Effect of flexural and torsional wing flexibility on lift generation in hoverfly flight

Integr Comp Biol. 2011 Jul;51(1):142-50. doi: 10.1093/icb/icr051. Epub 2011 May 27.


The effect of wing flexibility in hoverflies was investigated using an at-scale mechanical model. Unlike dynamically-scaled models, an at-scale model can include all phenomena related to motion and deformation of the wing during flapping. For this purpose, an at-scale polymer wing mimicking a hoverfly was fabricated using a custom micromolding process. The wing has venation and corrugation profiles which mimic those of a hoverfly wing and the measured flexural stiffness of the artificial wing is comparable to that of the natural wing. To emulate the torsional flexibility at the wing-body joint, a discrete flexure hinge was created. A range of flexure stiffnesses was chosen to match the torsional stiffness of pronation and supination in a hoverfly wing. The polymer wing was compared with a rigid, flat, carbon-fiber wing using a flapping mechanism driven by a piezoelectric actuator. Both wings exhibited passive rotation around the wing hinge; however, these rotations were reduced in the case of the compliant polymer wing due to chordwise deformations during flapping which caused a reduced effective angle of attack. Maximum lift was achieved when the stiffness of the hinge was similar to that of a hoverfly in both wing cases and the magnitude of measured lift is sufficient for hovering; the maximum lift achieved by the single polymer and carbon-fiber wings was 5.9 × 10(2)( )μN and 6.9 × 10(2)( )μN, respectively. These results suggest that hoverflies could exploit intrinsic compliances to generate desired motions of the wing and that, for the same flapping motions, a rigid wing could be more suitable for producing large lift.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Carbon
  • Carbon Fiber
  • Diptera / physiology*
  • Flight, Animal*
  • Models, Anatomic*
  • Pliability
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology
  • Wings, Animal / physiology*


  • Carbon Fiber
  • Carbon