Curving to fly: Synthetic adaptation unveil optimal flight performance of helicopter fruits
Andreas Carlson og Jean Rabault
Nature has invented ingenious aerodynamic design solutions, some of which are critical for plants as wind dispersal of seeds and fruits is coupled to their flight performance. This formulates into an optimization problem for plants: large seed wings can lead to increased lift and more efficient dispersion, but are costly for the tree to build and can more easily be trapped in the canopy. Double winged seeds/fruits separate from their tree when a specific level of dessication is reached, and autorotate as they descend to the ground. This leads to the question: how is the wing curvature of seeds/fruits linked to their flight performance? To answer this, we develop a theoretical model that suggests the existence of an optimal wing curvature that yields maximal lift. To further understand the interplay between the flow and the wing geometry, we perform a synthetic seed adaptation by deploying 3D printing of double winged fruits that we use in flight experiments, where we span the phase space of aerial dynamics by changing the of wing curvature and seed/fruit weight. Experiments confirm that there is a sweet-spot in curvature to maximise the flight time consisted with geometrical measurements from a wide range of seeds in Nature. Our results highlights the importance of not curving too much or too little for helicopter fruits to have an optimal flight performance.