Tubercle effect

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Tubercle model of a Humpback whale flipper

The tubercle effect is a recently discovered[citation needed] phenomenon where tubercles or large 'bumps' on the leading edge of an airfoil can improve its aerodynamics. The effect was discovered and analyzed by Frank E. Fish et al in the early 2010s.[dubious ][citation needed] The tubercle effect works by channeling flow over the airfoil into more narrow streams, creating higher velocities. Another side effect of these channels is the reduction of flow moving over the wingtip and resulting in less parasitic drag due to wingtip vortices. Using computational modeling, it was determined that the presence of tubercles produces a delay in the angle of attack until stall, thereby increasing maximum lift and decreasing drag.[1] Fish first discovered[citation needed] this effect when looking at the fins of humpback whales. These whales are the only known organisms to take advantage of the tubercle effect. It is believed that this effect allows them to be much more maneuverable in the water, allowing for easier capture of prey. The tubercles on their fins allow them to do aquatic maneuvers to catch their prey.[1]

The tiny hooklets on the fore edge of an owl's wing have a similar effect that contributes to its aerodynamic maneuverability and stealth.[2][3]

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  1. ^ a b Fish, F. E.; Weber, P. W.; Murray, M. M.; Howle, L. E. (2011). "The Tubercles on Humpback Whales' Flippers: Application of Bio-Inspired Technology". Integrative and Comparative Biology. 51 (1): 203–213. doi:10.1093/icb/icr016. 
  2. ^ Watts, P.; First, F. E. "The Influence of Passive, Leading Edge Tubercles on Wing Performance" (PDF). 
  3. ^ Blain, L. (March 2008). "Bumpy whale fins set to spark a revolution in aerodynamics". 

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