Membrane wings are used both in nature and small aircraft as lifting surfaces. Separated flows are common at low Reynolds numbers and are the main sources of unsteadiness. Yet, the unsteady aspects of the fluid-structure interactions of membrane airfoils are largely unknown. An experimental study of unsteady aerodynamics of two-dimensional membrane airfoils at low Reynolds numbers has been conducted. Measurements of membrane shape with a high-speed camera were complemented with the simultaneous measurements of unsteady velocity field with a high frame-rate particle image velocimetry system and flow visualization. Vibrations of the membrane and mode shapes were investigated as a function of angle of attack and free stream velocity. While the mean membrane shape is not very sensitive to angle of attack, the amplitude and mode of the vibrations of the membrane depend on the relative location and the magnitude of the unsteadiness of the separated shear layer. The results indicate strong coupling of unsteady flow with the membrane oscillations. There is evidence of coupling of membrane oscillations with the vortex shedding in the wake, in particular, for the post-stall incidences. Comparison of rigid (but cambered) and flexible membrane airfoils shows that the flexibility might delay the stall. Hence this is a potential passive flow control method using flexibility in nature and engineering applications.
Rojratsirikul, P., Wang, Z., & Gursul, I. (2009). Unsteady fluid-structure interactions of membrane airfoils at low Reynolds numbers. Experiments in Fluids, 46(5), 859-872. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00348-009-0623-8