Impact of turbulence on flying insects in tethered and free flight: High-resolution numerical experiments

Thomas Engels, Dmitry Kolomenskiy, Kai Schneider, Marie Farge, Fritz Olaf Lehmann, Jörn Sesterhenn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Flapping insects are remarkably agile fliers, adapted to a highly turbulent environment. We present a series of high-resolution numerical simulations of a bumblebee interacting with turbulent inflow. We consider both tethered and free flight, the latter with all six degrees of freedom coupled to the Navier-Stokes equations. To this end, we vary the characteristics of the turbulent inflow, either changing the turbulence intensity or the spectral distribution of turbulent kinetic energy. Active control is excluded in order to quantify the passive response real animals exhibit during their reaction time delay, before the wing beat can be adapted. Modifying the turbulence intensity shows no significant impact on the cycle-averaged aerodynamical forces, moments, and power, compared to laminar inflow conditions. The fluctuations of aerodynamic observables, however, significantly grow with increasing turbulence intensity. Changing the integral scale of turbulent perturbations, while keeping the turbulence intensity fixed, shows that the fluctuation level of forces and moments is significantly reduced if the integral scale is smaller than the wing length. Our study shows that the scale-dependent energy distribution in the surrounding turbulent flow is a relevant factor conditioning how flying insects control their body orientation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number013103
JournalPhysical Review Fluids
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


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