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Aerodynamic characteristics of a flexible membrane micro air vehicle

Adnan Maqsood (Department of Computational Engineering, Research Center for Modeling & Simulation, National University of Sciences & Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan)
Tiauw Hiong Go (Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida, USA)

Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology

ISSN: 0002-2667

Article publication date: 5 January 2015



The purpose of this paper is to describe the research performed on flexible-wing micro air vehicle (MAV). Typical attributes associated with the aerodynamics of MAVs are low Reynolds number, low altitude flying environments and low aspect ratio platforms. These attributes give birth to several challenges such as poor aerodynamic performance, nonlinear lift patterns and reduced gust tolerance. Flexible-wing MAV is renowned for improved aerodynamic characteristics such as smooth flight in gusty conditions than its rigid-wing counterpart.


The wind-tunnel experiments are carried out for various configurations to determine the ways of further enhancing lift. The baseline geometric description for all MAVs includes 15-cm box dimension and an aspect ratio of 1. The experimental results of the baseline configuration are compared with other experimental results available in literature. After due validation, the effects of following parameters are quantized and compared with the rigid-wing counterpart: underlying skeleton; wing membrane extension; wing membrane relaxation; and wing membrane material (latex, silk, poly-vinyl chloride plastic sheet and nylon).


It is found that the skeleton layout significantly governs the lift characteristics. The effect of membrane extension and relaxation proved to be of little advantage. Latex sheets are found to be the best choice for membrane material. The aerodynamic assessment at low Reynolds number has demonstrated significant improvement of lift characteristics for flexible wings over rigid-wing counterparts.

Research limitations/implications

The results presented in this paper are based on wind-tunnel experimentation. Further experimentation through flight test may be needed to reveal the true aerodynamic performance under unsteady maneuvers.

Practical implications

The material properties vary significantly during fabrication. A technique to standardize the properties of flexible membranes is a missing link in literature and warrants further investigation.


This concept of flexible wing has shown high potential. The primary objective of this paper is to experimentally investigate ways of further enhancing the lift of flexible-wing MAVs by controlling flexibility passively. While various researchers have spent many years on developing the optimum wing frame for the flexible wing, research on different wing materials has been limited. This is the first paper of its kind covering all aspects of wing-frame design, material, effects of extension and relaxation on wing membrane.



The authors (Adnan Maqsood and Tiauw Hiong Go) would like to acknowledge that the experimental work presented in this paper was carried out while they were serving at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, as Research Fellow and Assistant Professor, respectively. However, the analysis part was carried out at National University of Sciences & Technology, Pakistan, and Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, USA. The authors would like to thank Zeng Zibin for helping carry out wind-tunnel tests.


Maqsood, A. and Go, T.H. (2015), "Aerodynamic characteristics of a flexible membrane micro air vehicle", Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, Vol. 87 No. 1, pp. 30-37.



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