Synopsis The fluid dynamics of owls in flapping flight is studied by coordinated experiments and computations. The great horned owl was selected, which is nocturnal, stealthy, and relatively large sized raptor. On the experimental side, perch-to-perch flight was considered in an open wind tunnel. The owl kinematics was captured with multiple cameras from different view angles. The kinematic extraction was central in driving the computations, which were designed to resolve all significant spatio-temporal scales in the flow with an unprecedented level of resolution. The wing geometry was extracted from the planform image of the owl wing and a three-dimensional model, the reference configuration, was reconstructed. This configuration was then deformed in time to best match the kinematics recorded during flights utilizing an image-registration technique based on the large deformation diffeomorphic metric mapping framework. All simulations were conducted using an eddy-resolving, high-fidelity, solver, where the large displacements/deformations of the flapping owl model were introduced with an immersed boundary formulation. We report detailed information on the spatio-temporal flow dynamics in the near wake including variables that are challenging to measure with sufficient accuracy, such as aerodynamic forces. At the same time, our results indicate that high-fidelity computations over smooth wings may have limitations in capturing the full range of flow phenomena in owl flight. The growth and subsequent separation of the laminar boundary layers developing over the wings in this Reynolds number regime is sensitive to the surface micro-features that are unique to each species.
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