May 212010
 

Artificial Butterfly

Last year, we brought you the story of tech company AeroVironment’s life-size artificial hummingbird, that flies solely by flapping its wings. Now, a group of Japanese researchers has successfully built and flown a flapping-wing-powered swallowtail butterfly. Besides looking incredibly cool, the life-size “ornithopter” has also proven a principle that could have big implications in the field of aerodynamics.

Swallowtails’ wings are unusually large compared to their bodies, and their forewings overlap their rear wings. Because of these unique factors, their flapping frequency is considerably lower than that of other butterflies, and their range of wing motion is more restricted. This means that they have limited control of the aerodynamic force of their wings, and that their body motions are simply reactions to the flapping motion – in other types of butterflies, their body motions do exert control over their aerodynamics.

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