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The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters

D. Silin*, B. Malladi*, and S. Shkarayev The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, 85721 The research and development project outlined in the paper addresses the aerodynamic design of flapping-wing micro air vehicles (also called ornithopters). Rigorous wind tunnel testing was conducted over the wide range of geometric, elastic, and kinematic parameters of flapping wings. Specifically, effects of a wings bending stiffness on the generated thrust force and power required were investigated at different flapping frequencies. The lift and drag forces on flapping wings were studied with the stroke plane angle varied from horizontal to vertical. The major result of this study is that no abrupt stall was found for the full range of angles at all test speeds. Three ornithopters were designed utilizing the results of aerodynamics studies. The smallest ornithopter has a 15 cm wingspan, weighs only 9 grams, and has a flight endurance of 3 min. The 20-cm ornithopter with a thrust-to-weight ratio in excess of 1.2 is capable of hovering, as well as of sustained steady flight. The 53-cm ornithopter is equipped with an autopilot, and several fully autonomous flights have been performed to date. I. Introduction Because of their small size, micro air vehicles are often considered for applications ranging from military to scientific, and their versatility allows them to perform in conditions that might otherwise endanger human life. Their reconnaissance capabilities were the driving factor for the first generation of micro air vehicles (MAVs). These developments concerned fixed wing MAVs. Flapping-wing micro air vehicles generate lift and thrust for forward motion using their flapping wings, emulating birds and insects. However, just mimicking the flight of birds and insects is insufficient in designing flapping-wing vehicles. Here is how this viewpoint was elucidated by Mueller and DeLaurier:1 The primary motivation for studying animal flight is to explain the physics for a creature that is known to fly An ornithopter designer, in contrast, is trying to develop a flying aircraft, and its ability to achieve this is no given fact. And conversely, a successful micro air vehicle design provides a verifiable physical model of flight in nature. Aerovironment pioneered the designing of radio-controlled micro ornithopters called Microbats.2 The most successful vehicle of this type has a half-ellipse wing planform with a 20cm wingspan flapping at 22 Hz. The project proved to be challenging because of the limited knowledge on unsteady aerodynamics of flexible flapping wings of this small size.

Graduate Student, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, University of Arizona, 1130 N. Mountain, Tucson AZ, 85721. Associate Professor, Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, University of Arizona, 1130 N. Mountain, Tucson AZ, 85721, Senior Member of AIAA.

DeLaurier and his group developed a 35-cm radio-controlled ornithopter capable of hovering.3 The kinematics of the 4 wings (X-wing) mimic the cling-flip mechanism employed by some insects and birds. This mechanism balances flapping forces and decreases vibrations. Hovering flights in excess of one minute were achieved with a flapping frequency of 28 Hz. It was noted that transition to forward flight remains a problem, but that it may be overcame by an intelligent flight stabilization system. Ellington4 summarized the flight kinematics of insects, which could be useful for prospective insect-sized MAV designs. The motion of the flapping wing is described with respect to the flapping plane, also called a stroke plane. Insects have been observed to perform gentle maneuvers by tilting the stroke plane of their wings, just like a helicopter. Lateral direction changes can be accomplished by a roll of the stroke plane (often by increasing flapping amplitude and/or angle of attack of the outside wing). Angle of attack changes also initiate lowspeed acceleration. For slower flight and hovering, the body hangs below the wing bases, and the insect benefits from a passive pendulum-like stability. An ornithopter competition was added to the 8th International MAV Competition in Tucson, Arizona in 2004. This competition involves building the smallest radio-controlled ornithopter that can fly the most laps around a pylon course in 2 min. The pylons were spaced 40 feet apart and the ornithopters flew either an elliptical course around them or a figure-8 through them. The University of Arizona (UA) won the 2004,5 2005,6 and 20067 competitions with 28-cm, 20-cm, and 15-cm ornithopters, respectively. For the 2006 US-European MAV technology demonstration, we are planning to present the three ornithopter designs shown in Fig. 1. The smallest known ornithopter has a 15 cm wingspan, weighs only 9 grams and has flight endurance of 3 min. Birds and insects are unstable flyers, yet they have evolved very sophisticated methods of maneuvering capabilities, including vertical takeoff, landing and hovering.8,9 The 20-cm ornithopter with a thrust-toweight ratio in excess of 1.2 is capable of hovering, as well as of sustained steady flight. Our team has extensive experience in the successful integration of an autopilot into fixedwing micro air vehicles. We have developed two fully autonomous air vehicles, Dragonfly and Zagi, that have demonstrated the ability to complete practical surveillance missions.10 In the present project, the 53-cm UA ornithopter was outfitted with a Paparazzi autopilot11 for fully autonomous operation, and several fully autonomous flights have been performed to date.

a) 15-cm, smallest

b) 20-cm, hovering 2

The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters

c) 53-cm, autonomous Fig. 1. UA ornithopters. II. Wind Tunnel Measurements on Flapping Wings Studies to date on the aerodynamics of flapping flight, although beneficial to an understanding of the subject, have not taken into account all the details that are necessary to obtain a complete and thorough understanding (and more accurate representation) of the true aeromechanics of flapping flight. For the same reasons, no design methods for flapping wings are readily available and, therefore, the first phase of the present project was focused on the aerodynamics of flapping wings currently used for UA ornithopters. Wind tunnel measurements were performed on flapping wings to complete the following tasks: the investigation of the effect of a wings bending stiffness on the thrust force and power required at different frequencies; the determination of the lift and drag forces with the stroke plane angle varying from horizontal to vertical. Testing was performed using the UA Low Speed Wind Tunnel (Fig. 2a). The test section is 3 4 ft and has a velocity range from 2 to 50 m/s. The flow is laminarized in a settling chamber to less than 0.3% turbulence in the axial direction. 3
The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters

a) Model in the wind tunnel

b) Model schematics Fig. 2. Wind tunnel testing of flapping wings. 4

The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters

The force balance is capable of accurate measurements of lift and drag. Force measurements are made using precision strain gages. Data from these strain gages are logged using two National Instruments SCXI-1321 terminal blocks in a low-noise SCXI-1000 chassis capable of sampling at 330,000 Hz. The flapping wing model consists of a mounting rib, wing, and flapping transmission (Fig. 2b). The wing is a half-ellipse planform with a 250 mm wingspan and 70 mm root chord, resulting in a 13,700 mm2 wing area and aspect ratio of 4.56. The wing structure consists of a membrane bonded to the front and radial spars with rubber cement. The membrane is 0.015-mm Mylar. Front and radial spars are pultruded carbon rods. In the basic flapping wing model (model A), carbon rods are used for the spars, T315-412 of diameter 0.8 mm for front spars, and T305-412 of diameter 0.5 mm for radial spars. Two radial spars are placed in each wing, as shown in Fig. 2b. The total weight of the wing is 1.1 g. The front spar flapping motion sweeps through 72 of travel with a 19 dihedral offset (Fig. 2b). Since the main goal of this testing series was to obtain wing-only aerodynamic data, the flapping-wing models were supported as close to the trailing edge as possible with an aerodynamically clean mount system. An aluminum mount was constructed with minimum frontal area and a smooth aerodynamic leading edge. The mount was reinforced by patches along the mid-chord from the leading to the trailing edges. These parts also functioned as the mounting points to the wind tunnel pylon. In order to measure the flapping frequency of the wings, an experimental setup was equipped with a built-in optical tachometer. The tachometer consists of a CP-36 photodiode and ECG3038 phototransistor connected to the data acquisition board.

Fig. 3. Thrust vs flapping frequency.

The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters

Fig. 4. Thrust-to-power vs flapping frequency. Wing design trade-offs are their weight and stiffness. Since the center of pressure and the shear center do not typically coincide in the actual wings of insects and birds, a resultant torque causes the wing to twist. Hence, the one very key element in the production of the lift and thrust by flapping wings lies in the flexibility or stiffness of the wing structure, and not only in the flapping motion. Stiffer wings allow for higher maximum flapping frequencies and, therefore, higher thrust force. However, having a more rigid wing increases the wing structure weight. Increased weight requires more energy to induce flapping. Is there an optimum? In order to investigate the effects of wing stiffness on the developed thrust and required power, in addition to the base wing (model A), described above, two more wing models were built models B and C, with increased and decreased stiffness, respectively. The increase of the stiffness in model B was achieved by attaching an additional 0.5-mm-diameter carbon rod along the half wingspan adjacent to the root of the wing. The stiffness in model C was decreased by sanding the front spar to make it tapered, with diameters of 0.8 mm at the root and 0.35 mm at the tip of the wing. The wing tip deflections were measured on all three models under the static load of 15 g applied to the wing tip and were found to be 27 mm, 19 mm, and 35 mm for models A, B, and C, respectively. All three models were tested on the wind tunnel balance without airflow. The thrust force was measured for flapping frequencies up to 22 Hz, and the results are presented in Fig. 3. The stiffer wing model B shows the highest thrust, followed by the most flexible model C. In order to explain this effect further, experimental studies on wing shapes and air pressure distributions are needed. Also, the electric power input was recorded and the thrust-to-power ratio is presented in Fig. 4. Model A is 1.5-2 times more power effective than models C and B.

The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters

Fig. 5. Variation of the lift force with the stroke plane angle and velocity.

Fig. 6. Variation of the drag force with the stroke plane angle and velocity. The stroke plane angle is the angle between the free stream velocity vector and stroke plane formed by a motion of the flapping wing tips (Fig. 2a). Birds have developed flight methods that allow them to demonstrate sophisticated maneuvering, as well as vertical takeoff, landing, and hovering. During transitioning between maneuvers and from horizontal flight to vertical and back, high stroke plane angles, sp , often occur. Wind gusts can also generate high sp . The flapping-wing model A was tested for a range of stroke plane angles from the horizontal ( sp = 0 ) to the vertical ( sp = 90 ), and velocities of 2.7, 5.4, and 8.1 m/s. The results of these tests are presented for the stroke-averaged lift force (Fig. 5) and for the stroke-averaged drag force (Fig. 6). The lift curves are typically one of the first things to look at when designing a micro air vehicle. For comparison purposes, the lift force was measured at sp = 0 at zero flow speed 7
The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters

and was found to be 0.035 N. Note the significant lift at sp = 0 resulting from the dihedral introduced into the flapping wings. At small sp , the data are more scattered due to the small magnitude of the measured forces, and the lift forces at non-zero flow speed are significantly (more than 2 times) greater than the one at zero speed. In terms of trends, it appears that as the velocity increases, the slopes of the lift curves and the lift force increase. The lift force for the velocity of 8.1 m/sec at sp = 30 is 1.77 times greater than that for 2.7 m/sec. The lift force plots demonstrate nonlinear behavior at moderate angles and maximum lift forces of 0.34 N, 0.42 N, and 0.56 N are reached at sp = 72 , 58, and 53 , respectively. After reaching maxima, lift forces slowly decrease, with the stroke plane angle approaching sp = 90 . It is seen from Fig. 5 that flapping wings do not show the typical, abrupt stall seen with fixed wings. This important result warrants further studies on the physics of flow and associated aerodynamic forces and moments on flapping wings at high sp . Similar to a fixed wing, the drag force plots for flapping wings in Fig. 6 are concave. In these plots, the negative drag actually means a pointing-forward thrust force, and a zero value means that thrust and drag are balanced. The balance is achieved at sp = 56, 37, and 27 at velocities of 2.7, 5.4, and 8.1 m/s, respectively.

III. Ornithopter Design Designs of successful flapping-wing micro air vehicles are presented here. A complete CAD rendering of a typical UA ornithopter design is presented in Fig. 7, and the mass breakdown of three vehicles are presented in Table 1.

Fig. 7. SolidworksTM rendering of a typical ornithopter design.

The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters

Table 1. Mass breakdown of UA ornithopters. Components 15 cm Wing Fuselage & Tail Motor Battery Speed Controller RC Receiver Servos Autopilot board Infrared sensors board Total 0.3 1.8 2.9 2.4 0.4 0.4 0.8 9 Mass, g 20 cm 0.4 4.5 12 10 1 1 3.5 32.4 53 cm 10.8 23.6 12.4 18.9 7.5 2.4 7 16.9 6.6 106.1

The battery and motor account for 55% of the total weight of the ornithopters, making the powertrain the heaviest system in the aircraftit remains the biggest design issue. The transmission is powered by an electric motor. The following motors are used: Super Slick 3.3 Ohm and Micro DC5-2.4 coreless electric motors for the 15-cm and 20-cm ornithopters, respectively, and brushless motor BA-BL1230 for the 53-cm ornithopter. The motor is regulated by a speed controller and radio receiver. Energy is provided by lithium polymer batteries. The motor drives a crankshaft mechanism through a reduction gearbox. The crankshaft initiates a flapping motion of the front spar by the action of cranks connected to push-rods. The 15-cm and 53-cm ornithopters had their motors aligned with the longitudinal axis of the vehicle. Designs with a streamlined longitudinal motor arrangement proved difficult to trim for level flight due to the powerful rolling moment produced by the motor torque. The motor for the 20cm vehicle was mounted in the transverse direction. For this design, the torque reaction produces a positive (nose-up) pitching moment, improving stability and controls. The cranks are counter-rotating in the 15-cm and rotating in the same direction in the 20-cm and 53-cm vehicles. The fuselage frame was made from balsa wood and carbon rods. The frame and components are protected from the impact of landing by a EPP foam nose. The wing structure consists of the carbon rod frame and a membrane. The wing of 15-cm vehicle has a front spar made of 0.5 mm diameter carbon rod. The 20-cm ornithopter utilizes 0.8 mm main spar and 0.5 mm root section reinforcement for high output thrust needed for hovering. The wing of 53-cm ornithopter has a spar combined of 2 1 mm carbon tube at the root and 1.2 mm diameter carbon rod, tapered to 0.8 mm diameter at the wing tip. The following materials were used for the membrane: nylon of 73.7 g/m2 density, Mylar of 16.8 g/m2 density, and Mylar of 7.0 g/m2 density for the 53-cm, 20cm, and 15-cm ornithopters, respectively. The 15-cm and 20-cm aircraft use conventional tail with rudder and elevator, while the 53-cm vehicle has V-tail with elevons. The design goal for the 15-cm ornithopter was to demonstrate that current progress in miniature radio-control components and electric power trains allows the creation of a flappingwing MAV within the sub-15-cm linear scale. 9
The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters

The uniqueness of the 20-cm ornithopter is in its high agility and, specifically, hovering capability. The first time this ornithopter was presented was in 2004 at the 4th European MAV competition in France. It was able to takeoff from the ground and hover for a few seconds. The flight time was limited to around 50 seconds due to the low battery capacity. Further optimization of flapping wings allowed the creation of 30-33 g ornithopters that generate 3740 g of thrust. The main design feature of the 53-cm autonomous ornithopter is, of course, the autopilot. However, it resulted in about a 20% weight increase. Therefore, the design goal in this project was aimed at reducing the weight of the structure. The frame and single crank transmission from a commercial R/C ornithopter kit13 were used in the construction. The fuselage frame was lightened and a new crank with a shorter arm was machined. To increase the lifetime of the structure, all sleeve bearings were replaced with ball bearings. Although not the lightest available solution, experience has shown that Falcon servos offer more consistent control than other types of lightweight actuators. A lighter, but 30% larger, tail was installed for more effective control and stability at low speed.

IV. Autopilot Integration into the 53-cm Ornithopter Utilizing previous experience in autopilot integration,10,14 a Paparazzi autopilot11 was integrated into the 53-cm UA ornithopter in the present project. Specially for this project, a thin 0.8 mm PCB with no connectors was manufactured. The ready-to-install autopilot board has dimensions of 7 31.5 63.5 mm and 16.9 gram of weight. The Paparazzi autopilot and ground station are a set of software and hardware assets, flexible enough to work with various types of flying vehicles. The system uses microprocessors, a GPS unit, and an infrared sensor board to determine the current attitude of the vehicle. A receiver and transmitter provide communication between the vehicle and the ground station. The autopilot software controls all avionic devices and algorithms for guidance, navigation, and control. The flight control software consists of several modulesconfiguration files, flight plan, map, autopilot, and GPS toolsand two major partsthe autopilot software on-board the airplane and the ground station software. In flight, the autopilot sends telemetry data back to the ground station. Currently, the telemetry data include: GPS-based data; speed, altitude, and climb rate of the airplane; attitude of the aircraft provided by infrared sensors; autopilot status data; and position of the control surfaces. These data play a major role in performance analyses during the flight tests and adjustments of gains. Longitudinal control of the ornithopter is accomplished by proportional control for altitude hold, with an inner pitch attitude loop. Similarly, lateral-directional control is accomplished by an outer heading hold loop and the inner bank angle control loop, both using proportional control.

The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters

Fig. 8. Autopilot hardware integration in the 53-cm ornithopter. The autopilot board was installed on the top of the frame right behind the wing (Fig. 8). In order to protect the board from vibrations, it was installed using two T-shaped mounts with soft rubber foam pads. All the radio control components are located right under the board in the frame cutouts, thus the weight of the wiring is also minimized.

V. Flight Testing Flight testing is an important step in bringing together the results of the wind tunnel testing, design concept, and construction techniques. One of the main problems with all ornithopters is their sensitivity to the center of gravity position. Affecting the static margin, minute changes in the center of gravity may result in loss of the aircraft. During initial flight testing, the pitching moment in level flight was monitored and the installation angle on the horizontal tail was adjusted as needed. The first flight tests of the 15-cm ornithopter revealed following problems: low climb rate and inefficient pitch control. The reason for the low climb rate was found to be the too-forward location of the center of gravity, which was initially set based on the previous 20-cm designs. But those ornithopters had a flapping transmission with a transverse crankshaft orientation that delivered positive pitching moment as the throttle increase. The present design has two counterrotating cranks oriented along the symmetry axis and is not as sensitive to the throttle. After adjusting the center of gravity position, the ornithopter flies well: it is able to withstand up to a 3 m/sec wind, can do a series of sharp turns while maintaining altitude, and has a flight time at moderate throttle in excess of 3 min. At its demonstration,7 it made 7 figure-8s around two pylons 40-feet apart, in 2 min. Flight tests of the 20-cm vehicle show that a high thrust-to-weight ratio of about 1.2 is not the only condition for continuous hovering. Another important feature is the effectiveness of the control system during hovering. The current control system includes a horizontal tail with an area equal to about 50% of the area of the wing and a vertical tail located at the bottom of the horizontal tail. Such a two-channel control system allows effective pitch control at any speed and angle of attack with the help of the elevator deflecting air flow behind the flapping wings. The issue of roll and yaw coupling is specific to the current vertical tail configuration. In order to improve this situation, further studies will be focusing on the development of a tail with three control channels. A 53-cm ornithopter has performed a number of flights with endurance more than 3 min without a payload. It has also demonstrated an ability to climb and perform basic maneuvers with 28 g of payload.

The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters

With the autopilot installed, the ornithopter is used only for the flights in horizontal plane with a constant altitude. Waypoint navigation and altitude control algorithms previously used for fixed wing airplanes are utilized in the autopilot installed on the ornithopter.


Future Studies

The successful completion of this project provides us with a unique opportunity and a new approach to in-flight study the aerodynamics of a flapping-wing apparatus. Our future research and development efforts will focus also on increasing the robustness of the flight control system and widening the flight envelope. Enhanced control laws will be developed to satisfy the needs for flying very aggressively. The nonlinear nature of the ornithopter system suggests a control design based on dynamic inversion.

This project was sponsored by the College of Engineering at the University of Arizona. The authors also would like to thank the other members of the Micro Air Vehicle Project at the University of Arizona for their contributions to this work: Roman Krashanitsa and Deva Coopamah. Photographs for this paper are courtesy of Ed Stiles, to whom we are very grateful.


Mueller, T.J., and DeLaurier, J.D., An Overview of Micro Air Vehicle Aerodynamics, In: Fixed and Flapping Wing Aerodynamics for Micro Air Vehicle Applications, edited by T. J. Mueller, Vol. 195, AIAA, Reston, VA, 2001, pp. 1-12.

Keennon, M., and Grasmeyer, J., Development of Two MAVs and a Brief Vision for the Future of MAVs Design, AIAA-2003-2901, AIAA International Air and Space Symposium and Exposition: The Next 100 Years, Dayton, Ohio, July 14-17, 2003.

DeLaurier, J., Ornithopter Research, 2003 Bioflight Workshop, NASA Langley Research Center, August 7-8, 2003.

Ellington, C. P., The Novel Aerodynamics of Insect Flight: Applications to Micro Air Vehicles, The Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol. 202, 1999, pp. 3439-3448. Thompson, P., Ward, G., Kelman, B., and Null, W., Design Report: Development of Surveillance, Endurance, and Ornithoptic Micro Air Vehicles, 2004 International Micro Air Vehicle Competition, Tucson, Arizona, 10 p., April 2004. Olson, D. H., Silin, D., Aki, M., Murrieta, C., Tyler, J., Kochevar, A., Jehle, A., and Shkarayev, S., Wind Tunnel Testing and Design of Fixed and Flapping Wing Micro Air Vehicles at the University of Arizona, Micro Air Vehicle Design Papers, Konkuk University, South Korea, 9 p., 2005. Yanagita, T., Lind, T., Malladi, B., Silin, D., Coopamah, D., Berka, T., Han, B., Rodriguez, S., and Shkarayev, S., Simulation Wind Tunnel Testing, and Design of Fixed and Flapping Wing Micro Air Vehicles, Micro Air Vehicle Design Papers, 10th International Micro Air Vehicle Competition, May 2006, Provo, Utah. 12
The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters
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Taylor, G. K. and Thomas, A. L. R., Dynamic Flight Stability in the Desert Locust Schistocerca Gregaria, The Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol. 26, 2003, pp. 2803-2829. Sun, M. and Xiong, Y., Dynamic Flight Stability of a Hovering Bumblebee, Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol. 208, 2005, pp. 447-459.
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Krashanitsa, R., Platanitis, G., Silin, D., and Shkarayev, S., Autopilot Integration into Micro Air Vehicles, Introduction to the Design of Fixed-Wing Micro Aerial Vehicles, edited by T. J. Mueller, J. C. Kellogg, P. G. Ifju, and S. Shkarayev, AIAA, Reston, VA, 2006 (submitted). Drouin, A., and Brisset, P., PaparaDzIY: do-it-yourself UAV, 4th European Micro-UAV Meeting, Toulouse, France, Sept. 15-17, 2004. Material Data Sheets, CST - The Composites Store, Inc., Tehachapi, California, 2006.




Wing Bird R/C Electric Ornithopter Specification, Building and Flying Instructions, Long TAI AIR-Electronics CO., LTD., Nanjing, P.R. China, 16 p., 2006.

Krashanitsa, R., Platanitis, G., Silin, B., and Shkarayev, S., Aerodynamics and Controls Design for Autonomous Micro Air Vehicles, AIAA-2006-6639, AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conference and Exhibit, Keystone, Colorado, Aug. 21-24, 17 p., 2006.


The University of Arizona Micro Ornithopters