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Fellows Directory

Charles Ellington

Charles Ellington

Professor Charles Ellington FRS


Elected: 1998


Charles Ellington was a zoologist who remodelled our understanding of how insects fly and the aerodynamics of hovering. Charles used biomechanics, wind tunnel experiments and other empirical methods to collect data, which are also important for validating computer simulations in other animal flight investigations.

Charles spent several years proving that bumblebees and other insects could not possibly fly according to the conventional theories of aerodynamics; they should fall out of the air. He then visualised the airflow over their wings and discovered a novel three-dimensional flow, similar in form to the spiral vortices over Concord wings.

In both cases, strong vortices are shed from the leading edges, greatly reducing the pressure above the wings and thus generating extra lift. Concord does this in steady flight, but the insects achieve it by their flapping motion. These spiral leading-edge vortices provide the main unsteady high-lift mechanism that allows insects to fly.

Professor Charles Ellington FRS died on 30 July 2019.

Interest and expertise

Subject groups

  • Anatomy, physiology and neurosciences
    • Physiology incl biophysics of cells (non-clinical)
  • Organismal biology, evolution and ecology
    • Organismal biology (including invertebrate and vertebrate zoology)


Biomechanics, Aerodynamics, Comparative physiology

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