A panel method free-wake model to analyse the rotor flapping is presented. The aerodynamic model consists of a panel method, which takes into account the three-dimensional rotor geometry, and a free-wake model, to determine the wake shape. The main features of the model are the wake division into a near-wake sheet and a far wake represented by a single tip vortex, and the modification of the panel method formulation to take into account this particular wake description. The blades are considered rigid with a flap degree of freedom. The problem solution is approached using a relaxation method, which enforces periodic boundary conditions. Finally, several code validations against helicopter and wind turbine experimental data are performed, showing good agreement. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.