Energetic benefit and enhanced performance are considered among the most fascinating achievements of collective behaviours, e.g. fish schools and flying formations. The collective locomotion of two self-propelled flapping plates initially in a side-by-side arrangement is investigated numerically. Both in-phase and antiphase oscillations for the two plates are considered. It is found that the plates will spontaneously form some stable configurations as a result of the flow-mediated interaction, specifically, the staggered-following (SF) mode and the alternate-leading (AL) mode for the in-phase scenario and the moving abreast (MA) mode and the AL mode for the antiphase scenario. In the SF mode, the rear plate follows the front one with a staggered configuration. In the AL mode, the plates chase each other side-by-side alternately. In terms of propulsive speed and efficiency, the performance of the plates in the SF mode with small lateral spacing
is found to be better than those in the tandem following case (
) and the side-by-side case (i.e. the AL mode). To achieve higher propulsive efficiency, no matter in-phase or antiphase oscillations, the two plates with moderate bending stiffness, e.g.
, are preferred and they should be close enough in the lateral direction. For the side-by-side configuration, the performance of each plate in the antiphase and in-phase scenarios is enhanced and weakened in comparison with that of the isolated plate, respectively. Besides the pressure and vorticity contours, the normal force and thrust acting on the plates are also analysed. It is revealed that the thrust is mainly contributed by the normal force at moderate bending stiffness. The normal force and thrust are critical to the propulsive speed and efficiency. For two self-propelled plates, in view of hydrodynamics, to achieve higher performance the in-phase SF mode and antiphase flappings in the side-by-side configuration are preferred.