The present study investigates the complex vortex interactions in two-dimensional flow-field behind a symmetric NACA0012 airfoil undergoing a prescribed periodic pitching-plunging motion in low Reynolds number regime. The flow-field transitions from periodic to chaotic through a quasi-periodic route as the plunge amplitude is gradually increased. This study unravels the role of the complex interactions that take place among the main vortex structures in making the unsteady flow-field transition from periodicity to chaos. The leading-edge separation plays a key role in providing the very first trigger for aperiodicity. Subsequent mechanisms like shredding, merging, splitting, and collision of vortices in the near-field that propagate and sustain the disturbance have also been followed and presented. These fundamental mechanisms are seen to give rise to spontaneous and irregular formation of new vortex couples at arbitrary locations, which are the primary agencies for sustaining chaos in the flow-field. The interactions have been studied for each dynamical state to understand the course of transition in the flow-field. The qualitative changes observed in the flow-field are manifestation of changes in the underlying dynamical system. The overall dynamics are established in the present study by means of robust quantitative measures derived from classical and non-classical tools from the dynamical system theory. As the present analysis involves a high fidelity multi-unknown system, non-classical dynamical tools such as recurrence-based time series methods are seen to be very efficient. Moreover, their application is novel in the context of pitch-plunge flapping flight.

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