scale of a fruit fly with a wing span of 5 mm. We find that insect-sized MAVs are most energy effective when propelled by spinning wings.


Lift Coefficient Wing Shape Lead Edge Vortex Insect Wing Brushless Motor 
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We would like to thank the following persons and everyone else who helped us out with the research and designs presented in this chapter. Insect flight research: Michael Dickinson, William Dickson, Andrew Straw, Douglas Altshuler, Rosalyn Sayaman and Steven Fry at Caltech. DelFly design: Michel van Tooren, Rick Ruijsink, Christophe de Wagter, Bart Remes, René lagarde, Ayuel Kacgor, Wouter Roos, Kristien de Klercq, Christophe Heynze, Gijs van der Veen, Pieter Moelans, Anand Ashok, Daan van Ginneken, Michiel Straathof, Bob Mulder and Meine Oosten at TU Delft. Johan van Leeuwen at Wageningen University. Eric den Breejen, Frank van den Bogaart, Klamer Schutte, Judith Dijk and Richard den Hollander at TNO Defence, Security, and Safety. DelFly research: Eric Karruppannan, Evert Janssen, Jos van den Boogaart, Henk Schipper, Ulrike Müller, Gijs de Rue and Johan van Leeuwen at Wageningen University. Rick Ruijsink at TU Delft. Insect wing research: Elke van der Casteele at SkyScan. Adriaan Beukers at TU, Delft. Mees Muller and Johan van Leeuwen at Wageningen University.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Lentink
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Stefan R. Jongerius
    • 2
  • Nancy L. Bradshaw
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Experimental Zoology GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Faculty of Aerospace EngineeringDelft University of TechnologyDelftThe Netherlands

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