A potential role for bat tail membranes in flight control

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Abstract

Wind tunnel tests conducted on a model based on the long-eared bat Plecotus auritus indicated that the positioning of the tail membrane (uropatagium) can significantly influence flight control. Adjusting tail position by increasing the angle of the legs ventrally relative to the body has a two-fold effect; increasing leg-induced wing camber (i.e., locally increased camber of the inner wing surface) and increasing the angle of attack of the tail membrane. We also used our model to examine the effects of flying with and without a tail membrane. For the bat model with a tail membrane increasing leg angle increased the lift, drag and pitching moment (nose-down) produced. However, removing the tail membrane significantly reduced the change in pitching moment with increasing leg angle, but it had no significant effect on the level of lift produced. The drag on the model also significantly increased with the removal of the tail membrane. The tail membrane, therefore, is potentially important for controlling the level of pitching moment produced by bats and an aid to flight control, specifically improving agility and manoeuvrability. Although the tail of bats is different from that of birds, in that it is only divided from the wings by the legs, it nonetheless, may, in addition to its prey capturing function, fulfil a similar role in aiding flight control. © 2011 Gardiner et al.

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Gardiner, J. D., Dimitriadis, G., Codd, J. R., & Nudds, R. L. (2011). A potential role for bat tail membranes in flight control. PLoS ONE, 6(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0018214

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