Wake visualization of a heaving and pitching foil in a soap film

F.T. Muijres, D. Lentink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Many fish depend primarily on their tail beat for propulsion. Such a tail is commonly modeled as a two-dimensional flapping foil. Here we demonstrate a novel experimental setup of such a foil that heaves and pitches in a soap film. The vortical flow field generated by the foil correlates with thickness variations in the soap film, which appear as interference fringes when the film is illuminated with a monochromatic light source (we used a high-frequency SOX lamp). These interference fringes are subsequently captured with high-speed video (500 Hz) and this allows us to study the unsteady vortical field of a flapping foil. The main advantage of our approach is that the flow fields are time and space resolved and can be obtained time-efficiently. The foil is driven by a flapping mechanism that is optimized for studying both fish swimming and insect flight inside and outside the behavioral envelope. The mechanism generates sinusoidal heave and pitch kinematics, pre-described by the non-dimensional heave amplitude (0¿6), the pitch amplitude (0°¿90°), the phase difference between pitch and heave (0°¿360°), and the dimensionless wavelength of the foil (3¿18). We obtained this wide range of wavelengths for a foil 4 mm long by minimizing the soap film speed (0.25 m s¿1) and maximizing the flapping frequency range (4¿25 Hz). The Reynolds number of the foil is of order 1,000 throughout this range. The resulting setup enables an effective assessment of vortex wake topology as a function of flapping kinematics. The efficiency of the method is further improved by carefully eliminating background noise in the visualization (e.g., reflections of the mechanism). This is done by placing mirrors at an angle behind the translucent film such that the camera views the much more distant and out-of-focus reflections of the black laboratory wall. The resulting high-quality flow visualizations require minimal image processing for flow interpretation. Finally, we demonstrate the effectiveness of our setup by visualizing the vortex dynamics of the flapping foil as a function of pitch amplitude by assessing the symmetry of the vortical wake.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)665-673
JournalExperiments in fluids
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • oscillating foils
  • gas-dynamics
  • propulsion
  • velocity
  • laminar
  • analogy
  • tunnel
  • flow


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