This paper presents some recent theoretical results on the energy exchange between a swimming flexible two-dimensional hydrofoil of finite profile thickness and the inviscid incompressible fluid in which the body swims. The rate at which kinetic energy is transferred to the fluid by the undulating hydrofoil, the power required to maintain the prescribed motion, and the resulting power available for propulsion are calculated in terms of the thickness to chord ratio and the displacement and rate of displacement of the hydrofoil. With a small unsteady perturbation theory, the analysis is decomposed to show separately the effects of the circulatory and non-circulatory flows, both depending on the first-order terms of the unsteady perturbation velocity components. In addition, an analysis is presented showing the effect of the non-linear unsteady pressure distribution on the surface of the hydrofoil. Contrary to what might be expected, this latter effect is of the same order of magnitude for a thick rounded-nose profile as for the flat plate where the effect is concentrated at the sharp leading edge and is related to the so-called suction force. However, except for small values of the reduced frequency, the non-linear contribution is negligible in comparison with the linear contribution.
New functions associated with the retarded flow in the wake are introduced and special techniques for their solution are presented, these being related to Theodorsen's function of unsteady airfoil theory for the special case of the undulating flat plate.
The numerical results reveal that the kinetic energy imparted to the fluid, the power required to maintain the motion, and the resulting propulsive power, follow closely those of an infinitesimal model for small values of the reduced frequency of oscillation, but diverge somewhat from the classical thin plate analysis for large reduced frequencies. Of particular interest is the fact that a very large percentage of the power required to maintain the motion is used in the generation of the wake, whereas a very small percentage of the power available for propulsion comes from the wake. This indicates that, if some mechanism could be devised to control the wake, very high swimming efficiencies could be attained. Fish, in all probability, have been succeeding in doing this for millions of years.