The low Reynolds number aerodynamics of leading edge flaps
Bakhtian NM., Babinsky H., Thomas ALR., Taylor GK.
Within the low Reynolds number regime at which birds and small air vehicles operate (Re=15,000-500,000), flow is beset with laminar separation bubbles and bubble burst which can lead to loss of lift and early onset of stall. Recent video footage of an eagle's wings in flight reveals an inconspicuous wing feature: the sudden deployment of a row of feathers from the lower surface of the wing to create a leading edge flap. An understanding of the aerodynamic function of this flap has been developed through a series of low speed wind tunnel tests performed on an Eppler E423 aerofoil. Experiments took place at Reynolds numbers ranging from 40000 to 140000 and angles of attack up to 30°. In the lower range of tested Reynolds numbers, application of the flap was found to substantially enhance aerofoil performance by augmenting the lift and limiting the drag at certain incidences. The leading edge flap was determined to act as a transition device at low Reynolds numbers, preventing the formation of separation bubbles and consequently decreasing the speed at which stall occurs during landing and manoeuvring.