The wing motion in free flight has been described for insects ranging from 1 to 100 mm in wingspan. To support the body weight, the wings typically produce 2–3 times more lift than can be accounted for by conventional aerodynamics. Some insects use the fling mechanism: the wings are clapped together and then flung open before the start of the downstroke, creating a lift-enhancing vortex around each wing. Most insects, however, rely on a leading-edge vortex (LEV) created by dynamic stall during flapping; a strong spanwise flow is also generated by the pressure gradients on the flapping wing, causing the LEV to spiral out to the wingtip. Technical applications of the fling are limited by the mechanical damage that accompanies repeated clapping of the wings, but the spiral LEV can be used to augment the lift production of propellers, rotors and micro-air vehicles (MAVs). Design characteristics of insect-based flying machines are presented, along with estimates of the mass supported, the mechanical power requirement and maximum flight speeds over a wide range of sizes and frequencies. To support a given mass, larger machines need less power, but smaller ones operating at higher frequencies will reach faster speeds.

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