Unsteady dynamics of rapid perching manoeuvres

Delyle T. Polet, David E. Rival, Gabriel D. Weymouth*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


A perching bird is able to rapidly decelerate while maintaining lift and control, but the underlying aerodynamic mechanism is poorly understood. In this work we perform a study on a simultaneously decelerating and pitching aerofoil section to increase our understanding of the unsteady aerodynamics of perching. We first explore the problem analytically, developing expressions for the added-mass and circulatory forces arising from boundary-layer separation on a flat-plate aerofoil. Next, we study the model problem through a detailed series of experiments at \mathit{Re}=22\,000 and two-dimensional simulations at \mathit{Re}=2000. Simulated vorticity fields agree with particle image velocimetry measurements, showing the same wake features and vorticity magnitudes. Peak lift and drag forces during rapid perching are measured to be more than 10 times the quasi-steady values. The majority of these forces can be attributed to added-mass energy transfer between the fluid and aerofoil, and to energy lost to the fluid by flow separation at the leading and trailing edges. Thus, despite the large angles of attack and decreasing flow velocity, this simple pitch-up manoeuvre provides a means through which a perching bird can maintain high lift and drag simultaneously while slowing to a controlled stop.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-341
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • biological fluid dynamics
  • swimming/flying
  • vortex shedding


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