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RESEARCH ON THE STABILITY AND CONTROL

OF SOARING BIRDS
by

Robert G. Hoey
Flight Test Consultant
Lancaster, CA

Abstract Iyy Moment of inertia about y axis


Izz Moment of inertia about z axis
A research effort was undertaken to determine if L/D Lift to drag ratio
birds are statically stable in soaring flight, and to identify the L Rolling moment due to sideslip
control method they use for initiating turns. A full-scale radio- Lt Tail lift force
controlled glider model of a soaring Raven was successfully ly Rolling moment at element y
developed and flown in a manner which emulates the Lydih Lift at element y with dihedral
soaring flight of a bird. It has no vertical stabilizing surfaces effects
and no rudder. The model was air-launched from a 2nd Lyo Zero sideslip lift at element y
radio-controlled mother ship which allowed consistent and Lytot Lift at element y with dihedral
repeatable tests to be performed. Experiments with the & sweep effects
model indicate that soaring birds are probably neutrally MAC Mean aerodynamic chord
stable in the pitch axis but seem to soar with positive lateral- ny Yawing moment at element y
directional static stability. The stability source is the OSH2, OSH4 Airfoil designations
spanwise distribution of both dihedral and wing sweep. P Dutch roll period
Simple theoretical equations were developed which roughly q Dynamic pressure
predicted the observed Dutch roll period of the model. S Ref. wing area
Experiments also indicate that soaring birds control STOL Slow Take-Off & Landing
turns strictly through dihedral effect and the application of a Sw Local sweep angle of 1/4 chord line
yawing moment to induce sideslip. Successful model flights t Wing thickness
were completed using up-and-down tail movement for pitch Theta Pitch angle
control and tail-tilt for lateral control. W, Wt Weight
The simple baseline Raven model which evolved wn Dutch roll natural frequency
should provide an excellent starting point for continued x Wing x coordinate
research on bird flight. y Spanwise distance to element y
Yt Tail side force
Nomenclature Angle of sideslip

ac Wing aerodynamic center


AOA, Angle of attack Introduction
b Ref. wing span
c Wing chord Prior to the Wright brothers historic flight there was
cg Center of gravity considerable interest within the scientific community
CL Lift coefficient (including the Wrights) in the study of bird flight. Once man
Cl Rolling moment coef. due to sideslip learned how to fly on his own terms, the rapidly evolving
Cmac Pitching moment about wing ac fields of aeronautics and aerodynamics focussed on
Cn Yawing moment coef. due to sideslip improving man's ability to fly, and interest in how the birds do
Cn* "Dynamic" Cn or Cn "star" it waned. My background in stability and control flight testing
CP, Cp Pressure coefficient fostered an interest in learning more about the stability and
CR1, CR3 "Cruise" wing planforms control mechanisms employed by birds. After all, they must
DE Tail angle in pitch abide by the same laws of physics as we do. Since large
dih Local dihedral angle soaring birds appear to be relatively passive while in soaring
Dyo Zero sideslip drag at element y flight, it was felt that this might be a good place to start. The
Gamma Flight path angle specific objectives of the initial study were;
hz Hertz 1) Determine if soaring birds are statically stable in
Ixx Moment of inertia about x axis the lateral-directional axis and, if so, identify the stability
Copyright c 1992 by the American Institute of source.
Aeronautics and Astonautics, Inc. All rights 2) Determine if soaring birds are statically stable in
reserved.
the pitch axis.
3) Identify the aerodynamic method used by birds of 3.25 seconds. These oscillations were eventually
for controlling turns in soaring flight. eliminated by reducing the weight (and thus the roll and yaw
inertia) of the wing structure which was initially built quite
Method strong and heavy to survive expected crashes.
The fully developed baseline Raven model is quite
Since large birds are of the same general size and easy to fly in spite of the lack of a vertical tail and has
wing loading as a typical radio-controlled model airplane, I excellent turning capability. It has been thermalled frequently
reasoned that I should be able to construct and fly a full and has been joined by real Ravens and Hawks on several
scale radio-controlled glider model of a soaring bird. The occasions. A typical flight is launched from an altitude of
Raven was chosen as the initial subject since they are about 500 feet. In still air the flight time is about 3 minutes,
plentiful in the California desert for photographing and however thermalling flights often exceed 30 minutes.
observing, and since they soar with their wings essentially With this stable and controllable model and a
flat, making for easy construction. A baseline configuration consistent launch method as the baseline, a series of
was established which was a composite of many telephoto experiments were conducted between June 1991 and Feb
and video pictures of these variable-geometry creatures. The 1992. Concurrent theoretical analyses of the test
planform was found to vary only slightly between different configurations were also undertaken. The remainder of this
birds that were actually circling in thermals, the primary paper discusses the results of these experiments.
variation being the amount of "fan" of the tail feathers. An
actual Raven was weighed and measured and the model Test Article
configuration was scaled to be about 8% larger than a real
bird to allow for radio equipment in the fuselage. Early flights The layout of the baseline Raven model is shown in
of the model were hand-launched from a gently sloping hill. Fig. 1 along with pertinent dimensions. The moments of
A video camera was used to record different test results and inertia were measured whenever major configuration
to measure speeds and flight path. An air-launch technique changes were made. The model was suspended in a cradle
was developed utilizing another radio-controlled mothership. from a fixed pivot point about 3 inches above the center of
This was a key factor in the research effort allowing gravity. The frequency of the free oscillation was measured
consistent and repeatable experiments to be performed. in each axis and the pendulum equations used to compute
Testing proceeded by making small configuration changes the inertia's. The range of weights and inertia's that have
and qualitatively observing differences in stability or been flown are shown in Table 1. The real Raven weighed
controllability. Test maneuvers were generally step turn 1.94 pounds so the wing loading of the model is still only
inputs for lateral control or speed changes using the about 2/3 of the real-life wing loading of a bird.
elevator. Control is provided through a 2 or 3-channel model
airplane transmitter, receiver and servos. Drag flaps on the
Early Development Flights lower surface of each wing provide a yawing moment to
initiate turns. Two tail configurations have been flown. The
Initial speculation was that the flight controls of first consisted of a simple elevator at the back of the tail
soaring birds had probably evolved toward a minimum feathers as shown in fig. 1. The second was a more complex
energy solution, both for trim and for maneuvering. This "rolling tail" mechanism which allowed the entire tail area aft
would imply neutral stability in all axes. Prior to the first of the wing to pivot up and down for pitch control and also
flights of the radio-controlled Raven model several small rotate around a longitudinal axis for combined pitch and yaw
profile free flight models were built to test various control control (Fig. 2). The rolling tail was flown primarily with the
methods. The initial flights of these models showed, to my "cruise" (CR3) wing as shown in Fig 2. Over 300 air-
surprise, that the configuration was statically stable in all launched flights have been accomplished on three test
axes. Longitudinal control was straight forward using the aft articles over the past year.
third of the tail as an elevator and adjusting cg position for
stability. Lateral control was more of a challenge. All Performance
combinations of wing twisting methods such as ailerons,
differential leading edge flaps, spoilers, full chord pivoting There were no specific performance objectives of
wing tips, etc were tried. The results were fairly consistent. this study since it was known that lift and drag
The small models would yaw and turn in the opposite measurements would be very difficult. In addition there was
direction to the applied roll control due to adverse yaw and only a cursory attempt to duplicate the thin, undercambered
dihedral effect. When a vertical fin was added to these small airfoil of a bird. Nevertheless some differences in the flight
models the roll control devices behaved in their normal characteristics of the model have been observed which are
sense. It became obvious that if the larger radio-controlled associated with different wing airfoils. The prototype airfoil
version was to be flown without a vertical tail it would have to was an angular, cambered airfoil with a small reflex near the
be flown using a yaw-producing control device and dihedral trailing edge (Fig. 3).Initial flights showed a very narrow
effect for lateral control. The use of drag flaps, acting angle of attack range for this airfoil and a rapid "nodding"
downward only, on the lower surface of each wing provided characteristic (small, neutrally damped pitch oscillation of
a yawing moment which caused the model to turn in the about 2 hz) when full aft stick was applied rather than a
direction of the deflected flap. (the reverse of a normal classical stall. Tuft studies were done by holding the model
aileron.) This proved to be a consistent control scheme and into the afternoon desert winds, and taking video photos of
was utilized for the baseline model. (Although there is little the tufted wing. The flow over the entire wing was observed
evidence that birds use this control method there is a to separate abruptly right at the leading edge. The
secondary row of feathers mid-chord on the lower surface of coordinates of this airfoil were approximated using R.T.
the wing of most large soaring birds which might be used in Jones and R. McWilliams "Oshkosh Airfoil Program". The
a similar manner.) resulting pressure distributions are shown in fig. 3 (OSH2)
The first few flights of the full scale radio-controlled and show a sharp pressure spike developing at the leading
model showed positive static stability but exhibited a edge at fairly low angles of attack; consistent with the tuft
neutrally damped lateral-directional oscillation with a period observations. The computer program was then used to
develop a second airfoil with a more gentle pressure configurations. It is most noticeable on the wing with the
distribution but with the same, positive pitching moment OSH4 airfoil. Testing for the phugoid requires very smooth
coefficient. (OSH4, Fig. 4). (The Cmac for both airfoils was air and the characteristics have not as yet been tied to any
about +.03). With this airfoil the model had a wider speed particular configuration or flight condition. It is annoying but
range, a much improved glide (comparable to more easily controlled.
conventional glider models), but still exhibited the "nodding"
stall characteristic, although both the frequency of the Lateral-Directional Stability
nodding and the airspeed at which it occurred were slower.
This "nodding" stall characteristic has been observed on all One of the first experiments after establishing a
configurations and cg positions flown and appears to be flyable baseline model was to try to identify the effects of
associated more with the planform than with the airfoil. various tip feather shapes and airfoils. The prototype model
Frame-by-frame analysis of video pictures were had a double laminated feather structure in an attempt to
used to determine flight speed. The vertical and horizontal keep the elastic axis well forward and avoid flutter on
distance traveled between frames was measured against a individual feathers. The original airfoil at the tip was an
distant, fixed background in terms of per cent of body length. extension of the double surface wing airfoil (Fig 3). Some of
A camera perspective angle was determined by also the different wing tip-feather configurations that were flown
measuring the apparent horizontal distance between wing are shown in Fig. 8. The results of these tests showed no
tips. A foreshortening factor was then applied to the body noticeable difference in the lateral stability or controllability
length to allow computation of velocity along the flight path. due to the wing tip shape. Most configurations were
A sample time history of one of these analyses is shown in eventually tested on only one wing to try to amplify any
Fig. 5 for a flight with the OSH4 airfoil. Flight velocities are differences. As the tip feathers got simpler and flatter the
seen to be about 20 fps (14 mph) at an angle of attack of glide appeared to improve very slightly so the final
about 12 deg. For this particular landing full up-elevator was configuration was a simple flat surface with an outline shape
applied 1.7 seconds before landing and the "nodding" similar to the Raven photos.
oscillation of about 2 hz can be clearly seen in the angle of As mentioned above the early flights of the model
attack data. Although the measurement is of very low exhibited an undamped lateral oscillation. The period of this
confidence, a lift-to-drag ratio of about 8 was determined oscillation was measured through video analysis as 3.25
from this analysis. Calculated lift coefficients are plotted vs seconds. A reduction in the roll and yaw moments of inertia
angle of attack in Fig. 6 and compared with the OSH4 airfoil of 10 percent (see table 1) provided a noticeable increase in
predictions corrected for aspect ratio. Correlation is not bad damping. The roll and yaw inertia's with the OSH4 wing were
considering the instrumentation and test methodology. 30 percent lower than the prototype and the lateral
oscillation was heavily damped. To attempt to explain this
Longitudinal Stability oscillation a very rudimentary analysis of the Dutch roll
characteristics of the configuration was attempted. The static
The Raven model is quite short-coupled in the pitch lateral-directional stability of the Raven was analyzed by
axis and was treated during the design phase as a flying developing simplified equations for the rolling and yawing
wing. The slightly reflexed airfoil was felt to be consistent moments produced when the wing was in a sideslip. It was
with some slight flexing or unloading of the wing feathers at assumed that there were no contributions to static lateral-
the trailing edge of a real bird. More importantly the reflex directional stability from the fuselage or horizontal tail. An
has allowed the model to be flown with the tail loaded both elliptical spanwise lift distribution was assumed and lift was
upward and downward as determined by the turn direction normalized to weight and span. (Fig 9a) The drag on each
when the tail was tilted (discussed later). Successful flights spanwise element was assumed to be related to the lift on
have been flown with cg positions between 23% and 29.3% that element by the overall L/D ratio (ie, Dyo = Lyo/(L/D))
MAC. The resulting trim tail deflections at landing are shown The change in lift on each element due to the effect of local
in Fig. 7. A cg position of 29.3% was obviously very close to dihedral and sweep were assessed. (Fig. 9b).
the neutral point and required constant attention in flight to The change in lift due to dihedral was approximated
maintain a proper speed and attitude. Keep in mind that real as the product of the sine of the sideslip angle, , and the
birds don't really alter their cg. Instead they utilize fore and sine of the local dihedral angle, dih;
aft wing articulation for active and rapid control of the
location of the wing lift vector and thus the static margin. If Left Lydih=Lifty*(1-sin(y)*sin(dihy))
the airfoil of a real bird does not unload (or reflex) at the Right Lydih=Lifty*(1+sin(y)*sin(dihy))
trailing edge as assumed here, then the Cmac is negative
and the bird must surely be flying with a slightly negative The change in lift due to wing sweep was assumed
static margin if observations of an up-loaded tail are correct. to be related to the change in the width of the element
The "nodding" stall characteristic mentioned earlier normal to the free stream (essentially an incremental change
was present over the entire cg range flown. Except for the in area). Wing sweep at the 1/4 chord, Sw, was
most aft cg conditions the model could be controlled laterally approximated as 1/2 of the leading edge sweep angle. The
with the drag flaps while maintaining full aft stick. (At aft cg's total lift on each wing at each spanwise element was;
the model tended to roll-off into a steep spiral) This pitch-
stable region of flight and parachute-like descent was Left Lytot=Lydih*cos(Swy+)/cos(Swy)
occasionally used as a momentary "safe haven" during aft Right Lytot=Lydih*cos(Swy-)/cos(Swy)
cg tests when flight in the normal speed range was
extremely sensitive. This stall-proof characteristic would The total rolling and yawing moment were
indicate that the basic pitching moment curve breaks in the computed by multiplying the change in lift and drag at each
stable direction as the wing begins to stall. High speed dives element by the spanwise distance to the element.
have also shown evidence of a slight tuck near the point of
zero lift. ly=y(Lytot-Lyo)
Flights have shown evidence of a persistent ny=y(Dytot-Dyo)=ly/(L/D)
longitudinal phugoid oscillation which is divergent for some
The resulting rolling moment calculations exhibited very similar stability and controllability
for the baseline Raven configuration are shown for the characteristics to the baseline.
semispan of each wing in Figs. 10 and 11. The inboard 2/3 A seagull wing of the planform and dihedral shown
of the wing is influenced solely by the effects of sweep. The in Fig. 14 has also been flown. Although the wing shape is
forward sweep of the inboard segment produces a slight radically different than the Raven, the observed flight
destabilizing effect while the aft sweep outboard produces a characteristics were also consistent with predicted stability
stabilizing influence. The outboard 1/3 of the wing has both levels. The first flight, flown with -7 deg of dihedral in the
sweep and dihedral which produces a noticeable stabilizing outer panels (dashed line) could be yawed, but could not be
effect (negative L). turned except for very slow speeds near stall. (Cn*
The video analysis described earlier provided a =.00527, only 62% of the value for the baseline Raven) Later
reasonable source for angle of attack, dynamic pressure and flights with only -2 degrees of dihedral in the outer panels
lift-drag ratio. For the prototype Raven the values were, exhibited normal turning characteristics. Predicted Cn* for -
q=.405, L/D=8, AOA=11 deg. 2 degrees of dihedral was .00926 which was similar to the
The weight and inertia measurements (Table I) allowed Baseline Raven. Notice that the value of Cn* reaches zero
direct calculations of predicted dynamic characteristics. The at a dihedral value of -13.5 deg. for the Seagull wing shape.
value of "dynamic" Cn (or Cn*) was computed as; Spiral stability tests have been attempted but are
highly susceptable to turbulence and initial trim conditions
Cn*=Cn(cos ) - Cl(sin )Iz/Ix (as they are in manned airplanes). Trends indicate that most
configurations tested are spirally stable and must be held
The natural frequency was then computed as; into a turn with sustained lateral control. Some
configurations appeared neutral but none showed negative
2
wn = Cn*(qSb)/Iz spiral stability.

and the Dutch roll period as; Lateral-Directional Controllability

P=2/wn The drag flaps were found to be quite powerful in


controlling turns and recovering from upsets for the baseline
These calculations produced a value of Cn* of configuration. From the piloting standpoint the control was
.009 and a predicted period of 3.71 seconds for the early, natural and required no special technique. Roll control using
heavy wing configuration, compared with an observed period dihedral effect was greatly enhanced by the lack of
of 3.25 seconds. Again this was considered reasonable directional stability since sideslip could be produced with
correlation considering the simplistic approach to the small yaw inputs.
analysis. It is interesting to note that the observed period is Following the dihedral/wing sweep tests the "rolling
shorter than that calculated implying an even higher level of tail" which was described earlier was installed on the model
static stability than estimated. It is also possible that the with the CR3 wing configuration. The drag flaps were
observed oscillation is not a pure Dutch roll but rather a retained as a backup control method.
coupled roll-spiral or some other more complex mode The effectiveness of the rolling tail in yawing and
associated with very low levels of yaw static stability and turning the model depended on the lift load on the tail in
damping, and very high levels of roll damping. trimmed flight. For a forward cg the tail was loaded
It is noteworthy that this analysis of a fin-less downward (Fig. 15a). Rotating the tail clockwise produced a
configuration produced a positive value for static directional left force at the tail and dihedral effect caused a right turn.
stability, Cn. The value was .0036 per radian which is only For an aft cg the tail was loaded upward and the same
1 or 2 per cent of the value we would expect to see for an clockwise tail rotation produced a right force, thus a left turn
airplane with a vertical tail. This combination of very low (Fig 15b).
directional stability and low, but stable, dihedral effect seems Initial flights were with a forward cg and the model
to work well. The model has been intentionally flown into could be turned smoothly and easily by merely rolling the
many unusual attitudes (tail slides, wing-overs etc.) and tail. The model would turn in the direction that the tail was
recovery to normal flight is both rapid and natural requiring tilted. This is consistent with a forward cg and the down-
no unusual piloting technique. loaded tail of Fig. 15a. As the cg was moved aft on
The next step was to attempt to validate the static successive flights the ability to turn by rolling the tail
stability trade-off between wing sweep and wing dihedral diminished although turns could still be produced by
which was predicted by the analytical equations. The wing combining roll and pitch commands. At the most aft cg
tip feathers were modified to a more highly swept planform tested the rolling tail control was reversed and the model
(CR1 configuration Fig 12). The analytical model showed would turn away from the direction of tail tilt. This is
that this configuration should have acceptable static stability consistent with the up-loaded tail of Fig 15b. Trailing-edge-
without any dihedral (Cn*=.00695). Flights were made with down elevator deflections were also observed after landing
successively less tip dihedral until the wing was flat. for these flights (Fig. 7). Several flights were completed in
Although the model in the CR1 configuration appeared to this configuration using only the rolling tail for pitch and yaw
have less stability at high speed, the stability and control. Although flying the model required constant attention
controllability at normal soaring speeds was similar to the in pitch, the observed tail activity was very similar to that
baseline configuration thus increasing confidence in the observed on actual Ravens in soaring flight. The handling
analytical prediction. qualities were not very comfortable for a human pilot but
The wing planform was then reconfigured to the they are probably completely normal to a Raven. It is likely
CR3 configuration which is a shape more typical of Ravens that, with the on-board sensors and control effectors
in straight gliding flight (not soaring). A small amount of tip available to a Raven, he frequently flies with negative static
dihedral was chosen so that the predicted lateral-directional margins. His handling quality requirements are substantially
stability (Fig 13) was similar to that of the baseline different than those of a human pilot responding only to
configuration (Cn*=.00899). Flights in this configuration external visual cues.
It is also interesting to realize that the adverse-yaw directional stability based on the spanwise distribution of
phenomenon that we find so annoying in human-controlled dihedral and wing sweep. The soaring Raven wing exhibits
airplanes is the primary, and possibly only, method of lateral very low static directional stability and low, but stable,
control used by a soaring bird. Small changes in tip dihedral dihedral effect. These results indicate that soaring birds do
and/or wing sweep produced rather large percentage (or can) fly with positive levels of Dutch Roll stability. The
changes in the total dihedral effect for the model. A soaring level of stability is quite sensitive to wing shape and dihedral.
bird can increase the dihedral simultaneously with an applied Tests of different planform/dihedral combinations on the
tail yawing moment to initiate a rapid turn, then immediately model validated the predicted trade-off between wing sweep
reduce the dihedral back to zero for increased efficiency in and dihedral.
straight flight. Soaring birds have been observed to use (2) Longitudinal Stability
more dihedral when soaring than when gliding in straight The Raven model was flown over a cg range that
flight. It appears that they configure their wings for more encompassed both up-loaded and down-loaded tail surfaces
positive static lateral-directional stability when soaring due to based on observations of turn direction when the tail was
the requirement for continuous control inputs for turning tilted. Most observations of the tail-tilt on real Ravens are
and/or recoveries from upsets. consistent with an up-loaded tail which implies that they soar
with very low, and possibly negative, static margins in pitch.
Future Research The observed tail activities of actual birds was most closely
duplicated with the model when the static margin was very
Now that a simple and flyable test vehicle has been close to zero. The Raven model was highly resistant to a
developed which emulates the flight of a soaring bird a normal stall when controlled with upward tail deflections.
whole array of potential experiments comes to mind. Instead it exhibited a rapid "nodding" oscillation and a small
Certainly the planform/dihedral equations for lateral- increase in descent rate.
directional stability should be tested against the wing shapes (3) Lateral Control
of other bird species such as the Pelican, Hawk, Buzzard, While in soaring flight Ravens apparently control
and Albatross. Additional mechanisms could be added to the roll attitude, and thus turning flight, strictly through dihedral
models to test the following features; effect and the application of a yawing moment to produce
1) Variable dihedral sideslip. The yawing moment is typically introduced by tilting
2) Variable sweep the tail but could also be produced by drag differential on the
3) Wing flapping concepts wings.
4) Wing shapes near landing (STOL) The technique of air-launching radio-controlled full-
It would be extremely interesting to conduct a low scale models of birds offers an excellent, low cost method of
speed force and moment wind tunnel test of the Raven testing various hypotheses of the mechanics of bird flight.
baseline configuration.
The results presented in this paper must be
considered preliminary and applicable only in the realm of
soaring flight. Additional tests and better test methods could
well invalidate some of the conclusions drawn thus far, but Table I
the framework for continued research is established. RAVEN MODEL MEASURED WEIGHTS AND INERTIAS

Conclusions CONFIG. Wt. Lb Ixx Iyy Izz

A full-scale radio-controlled glider model of a Prototype 1.125 0.01515 0.00395 0.01475


soaring Raven has been successfully developed and flown Prototype 1.169 0.01526 0.00394 0.01428
in a manner which emulates the soaring flight of a bird. Light Wing 1.119 0.01364 0.00408 0.01369
Although the model has no vertical stabilizing or controlling OSH4 wing 1.050 0.01084 0.00289 0.00960
surfaces, it is statically stable and controllable in all axes. Rolling Tail 1.281 0.01364 0.00441 0.01402
(1) Lateral-Directional Stability
Flight results of the model correlated reasonably
well with a simple analysis which predicted static lateral-