Jul 6, 2017 | By Tess

A team of researchers from the Tokai University in Japan are investigating the physiology of the ribbon halfbeak, a species of fish that can fly above the ocean’s surface despite lacking the “hind wing fins” that other flying fish species possess.

A ribbon halfbeak flies above the water

(Image: Itaru Takaku)

By using 3D modeling and printing to recreate the ribbon halfbeak’s body, the research team believes it can uncover some information or design inspiration for tandem wing airplanes, aircraft which have two main pairs of wings, one in the front of the plane, and one towards the back.

Tandem wing aircraft, explains Dr. Yoshinobu Inada, a researcher on the project, are more efficient at flying than conventional aircraft, though downwash (the downward deflection of air over a wing) can be a challenge. The movements of the ribbon halfbeak fish could provide some valuable insight into how to better design and manufacture tandem aircraft in the future for more optimal flight.

"Ribbon halfbeak fly above the water surface to evade large carnivorous fish and dolphins," explained Dr. Inada. "Water is about a thousand times denser than air, so flying through the air is a really practical way to evade predators".

He added: “Other flying fish, including the Japanese flying fish, have large pectoral fins that act as wings during flight and large pelvic fins that are used as horizontal tail wings, like those on airplanes. However, the ribbon halfbeak lacks these large pelvic tail wings.”

How do they solve this? Apparently, the fish rotate their rear bodies by 90 degrees as they fly, turning their dorsal and anal fins into horizontal tail-like wings. The species is the only one to use this type of behavior in flight, said Dr. Inada.

So where does 3D printing come in? As part of the research, the Tokai University team 3D printed a physical model that closely resembled a ribbon halfbeak fish. The 3D model was placed inside a wind tunnel, which allowed the researchers to test its flight performance with varying tail wing positions and angles.

3D printed model of the ribbon halfbeak

(Image: Dr Yoshinobu Inada​)

These tests revealed that the ribbon halfbeak not only twist their bodies but also lift their rear bodies above their main pectoral wings, which cuts back on the downwash from the front wings even more. “This,” said Dr. Inada. “has a positive effect on improving the lift and flight performance of the fish.”

Junji Yonezawa, who is a researcher on the project, explained that the unique flying behavior of the ribbon halfbeak could be the product of evolutionary selective pressures that were different from other species of flying fish. “It has the largest number of vertebrae among Japanese halfbeaks, which means that it is able to twist the rear half of its body by a whole quarter-turn,” he said.

The study is being presented at the Society for Experimental Biology Annual Main Meeting 2017, which is being held in Gothenburg, Sweden.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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