Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


Graham Doig


An experimental study has been conducted to develop a process allowing the creation of biologically accurate aerodynamic test models mimicking the slotted primary feather geometry of the Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). Preserved examples of both a full Brown Pelican wing and a single primary feather were 3D scanned and digitally reconstructed using a combination of MATLAB and CAD software. The final model was then 3D printed as a collection of smaller components using a LulzBot TAZ 6 printer and Taulman3D T-Glase PET filament. After using various surface finishing techniques to improve the finish of all 3D printed parts, an assembly was designed to mount the model in the low speed wind tunnel at the California Polytechnic State University. Prior to aerodynamic testing, airfoil sections of the pelican wing were generated in CAD and several common airfoil measurements and characteristics were investigated. At a flow velocity of 5 m/s (Re ~1.21 x 105), wind tunnel smoke and laser visualization testing highlighted the vortex generation of multiple primary feathers, as well as large-scale flow deviations in the vicinity of the feathers. A total pressure rake and total pressure probe were used to create detailed plots of the ratio of the local velocity to free-stream velocity (Vx/Vx∞) at two planes downstream of the model, which revealed vortex positioning consistent with that predicted by smoke visualization testing and provided a metric by which to evaluate the relative strength of each vortex.

The model creation process and wind tunnel testing results outlined here provide a strong foundation for future investigations into the potential aerodynamic benefits provided by the slotted primary feather geometry employed by the Brown Pelican and other large gliding avian species.