The Lighthill-Weis-Fogh clap-fling-sweep mechanism revisited

D. Kolomenskiy, H. K. Moffatt, M. Farge, K. Schneider

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


The Lighthill-Weis-Fogh 'clap-fling-sweep' mechanism for lift generation in insect flight is re-examined. The novelty of this mechanism lies in the change of topology (the 'break') that occurs at a critical instant tc when two wings separate at their 'hinge' point as 'fling' gives way to 'sweep', and the appearance of equal and opposite circulations around the wings at this critical instant. Our primary aim is to elucidate the behaviour near the hinge point as time t passes through tc. First, Lighthill's inviscid potential flow theory is reconsidered. It is argued that provided the linear and angular accelerations of the wings are continuous, the velocity field varies continuously through the break, although the pressure field jumps instantaneously at t = tc. Then, effects of viscosity are considered. Near the hinge, the local Reynolds number is very small and local similarity solutions imply a logarithmic (integrable) singularity of the pressure jump across the hinge just before separation, in contrast to the 'negligible pressure jump' of inviscid theory invoked by Lighthill. We also present numerical simulations of the flow using a volume penalization technique to represent the motion of the wings. For Reynolds number equal to unity (based on wing chord), the results are in good agreement with the analytical solution. At a realistic Reynolds number of about 20, the flow near the hinge is influenced by leading-edge vortices, but local effects still persist. The lift coefficient is found to be much greater than that in the corresponding inviscid flow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)572-606
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • aerodynamics
  • low-Reynolds-number flows
  • swimming/flying


Dive into the research topics of 'The Lighthill-Weis-Fogh clap-fling-sweep mechanism revisited'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this