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Progress in Aerospace Sciences




Elsevier Ltd

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The impressive maneuverability demonstrated by birds has so far eluded comparably sized uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs). Modern studies have shown that birds’ ability to change the shape of their wings and tail in flight, known as morphing, allows birds to actively control their longitudinal and lateral flight characteristics. These advances in our understanding of avian flight paired with advances in UAV manufacturing capabilities and applications has, in part, led to a growing field of researchers studying and developing avian-inspired morphing aircraft. Because avian-inspired morphing bridges at least two distinct fields (biology and engineering), it becomes challenging to compare and contrast the current state of knowledge. Here, we have compiled and reviewed the literature on flight control and stability of avian-inspired morphing UAVs and birds to incorporate both an engineering and a biological perspective. We focused our survey on the longitudinal and lateral control provided by wing morphing (sweep, dihedral, twist, and camber) and tail morphing (incidence, spread, and rotation). In this work, we discussed each degree of freedom individually while highlighting some potential implications of coupled morphing designs. Our survey revealed that wing morphing can be used to tailor lift distributions through morphing mechanisms such as sweep, twist, and camber, and produce lateral control through asymmetric morphing mechanisms. Tail morphing contributes to pitching moment generation through tail spread and incidence, with tail rotation allowing for lateral moment control. The coupled effects of wing–tail morphing represent an emerging area of study that shows promise in maximizing the control of its morphing components. By contrasting the existing studies, we identified multiple novel avian flight control methodologies that engineering studies could validate and incorporate to enhance maneuverability. In addition, we discussed specific situations where avian-inspired UAVs can provide new insights to researchers studying bird flight. Collectively, our results serve a dual purpose: to provide testable hypotheses of flight control mechanisms that birds may use in flight as well as to support the design of highly maneuverable and multi-functional UAV designs.