Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 64

In this chapter

Importance of the Subject

Flow Physics
o Viscous Drag
Laminar Flow Control
Compliant Walls
Large-Eddy Breakup Devices
Surface Additives
o Drag due to Lift
o Interference Drag
o Wave Drag
o Vortex Drag
Drag due to Speed
o Drag at Very Low Speeds
o Drag at Transonic Speeds
o Drag at Supersonic Speeds
Drag Reduction Approaches
Methods of Computation
Summary of Drag Data
o CD of Various Aerodynamic Systems
o CD Levels of Misc. Aircraft
o CD Levels of Road Vehicles
Selected References

Drag force is a very large topic in aerodynamics. There are books and conferences
entirely devoted to it, along with countless specialized publications.
From a physical point of view, drag is the resultant of forces acting normally and
tangentially to a surface, the former ones being pressure terms, and the latter ones viscous
terms. The mechanism under which these forces are created is ultimately related to the
formation of vortices and shear layers.

Importance of the Subject

Very narrow gains (1 % or less) can translate into a change of technology. It is widely
assumed that the fuel crisis of the 1970s created the need to invest in drag reduction
technology for aircraft transport. But the problem is wider than that, since all the
aerodynamic systems use external power that is partially dissipated due to drag forces.
Effects of Drag Reduction
For example, a reduction in the drag coefficient of an ordinary passenger car from CD =
0.4 to CD=0.3 would improve the fuel consumption by 7.5 %. This saving multiplied by
the number of road vehicles in Europe and North America yields a figure (at least 10
billion gallons/year) that could affect the price of the crude oil in the world markets.
The reduction of 10 % drag on a large military transport aircraft would save over 10
million gallons of fuel over the life time of the aircraft.
A 15 % drag reduction on the Airbus A340-300B would yield a 12 % fuel saving, other
parameters being constant (Mertens, 1998).
See the Table of Drag Data for more details.

Flow Physics
The fundamental mechanisms by which drag is produced in steady state conditions can
be reduced to the following ones
Viscous Drag
Viscous drag is produced by the effects of viscosity on the aerodynamic systems, through
the thrust that must be applied to overcome the shear layers due to the non slip condition.

Lift-induced Drag
Drag due to lift is the result of the downwash (vertical flow) and to the strength of the
vortices produced at some particular locations (wing tips or other sharp edges) of many
lifting systems.

Vortex Drag
Vortex drag can be created by both lifting and non lifting bodies (usually of the bluff
variety, ex. road vehicles, airships). Vortices are released during flow separatio and trail
downstream to form structured or unstructured wake patterns.

Interference is the effect of the presence of one body on the aerodynamics of a second
body. The interference drag is a system drag that is present even in absence of viscous
effects (ideal fluid) and non lifting conditions. Since interference occurs in many practical
situations interference drag is a separate topic.

Wave Drag
Wave drag is created by radiation of disturbances in the fluid by a moving body. This is
the case of transonic and supersonic flows; in hydrodynamics waves are produced by
several means, the most important of which is probably the pattern of surface waves
produced by boats, ships and submerged bodies.
The presence of one or more drag components, along with their respective amounts,
clearly depends on the aerodynamic arrangement and the system operation.

Speed-induced Drag
Another classification sometimes used is that according to speed. The speed (e.g
Reynolds and Mach numbers) have, in fact, one of the most important effects on both the
drag build-up and the drag level.

Drag Reduction Approaches

The most effective approach to drag reduction is to concentrate on the components that
make up the largest percentage of the overall drag. Small improvements on large
quantities can become in fact remarkable aerodynamic improvements. This is another
reason why the drag build-up analysis is always made before attempting to study the drag
reduction strategies.

Methods of Computation
There are several methods used to compute the drag of a lifting body. For example:

The drag of an airfoil at subsonic speeds can be computed by using the SquireYoung approximation. The method consists in evaluating the drag coefficient by
using boundary layer quantities at the trailing edge.

By using the axial momentumbalance on a large control volume (between two

planes far upstream and downstream the body).

By integration of the surface forces (CFD approach). There are two contributions:
the tangential (due to skin friction) and normal (due to pressure) contributions.
This is the approach followed most by the current research.

Other (simplified) methods include: Integration of circulation in the Treffz plane (induced
drag of large aspect ratio wings); Hayes formula (for linearized supersonic flow); Munk's
stagger theorems (for linearized multi-body lifting systems), etc. A detailed review of
CFD capabilities has been recently published by van Dam (1999).
Selected References

Hoerner SF. Fluid Dynamic Drag, Hoerner Fluid Dynamics, 1965.

AGARD, Special Course on Concepts for Drag Reduction, AGARD Report R654, 1977.
AGARD, Special Course on Subsonic/Transonic Aerodynamic Intereference
for Aircraft, AGARD Report R-712, 1983.
AGARD, Aircraft Drag Prediction and Reduction, AGARD Report R-723,
Clift R, Grace JR, Weber ME. Bubbles, Drops, and Particles, Academic Press,
New York, 1978.
Sovran G, Morel T, Mason WT. (editors). Aerodynamic Drag Mechanisms of
Bluff Bodies and Road Vehicles, Plenum Press, New York, 1978 (ISBN 0-30631119-4).

Viscous drag (or skin friction drag) is due to the stresses on the aerodynamic surfaces
and in the boundary layer. The decreased momentum in the flowfield results in a
corresponding loss of momentum of the aerodynamic system. Some of the physical
aspects involved in the viscous drag loss are: presence of shear layers, turbulent
transition, boundary layer separation.
The amount of energy losses depends largely on the aero- hydrodynamic system. On a
sailing boat it can range between 1/3 and (nearly) the total drag, depending on the speed
of the craft (at low speeds the viscous drag is large, in percent, whereas the wave drag is
low). Some typical viscous losses are listed below:
Table 1: Summary of viscous drag
supersonic fighter

25-30 %

large tranport aircraft

40 %

executive aircraft

50 %

VTOL aircraft
underwater bodies
ships at low/high speed
gas pipelines

70-80 %
70 %
90-30 %
90 %

Reduction Methods
Methods for viscous drag reduction rely on techniques that alter the turbulence structure
and/or the wall characteristics. These methods are both powered (active methods) and
unpowered. Active methods widely used include

boundary layer control

Wall cooling (air), or heating (water)

The are also the passive methods, such as vortex generators, along with appropriate
design of the aerodynamic surfaces, by minimizing the wetted area and the volume. Other
sophisticated techniques include:

Laminar Flow Control(LFC)

Compliant Walls
Large-Eddy Breakup Devices (LEBU)
Surface Additives (polymers, bubbles)

Selected References

Hoerner SF. Fluid Dynamic Drag, Hoerner Fluid Dynamics, 1965.

AGARD. Special Course on Concepts for Drag Reduction, AGARD Report R654, 1977.
AGARD. Special Course on Subsonic/Transonic Aerodynamic Intereference
for Aircraft, AGARD Report R-712, 1983.
AGARD. Aircraft Drag Prediction and Reduction, AGARD Report R-723,

Laminar Flow Control

Laminar Flow Control (LFC) describes technical means to control the boundary layer
development. Laminar flow control consists in a boundary layer suction (that is removal
of some flow through surface holes), or a wall cooling. A more unusual technique
consists in using resonant walls.
A boundary layer usually changes from laminar to turbulent, due to disturbances in the
viscous layer (Tollmien-Schlichting waves) that amplify. Amplification, though, occurs
only if certain stability criteria (depending on Reynolds number, free-stream turbulence,
surface conditions, forced vibrations, etc.) are not satisfied.
Boundary layer stability is a large topic on its own. We will limit the following
considerations to a few practical aspects of LFC. Boundary layer suction requires a
propulsion system that consumes energy. The method is effective if the power required to
activate the LFC system is less the power saved thanks to the boundary layer control.
The normal velocity required to suck part of the boundary layer are very small and have
no macroscopic effect on the surface pressure distribution. The surface must be of
superior quality and with minimum roughness, the normal suction must be as uniform as
possible, to avoid further distortions in the flow structure.
Table 1 lists a number of results achieved with LFC wings (Pfenninger, 1977).
Table 1: Subsonic/supersonic wing CD with LFC


Re x

CD x

Subsonic Wing

30 deg


Subsonic Wing

0.0 deg



Supersonic Wing

35 deg



Related Material

Large-Eddy Break-up Devices
Compliant Walls
Wall Cooling

Selected References

Lachman G.V. (editor),Boundary Layer and Flow Control (2 Vols.), Pergamon

Press, 1961.

The Compliant Wall

The complaint wall is a relatively recent idea to reduce the drag by using
flexible coatings on the aero- hydrodynamic surfaces. The idea of flexible
skins comes from observations on swimming dolphins, and more generally
on animal propulsion.
The compliant wall must interact with the boundary layer and influence its
development, laminar or turbulent. If this has to be true, the wavelength of
the skin flexibility must be of the same order of magnitude of the
boundary layer thickness, while the amplitude must be of the same order
as the viscous sublayer.
The idea is that, when the surface is affected by fluid flow around it, it will
start an interaction surface-boundary layer such that the boundary layer
remains attached for a longer length and the drag of the system will be
The problem, however, is not so easy. The properties of the compliant
surface must be well understood, else the effect is ... the opposite (that is a
compliant surface that triggers boundary layer separation).
Some energy conmsiderations are necessary: In the case of a rigid surface,
the drag produced serves to dissipate propulsion power into the fluid (by
means of of viscosity, radiation, etc.); in the case of a passive compliant
surface part of this energy goes into the surface itself and is dissipated
through internal damping; with an active compliant surface power would
be required to activate the surface-boundary layer interaction (for
example, heating of the coating to activate its compliant properties).
Therefore, the fundamental question is whether the net energy balance is
positive or negative.


Drag Reduction
Off-Design Performances
o Flow Mis-alignment
o Surface Contamination
o Effects of Pressure Gradients
o Effects of Wetted Area
o Aircraft
Selected References

Scientists have been speculating for many years whether there is any surface having less
drag of a flat plate. The drag of a flat plate is reported in the figure below, for both
laminar (Blasius) and turbulent flow.
Experimental studies in the 1970s showed that small grooves (riblets) aligned with the
flow had the property of modifying the near-wall structure of the boundary layer. In
particular, the riblets proved to work as a constraint to the production of the Reyonlds
stresses associated with the growth and eruption of the eddies in the the low-speed
regions of the boundary layers.

Figure 1: common types of riblets

Later research was aimed at investigating the properties of such grooves, by studying the
wall boundary conditions and the flow properties at corner regions. A number of studies
of zoologic nature was added to the fluid dynamic problem, by studying the
characteristics of fast-swimming sharks and dolphins, form where some ideas were
On of the main practical concerns was (and it is) the amount of drag reduction that can be
achieved, and studies were directed to investigating the optimum ratio fin-height/riblet
spacing, physical dimensions of the riblets, along with the optimum shape (L- U- Vgrooves and others, Fig. 1).

Drag Reduction
The skin friction drag reduction data published in the technical literature is variable, but
converging to a figure of 8 %, with more conservative values of 5 % to the most
optimistic figures of 10-11 %, obtained in laboratory conditions. While these numbers do
not seem excessively high, they do lead to enourmous savings.
Take for example a subsonic jet transport, for which the skin friction drag is of the order
of 45 % at cruise conditions. If half of the surface could be covered by efficient riblets
that provide an 8 % skin friction saving, the total saving would be just less than 4 %, a
remarkable amount.

Off-Design Performances
Flow alignment and surface quality are two main concerns, alogn with pressure gradients,
three-dimensional flows and effects of the increased wetted area. The results are as
Flow Mis-Alignment
No practical effects weere measured on flow mis-alignement up to 15 deg ( 0 deg is a
flow perfectly aligned with the riblet). At higher flow angles, up to 40 deg, performances
deteriorate gradually, and the riblets become ineffective, if not inappropriate, at such
angles. For these reasons some investigators have been studying three-dimensional
riblets, also called compound riblets, that would be locally optimized to follow the main
direction of the flow.
Surface Contamination
The surface covered with a riblet film may undergo contamination over time, due to
deposition of dust, combustion particulate, atmospheric aggression, etc. This can be a
major concern for submerged bodies, such as ships and submarines. However, there

seems to be no effects for periods limited to one day, whereas in aircraft applications the
effects, if any, occur over a much longer time scale.
Pressure Gradients
Pressure gradients have a minor effect, probably 1-2 % on the total skin friction drag
Increase of Wetted Area
Increase of wetted area is a problem of any riblet geometry (see figure 1 above), therefore
useful configurations are those that, besides stabilizing the boundary layer, have a limited
increase in wetted area. Obviously, the skin friction works over a larger surface (this is a
problem especially with L-grooves.)

Applications are more common in hydrodynamics where the drag reduction possibilities
are larger, in particular on sailing boats. Airfoil applications showed a drag reduction rate
of about 6-8 %, although in some recent experiments a skin friction drag reduction of 16
% was achieved at an angle of attack of 6 deg.
Skin friction drag for a large commercial aircraft is of the order of 40 % of the total. This
figure is slighty larger for a smaller executive airfract (up to 50 %). Small gains on this
numbers translate into major fuel savings and direct operative costs.
One can easily speculate with the 10 % drag saving given above, but this is very far from
reality. Both Boeing Aircraft and Airbus have tested riblets for this purpose. Data
reported for a 1/11 scale model of the Airbus A320 at cruise Mach number M=0.7 was a
viscous drag saving of 4.85 %, with about 66 % of the aircraft wetted area covered by Vriblets (s/h=1).
Application of riblets is generally done using special films, rather than estruding the
grooves directly on the surface. Riblet films have been manifactured by a number of
companies, among them, the 3M company.
The riblets dimensions most widely tested fall in the range 0.02mm - 0.10 mm height,
with optimal h/s ratio of the order 15.
Related Material

Large-Eddy Break-up Devices

Compliant Walls
Laminar Flow Control

Wall Cooling

Selected References
1. Emerging Techniques in Drag Reduction, edited by Choi, K.S., Prasad, K.K. and
Truong, T.V.
Mechanical Eng. Publ. Ltd, London, 1996 (ISBN 0-08529-8917-2)
2. Drag Reduction in Fluid Flows: Techniques for Friction Control, by Sellin RHJ,
Moses RT.
Ellis Horwood Ltd, Chichester, 1989 (ISBN 0-7458-0753-X)
3. Bechert DW, Bruse M, Hage W, VanderHoeven JGT, Hoppe G. Experiments on
drag-reducing surfaces and their optimization with an adjustable geometry, in J.
Fluid Mech., Vol. 338, pp. 59-87 May 10 1997
4. Walsh MJ. Riblets, in Progress in Aeronautics and Astronautics, Vol. 123, 1990.
On the Web
These sites are not part of the aerodyn.org domain. There is no guarantee nor
control over their content and availability.

NASA riblets for Starts and Stripes (engineering)

Scientific American Article, Jan. 1997 (general)

Large Eddy Breakup Devices (LEBU)

LEBU, similarly to the surface riblets, produce extensive downstream regions of reduced
skin friction coefficients. However, the experimental data gathered over the last twenty
years provided widely varying results, which are also depending on the Reynolds number.
The overall performance seems to be related to the drag of the devices themselves. The
best drag reduction rates (in percentage) are not better than the surface riblets, roughly 7
to 8 percent. Among these, the tapered trailing edge devices have been found among the
Cases of interest include trailing edge flows, for examples thick flat plates and airfoils,
where trailing edge separation is an issue at relatively large Reynolds numbers. Some
NACA 0009 LEBU devices were found to provide a local net skin friction reduction in
the range of 30 percent. Similar experiments on cambered NACA 4409 gave no benefits,
possibly because of boundary layer separation on the devices themselves.

LEBU performance at the higher Reynolds numbers and transonic conditions often
required in aeronautics is strongly dependent on the drag of the devices. Their
effectiveness is presumably much reduced at these conditions.
In some instances the LEBU have been coupled with the riblets, but the optimal
combination of these systems requires experimentation.
Related Material

Large-Eddy Break-up Devices

Compliant Walls
Laminar Flow Control
Wall Cooling
[Top of Page]

Surface Additives

Effects on Viscous Drag

Selected References

Surface additives such as polymers, microbubbles and solid particles have been
particularly studied in recent years, due to their virtue of reducing the aero/ hydrodinamic
drag by inhibiting the fundamental processes that cause turbulent transition (Berman,
Effects on Viscous Drag
The effect becomes evident at just a few parts-per- million (ppm), and gradually increases
to values that depend on the molecular nature of the dilute suspension. The molecular
weight seems to be playing an important part in the drag reduction characteristics. Most
of the additives used are polymers of high molecular weight (for ex. polyetylene-oxide).
There are reports of as much as 80 % skin friction drag reduction in internal flows, and
60 % in external flows ! - Such values open up fantastic opportunities for both pipelines
and marine applications (high speed vehicles, submarines).
For example long polymers derived from alfa-olefins are used for drag reduction in
commercial pipelines for crude oil and refined oil products (gasoline, diesel, etc.).

Pipeline performance is greatly enhanced with the injection of the polymer at each
pumping station.
The dilute solution may vary from 1 ppm (part-per-million) to several ppm. Drag savings
of 25-30 % (sometimes more) are reported. This means that at constant pumping power,
there is a corresponding increase in throughput, or at constant throughput the pumping
power can be reduced (by reducing for example the number of pumping stations).
In aircraft applications the drawback, though, would be the amount of additives that must
be released from the surface and the power required to run the system.
Related Material

Large-Eddy Break-up Devices
Compliant Walls
Laminar Flow Control
Wall Cooling

Selected References

Emerging Techniques in Drag Reduction, edited by Choi KS, Prasad KK, Truong
TV. Mechanical Eng. Publ. Ltd, London, 1996 (ISBN 0-08529-8917-2)
Drag Reduction in Fluid Flows: Techniques for Friction Control, by Sellin, RHJ,
Moses RT.
Ellis Horwood Ltd, Chichester, 1989 (ISBN 0-7458-0753-X)

Lift-induced Drag

Drag due to Lift

Selected References

This type of drag is due to the vorticity produced by a lifting wing

(induced drag or vortex drag) and is expressed as momentum deficiency
in the wake. This type of drag can be a drawback of high-lift systems.
Typically, a strong vortex is released at the tip.
The dissipation of this vortex farther downstream is one of the source of
loss, but this is of viscous nature. The inviscid nature of the drag is also
due to the downwash created in the slipstream, which on turns is related

to an induced angle of attack.

Reduction Methods
Methods used for the minimization of the induced drag make use of
techniques to diffuse this vortex and redistribute the wing loading. The
methods include:

Use of very-large wing spans

Use of non-planar lifting systems
Load redistribution by wing optimization

For lifting wings some of the devices commonly designed are the
Tip Devices

Tip sails
Hoerner Tips

The methods listed above are used for the reduction of the vortex drag
produced at the tip.
Selected References

Hoerner SF. Fluid Dynamic Drag, Hoerner Fluid Dynamics,

AGARD. Special Course on Concepts for Drag Reduction,
AGARD Report R-654, 1977.
AGARD. Special Course on Subsonic/Transonic Aerodynamic
Intereference for Aircraft, AGARD Report R-712, 1983.
AGARD. Aircraft Drag Prediction and Reduction, AGARD
Report R-723, 1985.
[Top of Page]

High Aspect-Ratio Wings

The use of larger aspect-ratios is a well known means to reduce the
induced drag, that is the drag created by the spanwise distribution of
circulation, ultimately due to the development of two strong tip vortices.
From three-dimensional small disturbance theory it is found that the
optimum distribution of circulation is the one that creates a constant
downwash velocity if the slipstream (wake). With this distribution of
downwash velocity, the spanwise lift distribution is elliptic, and the
induced drag is at a minimum. If the wing planform is also elliptic, there
is a closed expression relating the lift to the induced drag.
Fig. 1 shows the behavior of the induced drag coefficient as a function of
the wing aspect-ratio at two lift levels, from the small disturbance theory
(Since this theory was developed for large aspect-ratio wings, values of
CDi for aspect-ratios less than 5 are rather off.)

Figure 1: Induced drag vs. AR at different lift levels.

Figure 2: Lift curve slope as function of wing AR

The actual aspect-ratio is a compromise between conflicting
requirements. For example, for a transport aircraft the optimal aspectratio would be around 8 for minimum cost acquisition, and twice as
much for minimum fuel consumption.
A fighter aircraft has a low aspect-ratio for manouvrability. Sail planes,
human powered planes, high altitude airplanes have a very large wing
span, but have poor manouvrability characteristics. The table below
provides some typical values.
Table 1: Some Aspect-Ratios
Supersonic Jet Aircraft


Racing Cars Wings

Fighter Aircraft
Subsonic Jet Aircraft
Lockeed U-2


Sail Planes


Solar Powered Centurion


Related Material

Low-Aspect Ratio Wings

Wing Tip Devices
Summary of Aspect-Ratios
Planform Optimization
Tip Blowing

Related Web material

These sites are not part of the aerodyn.org domain. There is no control over their
content or availability.

Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.

Interference Drag in

Roughness Drag
Junction Drag
Selected References

Interference is the effect of an aerodynamic component on another:

wing-body, wing-nacelle (Fig. 1), vertical-horizontal tail, junctions in
general, biplane, ground effect, freee surface problems in hydrodynamics, and more.
When Interference Occurs
Interference occurs when the sum of the drag forces of the single
components is larger that the drag of the composite system. In general,
interference is a reciprocal effect, although in some cases (such as
supersonic flows) it can be unidirectional (downstream propagation
only.) Interference at supersonic speeds can be excessively high.

Figure 1: Wing-nacelle-pilon interference at transonic

Aerodynamic interference on wing-body combinations has been widely
investigated at subsonic, transonic and supersonic speeds. Recent
research on supersonic aircraft (Kharitonov, 1998) has allowed to
determine the optimal position of the wing by systematic analysis of the
interference coefficients.
Interference at Low Speeds
Interference at low speed can be computed with some approximate yet
powerful methods: Munk's stagger theorem gives the value of the
induced drag for an arbitrary system of lifting lines; Prandtl's theory
allows to compute the biplane configuration; the inviscid flow models
resulting in the panel methods allow the computation of quite general
multi-body configurations, including ducted propellers.

Roughness Drag
The most common interference effects arise from imperfections, small
scale bumps, holes and other irregularities (Fig. 4 below), due to surface
finish, accumulated dirt, etc. Roughness/excrescence drag can be
virtually eliminated when the surface is hydraucally smooth, e.g. the
excrescence height is less than the boundary layer sublayer thickness.
Some typical drag values are the following: cylinder excrescence
CD=0.76, semi-sphere CD=0.32.

Junction Drag
Important data on junction drag have been compiled by Hoerner (1965).
Particularly important is the T-strut configuration, for which some
technical solutions with fairings yield as much as 94 % drag saving.

Figure 2: common types of interfering imperfections

Methods for reducing the interference effects include accurate
streamlining, and proper system design. Sometimes it is possible to take
advantage of the interference effects (using appropriate strakes, for
example) to reduce the system drag to values below the sum of the single
components. A typical example taken from the natural world is the birds
formation flight.
Related Material

Birds Formation Flight

Selected References

AGARD. Special Course on Concepts for Drag Reduction,

AGARD Report R-654, 1977.
AGARD. Special Course on Subsonic/Transonic Aerodynamic
Intereference for Aircraft, AGARD Report R-712, 1983.
AGARD. Aircraft Drag Prediction and Reduction, AGARD

Report R-723, 1985.

[Top of Page]
Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.

Wave Drag

Selected References

Wave drag in aerodynamics is drag associated with the shock wave and shock-induced
separation. This type of drag appears at transonic and supersonic speeds. The drag from
acoustic waves is always negligible. The problem is more general in hydrodynamics,
since wave propagation occurs at all speeds for all types of sailing vessels and for most
cases of submerged bodies.
There are several ways of dealing with wave drag: use of transonic/supersonic area ruling
for wing-body combinations; use of supercritical airfoils, thin wing sections, wing sweep,
low-aspect ratio wings, boundary layer control, blunt leading edge (at hypersonic speeds).
Less orthodox methods include oblique and anti-symmetric wings (wings never built, in
At transonic speeds some of the main concerns are: driving the drag divergence upward,
removing the buffeting and the possible shock stall.
At supersonic and hypersonic speeds a few peculiar problems appear: namely,
aerotherodynamic heating, and structural stiffness compatible with volume distribution
and wing thickness.
Methods of analysis have long relied on linearized potential theories. At hypersonic
speeds Newtonian theories are still common.
Related Material

Supercritical Airfoils
Oblique Flying Wing
Drag at Supersonic Speeds
Wave Propagation

Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.

Vortex Drag

Splitter Plates
Ventilated Cavities
Tangential Slots
Boat-tailed after-bodies
Selected References

Vortex drag is due to some form of separation (tip flow separation,

separation from a bluff body, etc.). For this reason it is also called form
drag or pressure drag.
Separation and related effects cannot be avoided on bluff bodies and
particular situations of streamlined bodies (most road vehicles, aircraft
after bodies). Separation is generally associated with adverse pressure
The pressure field in the separated areas is lower than it would be in
presence of a boundary layer. The low pressure field at the base of the
body is the origin of the base drag. Specific vortex drag reduction
techniques are listed below.
The technology presented below is intended for subsonic speeds. Vortex
drag reduction at supersonic speeds are far less successful.

Splitter Plates
The mechanism by which the device works is the movement of the

separation vortex downstream, away from the body. Fig. 1. below shows
the artrangement of a 3D bluff body. Splitter plates have also been
applied to airfoils and wings.

Figure 1: Splitter plate behind a bluff body

Ventilated cavities
These are thin surfaces mounted at the edge of the base. Regular slots
are cut through, that allow for ventilation of the low pressure separated
field. Horizontal vented cavities are sometimes applied to passenger

Figure 2: Vertical and horizontal vented cavities

Tangential slots

As shown in Fig. 4, they are used to accelerate slow air flow behind a
corner (they are used on commercial vehicles of all sizes.)

Figure 3: Corner slot for vortex drag reduction; velocity field

The acceleration of the slot flow serves to push flow that has been
slowed down by the abrupt change of direction.

The use of fences on after-bodies is sometimes justified by the need to
redirect the flow streamlines. The effect is to remove the flow separation.
An example is shown in the figure below, that is an aircraft after-body.

Figure 4: Fences to reduce after-body drag on C-17.

Fences are also used on the main wing to redirect the boundary layer
flow. These devices can be found in most of the 1st generation of
commercial jets (for example, Vickers VC-10, BAC 1-11, Trident) and in
some early military aircraft (MiG-17). Fig. 5 below shows the large
fence on the wing of the Hawker-Siddeley Trident 2.

Figure 5: Wing fences on Hawker-Siddeley Trident 2 (Duxford Air

Museum, England).

Boat-tailed afterbodies
Such afterbodies are streamlined and designed for optimal shape.
Base drag reduction rates of 50 % (at subsonic speeds) can be achieved
with the devices listed above.
For lifting wings some of the devices commonly designed are the

Vortex Generators
Wall Suction
Wall jets

Concave Surface Cavities

As dimples on sports ball, used to promote turbulent transition, which
shifts the drag crisis of the bluff body to a lower speed. There is an
amount of research available on this particular topic (for ex. Metha,

Related Material

Bluff Body problems in road vehicles

Selected References

Lachmann GV(editor). Boundary Layer and Flow Control,

Pergamon Press, 1961.
Hoerner SF. Fluid Dynamic Drag, Hoerner Fluid Dynamics,
Tanner M. "Reduction of Base Drag", in Progress in Aerospace
Sciences, Vol. 16, No. 4, 1975.
Chang PK. Separation of Flow, Pergamon Press, 1966.
[Top of Page]

Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.

Speed-related Drag

Drag of Well Known Bodies

o Flat Plate Drag
o Cylinder Drag
o Sphere Drag
Drag at Very Low Speeds
Drag at Transonic Speeds
Drag at Supersonic Speeds
Typical Drag Coefficients
Selected References

Speed is related to the flow regime: laminar, transitional, and turbulent.

This is a major problem in all aerodynamic systems. Laminar boundary
layers are characterized by minimum skin friction drag. Laminar boundary
layers are generally assumed to keep laminar at Reynolds numbers
, to
be transitional at about
, and turbulent above this value.
The actual transitional Reynolds numbers may depend on the specific case
and several side constraints.

Drag of Well Known Bodies

Flat plate, circular cylinder, sphere and cones have been widely studied
over the years, and the amount of data collected is staggering: in particular
drag data are available from the smallest Reynolds numbers (unity and
below), to the largest Mach numbers (hypersonic speeds). The data
witness the importance of this set of bodies as a limiting case of real life
Flat Plate Drag
The effect of the velocity (or Reynolds number) on the behavior of the
drag coefficient of a flat plate for both laminar and turbulent
incompressible flow is shown in the figure below. The turbulent drag has
been computed with various theories (von Krmn-Schoenerr, PrandtlSchlichting, White).

Figure 1: Computed flat plate CD at subsonic speeds

Current laminar wings have drag coefficients closer to the laminar curve
(Blasius theory) than to the turbulent curve. The problem is, however, far
more complex, since real-life flows involve a range of Reynolds numbers
with transitional boundary layers. The laminar curve in Fig. 1, though, can
be considered a practical barrier of the skin friction drag.
The effect of turbulent transition on the flat plate drag coefficient is shown
schematically in Fig 2. (incompressible flow)

Figure 2: Real flat plate CD at subsonic speeds

At transonic and supersonic speeds the problem is complicated by the
temperature gradient in the boundary layer. Semi-empirical correlations of
the type shown above have been proposed (Green, Hoerner, WinterGaudet, etc.) to reduce the compressible skin friction coefficient to an
incompressible one by using the free stream Mach number.
Flat plate drag calculations at supersonic Mach numbers were first
performed by van Driest, 1952. For details on high speed drag on a flat
plate see White, 1974.
Circular Cylinder
There is a large body of investigations on cylinders at all speeds and all
aspect ratios, with fixed or rotating bodies. The infinite cylinder (e.g.
cylinder of very large L/D) is one of the most amusing problems in fluid
dynamics. Its rational study was first performed by von Krmn (1911),
who investigated the appearance of the so called vortex trail (or vortex
street), while studying the advantages of streamlined bodies for drag
The following considerations will be restricted to the drag characteristics
as function of the Reynolds number. Fig. 3 below shows a classic
summary of cylinder drag coefficients, from the creeping flow domain
(see below) to large Reynolds numbers. Speeds are intended as subsonic at
all cases. The data show a drag crisis at about Re=500,000.

re 3: Cylinder CD at subsonic speeds
The technical literature reports a large number of semi-empirical formulas
for the CD. The experimental drag of Fig. 3 can be fitted with a simple
The finite cylinder is not less interesting. Actually, it features a great
variety of wake flow patterns, instabilities and drag coefficients
(Williamson, 1996).
Sphere Drag
Fig. 4 shows the behavior of the drag coefficient for a sphere at subsonic
speeds. The surface finish has been found of extreme importance in
imparting aerodynamic characteristics. The two curves on the graphic
refer to two different surface conditions. When the surface is rough,
turbulent transition occurs earlier, and so does the drag drop. This feature
is fully exploited in golf balls (Metha, 1985).

Figure 4: CD of a sphere at subsonic speeds

Experiments on spheres have been perfomed up to M=12.15 in freon (to
the author's knowledge.) The figure below shows the CD behavior at
supersonic and hypersonic speeds (data elaborated from Cox-Crabree,

Figure 5: CD of a sphere at supersonic speeds

Drag at Very Low Speeds

Very low speeds are characteristic of flows at Reynolds numbers less than
a 50,000. Some airfoils still work as at Reynolds numbers as low as

30,000. Yet they become increasingly inefficient at lower speeds. This

range is also that of the model airplanes, micro-propellers, and micro-air
vehicles (MAV).
Creeping Flows
At lower speeds we find many insects. Flows at Re < 10 are also called
creeping flows, which are not considered properly aerodynamic. The drag
characteristics at low speeds are strongly affected by the laminar
separation and by viscous skin friction, according to a physics explained
in the low speed chapter.
The drag coefficient can take very unusually high values, that are
approximated with the Oseen formula at Re < 1 and by the Klaycho
formula at Re < 400. For extensive low Reynolds data consult Clift et. al,
Drag reduction at low speeds is a very open problem in aerodynamics, that
only recently has become object of analysis, mainly spurred by
technological advances in solar powered flight, high altitude flight,
unmanned vehicles, model airplains, and more.

Drag at Transonic Speeds

At transonic speeds there are local buckets of supersonic flow delimited
by shock waves. Shock waves and shock-induced boundary layer
separation are a consistent source of drag at these speeds. A typical
example of how the drag increases is given by the divergence Mach
number for a airfoil section (below)

Figure 6: Transonic drag rise

At a certain Mach number that depends on the airfoil and the angle of
attack, a wave drag starts to build up because of the increasing effect of
the shock wave. Once the flow is fully supersonic, the drag coefficient
falls. The climb shown in Fig. 6 can be pushed toward higher Mach
numbers with supercritical airfoils.
Airfoils at Transonic Speeds
A case of particular interest is that of the airfoil section, whose transonic
drag rise is dependent on the angle of attack. An example is shown in Fig.
7 below.

Figure 7: Transonic drag rise, with alfa as parameter

Military Aircraft
Military aircraft feature external stores and weapons systems that can
change dramatically the performance of the aircraft. Here only a
comparative effect will be shown for some selected configurations, Fig. 8.

Figure 8: Transonic drag rise, with alfa as parameter

Methods for reducing the drag at transonic speeds include the use of

Wing Sweep Back

Thin Airfoils
Supercritical Airfoils
Boundary Layer Control
Transonic Area Rule

Drag at Supersonic Speeds

As in the case of lower speeds, drag is produced by viscosity and vorticity
release. There is one more component, called wave drag, peculiar to
supersonic flows. In general the total drag will consists of the skin friction
(viscous) drag, the induced drag (as in subsonic flows), the (supersonic)
drag due to volume, and the (supersonic) wave drag due to lift.
Supersonic flows are considered well behaved and more stable, as
compared with transonic flows, because the problem of the shock at the
wall is eliminated.
Effect of Nose Bluntness
Bodies of minimum drag at supersonic and hypersonic speeds have a
blunted nose. The radius of a blunt body is an essential parameter in
determining the heat flux.

Figure 9: Hypersonic CD for sphere and cone

Supersonic Area Rule
The problem of computing and minimizing the wave drag is fairly
complicated, because of several different sources (listed above), and
because of conflicting constraints.
A general practice is the supersonic area ruling: The wave drag is
minimized if the distribution of cross-sectional area along the longitudinal
axis is a smooth function. The combination of wing-body interference, in
fact, can be reduced to a slender body optimum drag problem, for which
the solution is known (Sears-Haack, 1947; von Krmn, 1948).
Elliptic Wings
The wave drag due to lift is minimized when the loading on each oblique
plane is elliptical. The wave drag due to volume is at a minimum when
each equivalent body of revolution (opportunely defined) is a SearsHaack body.
Overall minimum induced drag can be obtained with an oblique wing of
elliptical planform having elliptical loading (R.T. Jones, von Krmn).
Elliptical loading distribution can be obtained by twisting the wing.
Another approach to drag minimization is the use of flow-reversal
theorems ( von Krmn, Hayes, Jones, Graham et. al.). See AshleyLandhal, 1965, for details.

Related Material

The Oblique Flying Wing

Bodies of Minimum Wave Drag
Theodore von Krmn

Selected References

White FM, Viscous Fluid Flow , McGraw-Hill, New York, 1974.

Hoerner SF, Fluid Dynamic Drag, Hoerner Fluid Dynamics,
AGARD, Aircraft Drag Prediction and Reduction, AGARD
Report R-723, 1985.
Ashley H, Landhal M, Aerodynamics of Wings and Bodies,
Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, 1963.
Clift R, Grace JR, Weber ME, Bubbles, Drops, and Particles,
Academic Press, New York, 1978.
[Top of Page]

Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.

Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.


Importance of the Subject

Flow Phenomena
Maximum Lift
o Boundary Layer Control
Vortex Lift
High-Lift Systems
o Powered vs. Unpowered Systems
High-Lift Airfoils

Pressure Distribution
Multi-element Airfoils
Design Issues for High-Lift
Trailing- and Leading Edge Devices
Computational Methods
Tables of Maximum CL
Selected References

Lift is a force in a direction normal to the velocity. It is due to both

pressure and viscous contributions. The weight of the pressure component
is generally far more important; when the viscous component is effective,
it works as to reduce the total amount of lift obtainable by an aerodynamic

Importance of the Subject

High lift systems are required in aeronautics to produce higher
maneuverability, for higher endurance under engine failure, for lower
take-off and landing speed, higher pay-load, for aircraft weight
constraints, maximum engine power limits, etc.
High lift systems are of the utmost importance in human powered flight,
unpowered gliding, etc. High lift systems are also used (differently) in
racing cars and competition sailing boats.
The picture below shows the cargo plane C-17 Globemaster with high lift
system in operation during a slow landing phase.

Figure 1: McDonnell Douglas C-17 Full Image (102K)

Flow Phenomena
Flow phenomena of multi-element wings include: wakes from upstream
elements merging with fresh boundary layers on downstream elements;
flow separation in the the cove regions; flow separation on the
downstream elements, especially at high angles (landing configurations);
confluent boundary layers; high- curvature wakes; high flow deflection;
possible supercritical flow in the upstream elements, see figure below.

Figure 2: Multi-element wing

Two boundary layers are confluent when they develop on different solid
surface and come together (generally at a different stage of development).
Confluent boundary layers can be identified by studying the local velocity
field. Flow separation occurs in cove regions because of the high curvature
associated with locally high speed. High speed can also be the reason of
supercritical regimes in aircraft configurations.

Maximum Lift
The maximum lift obtainable by a single/multi element wing (or by more
complicated devices) is generally attributed to flow separation on the
suction side, and on the maximum suction peak. The two problems are
somewhat dependent.
Airfoil characteristics that have a strong effect on the maximum lift
coefficient are: camber and thickness distributions, surface quality, leading
edge radius, trailing edge angle.
CLmax also depends on the Reynolds number. At a fixed Reynolds

number, the operation on the above parameters must remove or delay the
flow separation, and delay the pressure recovery on the suction side, along
with a number of other details.
Prediction of Maximum Lift
Accurate prediction of the maximum lift coefficient for an airfoil or wing
is still considered an open problem in computational aerodynamics. This
difficulty is due to the approximation of the boundary layer conditions at
various stages of turbulent transition and separation, besides the proper
modeling of the turbulent separated flows.
An empirical formula correlating wing CLmax of a swept wing to the
main geometric parameters of the high-lift system was derived at the
Research Aeronautical Establishment (RAE, UK) in the late 1970s. More
recent work was done at McDonnell- Douglas (Valarezo-Chin, 1994).

Vortex Lift
The lift force from a wing can be augmented by appropriate manipulation
of separation vortices. Basically, this can be done in two ways: with highly
swept wings (delta wings) and strakes. The longitudinal vortex has the
effect of shifting the stagnation point on the suction surface of the wing
(Pohlamus, 1971).

Figure 3: Vortex Lift

High-Lift Systems
High lift can be produced by aerodynamic design of single components,
design of entire systems, integration of already existing systems, ad hoc
technical solutions. The most important methods are the following:

High-lift wing design

Multi-element lifting systems
Boundary Layer Control
Propulsive Lift
Other Technical Solutions

Powered vs Unpowered Systems

There is a broad classification among all high lift systems: that is between
powered and unpowered. The range of applications in aviation is discussed
below. The data collected in the figure below have been elaborated from
Airbus research (Flaig and Hilbig, 1993). Performances of the C-17 and
the YC-14 have been guessed.

Figure 4: Powered vs unpowered high-lift systems

SSF=single-slotted flap;
DSF=double-slotted flap;
TSF=triple-slotted flap;
LED=leading-edge device.

High-Lift Airfoils
In order to obtain high lift from an airfoil the designer must increase the
area enclosed by the pressure coefficient (Cp), that is: the pressure on the
lower side must be as high as possible (pressure side), the pressure on the
upper side must be as low as possible (suction side). The latter
requirement is in fact the most difficult to fulfill, because low pressure is

created through high speed, and high speed triggers flow separation. Flow
separation can be limited at high speed by turbulent transition.
Pressure Distribution
One idea commonly used in design is to control the pressure distribution
on the upper side as to maintain the flow at the edge of separation.
The more separation is delayed the higher the lift coefficient. This is
obtained through a flat top and a gradual pressure recovery (Stratford
recovery). Airfoils designed with this approach can exhibit aerodynamic
efficiencies L/D of up to 300 !

Multi-Element Airfoils
Generally speaking, a multi-element airfoil consists of a main wing and a
number of leading- and trailing-edge devices. The use of multi-element
wings is a very effective method to increase the maximum lift of an
aerodynamic system.
The Slat
The first element to be added to a main wing was a leading edge slat
(Handley-Page, Lachmann, 1917). The solution worked, but it was not
clear how. For many years is was assumed that the leading-edge slat was a
boundary layer control device (Betz, 1920).
Smith (1972) proved that the slat is so effective because of its strong effect
on the inviscid pressure distribution.
The leading-edge slot deviates the streamlines, creates a downwash on the
main element and modifies markedly the leading edge suction peak.
Later on, more elements were added to the main wing. A three-element
configuration (with leading-edge slat and trailing-edge flap) is classic, but
the technology has improved, and 4 or more element are not uncommon,
ex. in Fig. 2.
A system with increasing number of elements provides an increasing
amount of lift. This increase is however associated with an increase in

Design Issues for High-Lift

A fundamental problem involved in high-lift design is the evaluation of

the computational tools. There is always the possibility of failing to meet
the design target.
Optimization and design cannot be approached by using the wind tunnel
alone, because extensive parametric testing is time consuming and
economically unaffordable. In fact, only the final design is generally build
and tested in a wind tunnel at the design conditions.
The design is complicated by the mutual interaction (interference) among
the aerodynamic components. Industry is in fact interested in integrating
each component into a more complex aerodynamic system (aircraft
design, turbomachinery, etc.), besides optimizing a single device.
With the improvement of the computational capabilities a more rational
approach to design and optimization has become possible. The use of wind
tunnel techniques is complementary and now in a process of closer
Examples from the real world include the design multi-stage turbines for
aircraft and power generation, aircraft design, internal flows in pipes and
channels for pumps, compressors and exhaust gas.

Computational Methods
In the past few years the computational methods for high lift have been
converging toward Navier-Skotes solvers (unstructured, and multi-block
structured), although methods including strongly interactive boundary
layers have proven to be almost as successful.
The method of computation depends on the complexity of the problem (2D, 3-D, number of high-lift bodies, precision requirements, turbulence
modeling, etc.).
The figure below shows the pressure field around an inverted 2-element
wing for racing applictions. The flow field was computed with a structured
multi-block Navier-Stokes code.

Figure 4: pressure field around multi-element inverted wing.

Related Material

Aerodynamic Design of airfoils and wings

Delta Wings
Computational Methods for high lift

On the Web
These sites are not part of the aerodyn.org domain. There is no control over their content
or availability.

Airfoil Data Site, at the University of Illinois

Selected References

Hoerner SF. Fluid Dynamic Lift, Hoerner Fluid Dynamics, 1965

Clancy JC. Aerodynamics, John Wiley, New York, 1975.
AGARD. High-Lift System Aerodynamics, AGARD CP-515,
Banff, Oct. 1993
McCormick BW. Aerodynamics, Aeronautics and Flight
Mechanics, John Wiley, New York, 1994.
Betz A.Theory of the Slotted Wing, NACA TN-100, 1922.
[Top of Page]

Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.

Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.

In this Chapter

Importance of the Subject

o Oscillatory Flows
o Non Oscillatory Flows
o Dimensionless Parameters
Dynamic Stall
High Angle of Attack
Unsteady Wakes behind Bluff Bodies
o Flow Past Cylinder
o Flow Past Sphere
o Other Bluff Bodies
Unsteady Boundary Layers
Computed Examples
Selected References

Aircraft agility depends on

the control of the unsteady
flow field

Although most aerodynamic flows are treated as steady ones, many others
are non stationary. The variety of non stationary flows is large, and
includes transient regimes, impulsive starts, maneuvering, periodic flows,
and flows that are intrinsically unsteady because of the mechanism of

vortex shedding from bluff bodies.

Importance of the Subject

The ability to control general three-dimensional unsteady flows could open
new possibilities in the performance of many aerodynamic systems,
including aircraft, helicopter and wind energy conversion systems.
Other aspects of unsteady flows include: hydrodynamic propulsion
(propeller-hull interaction), flapping wing propulsion, a number of cavity
flows, and many heat transfer problems.
The flows that will be considered are:

Oscillatory Flows
Non Oscillatory Flows
o Vortex dynamics at high angle of attack
o Unsteady wakes behind bluff bodies

Oscillatory Flows
The unsteady problems of oscillatory type have been widely studied for
airfoils and wings since the 1930s, when the first theories have been
formulated (Theodorsen, 1932).
Dynamic stall affects helicopter rotor blades in forward flight,
maneuvering and descent (because of the asymmetric loads created by the
flight dynamics); wind turbine rotors (because of the unsteady nature of
the wind, along with the atmospheric boundary layer, the presence of the
tower, the topography of the terrain, etc.). Dynamic stall on airfoils is a
particular case of the above. At the highest speed of a helicopter rotor
another peculiar aspect appears: the unsteady shock wave on the blade.
Other unsteady flows of practical importance include flows past circular
cylinders (von Karman, 1930s), and past spheres. These phenomena are
oscillatory only at very low Reynolds numbers and become fully turbulent
and aperiodic at higher speeds. The largest Reynolds number at which the
von Karman vortex street is observed is Re=400, that corresponds to a
Strouhal number St=0.21.

Dimensionless Parameters
The non dimensional parameter defining the similitude of periodic flows is
the Strouhal number St=fL/V (f=frequency; L=characteristic length; V =
characteristic speed), or the reduced frequency k=2 St. The two non-

dimensional groups are equivalent within a constant. The reduced

frequency is used more often for dynamic stall problems.

Dynamic Stall
Periodic flows on airfoils and wings (plunging, pitching and a combination
of the two) lead to a peculiar effect called dynamic stall. The main reason
why dynamic stall appears is the finite response time of the flow to an
incoming disturbance (for ex. change in angle of attack, free stream
turbulence effects, etc.).
The response time (sometimes called time-lag) is dependent on the viscous
effects, which ultimately lead to energy dissipation. The latter is
proportional to the integral of the hysteresis loop. The first to provide a
mathematical description of airfoils in flutter was Theodorsen (1932). His
theory was based on linearized small perturbation equations.

Non Oscillatory Flows

Besides the cylinder and the sphere at relatively high Reynolds numbers,
there is a number of flows that are unsteady and aperiodic, although they
can be treated as steady. These include airfoils and wings at high angle of
Delta wings, pointed cylinders and prolate spheroids are some examples of
technological interest (fighter aircraft, missile aerodynamics, etc.) Their
behavior is related to the dynamics of the vortices released from the body
Unsteady flows developing in the wakes of bluff bodies, particularly on
road vehicles and aircraft after bodies, are of interest from the point of
view of the base drag that is produced at the rear end. Similar interest in
reported for some cavity flows.

High Angle of Attack Aerodynamics

Fundamental studies are available for the flat plate at all speeds (up to
hypersonic) and all angle of attacks (up to 90 degrees). This is by itself a
sign of the importance of this simple device to the understanding of basic
fluid dynamic problems, besides airfoils (Fig. below).

Other systems at angle of attack include blunt and pointed bodies (prolate
spheroids, pointed cylinders), delta wings and low aspect-ratio wings. At
the other end of the technology there is the full aircraft (Lamar, 1992).
Flow separation on these systems is quite complex. On low aspect-ratio
wings and delta wings the flow separation produced a substantial
augmentation of lift (besides drag).

Unsteady Wakes behind Bluff Bodies

Wakes behind bluff bodies are unsteady (and sometimes periodic) at any
realistic Reynolds number. Simple geometries like the circular cylinder
and the sphere have been investigated for a long time, in order to
understand the physics of flow separation and vortex formation in 3-D.
These bodies also present a technical interest from the point of view of
base drag reduction on cars, trucks, aircraft after bodies and other vehicles.
Flow analysis around bluff bodies such as suspension bridges, tall
buildings, and towers is nowdays an essential element in the engineering

Flow Past a Cylinder

The circular cylinder, along with the flat plate, is the body most widely
studied in fluid dynamics and aerodynamics. Drag data for the cylinder are
known from very low Reynolds numbers all the way to hypersonic speeds.
Vortex Shedding. Systematic vortex shedding analysis was first due to

von Karman, who analyzed the breakdown of the symmetric flow. The von
Karman vortex street has become one of the most well known unsteady
problem. Impulsive start was already known to Prandtl (1904), and the
rotating cylinder was known to Tollmien (1931).
Drag data are tabulated for all Reynolds numbers, flow visualizations are
available up to Mach numbers M=12.1 (to the author's knowledge).
Although the unsteady wake behind the cylinder has been considered for a
long time as purely two dimensional, there are spanwise vortex structures
that appear at some Reynolds numbers. These structures are a function of
the cylinder aspect ratio L/D. References on the circular cylinder can be
found in any text of fluid dynamics.
Related Material

Navier-Stokes computations at very low Re

Flow Past a Sphere

Wakes behind spheres are observed to be steady for Reynolds numbers
below 300-400. Above this limit (which also depends on the surface finish)
vortices break off and are periodically released to form vortex loops that
are connected like in a chain.
At Re above 6000 the vortex shedding is very periodic, with Strouhal
number ranging from 0.125 to 0.20, the largest figure being a limit at high
Reynolds numbers (Achenbach, 1974). Similar wakes can be observed
behind particles falling in water. Effects of the surface geometry have been
studied for the evaluation of the aerodynamic performances of sports balls
(Metha, 1985).

Flow Past other Bluff Bodies

Bluff bodies other than cylinder and sphere include a wide variety of
configurations. Squared cylinders, elliptic cylinders and parallelepipeds of
various aspect-ratios are used to simulate more complex real-life objects.
We will limit this discussion to road vehicles.
Passenger cars, buses and trucks have blunt trailing edges, and various
cavities. Streamlining has been applied (successfully) to both cars and
trucks (on a lesser degree to buses). However, streamlining on fore bodies
has little influence on flow separation and drag. The after body is instead
critical. Among the extensive studies performed by the car industry it is
interesting to report the effect of the slant angle on both lifting and non

lifting bluff bodies.

Unsteady Boundary Layers

The amount of research available for unsteady boundary layer is a tiny
thing compared with the body of work carried out on steady,
incompressible boundary layers. Typical cases available in the literature
include flows past flat plates and circular cylinders, flows started from
rest, colliding shear layers, and periodic oscillations.
Oscillating boundary layers are the basis of dynamic stall behavior, and
therefore are studied from the point of view of unsteady separation.
Boundary layer separation is related to the amplitude of the oscillations.
For a review of recent work see Cousteix, 1986.
Related Material

Computed Examples

Selected References

Theodorsen T. General Theory of Aerodynamic Instability and the

Mechanism of Flutter, NACA TR 496, 1935.
AGARD. Unsteady Aerodynamics - Fundamentals and
Applications to Aircraft Dynamics, AGARD CPP-386, May 1985.
Smith FT. Steady and Unsteady Boundary Layer Separation, in
Ann. Rev. Fluid Mech, Vol 18, pages 197-220, 1986.
[Top of Page]

Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.

Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.

In this Chapter

Aerodynamics of Streamlined Bodies

o Laminar Separation Bubble
o Turbulent Transition
o Lift-Drag Characteristics
Aerodynamics of Bluff Bodies
Current Research Topics
Selected References

Flow phenomena at low Reynolds numbers are more complicated than

those occurring at high Reynolds numbers (flow regimes typical of flight),
and to some extent poorly understood. It is particularly interesting to
report that it is not quite clear how a low Reynolds number airfoil section
should look like (Lissaman, 1983).
The aerodynamics of bluff bodies, instead, seems more advanced, and the
technical literature reports cases at Reynolds number as low as a small
fraction of unity. Reynolds numbers for lifting bodies are in the range
50,000 to 500,000. For bluff bodies they are much lower. Both streamlined
and bluff bodies are reported.

Figure 1: Low Reynolds Number Aerodynamics

Aerodynamics of Streamlined Bodies

The low Reynolds number regime leads to some peculiar features, namely:

Low resistance of a laminar boundary layer to adverse pressure

Appearance of limited areas of flow separation (bubbles)
Turbulence transition triggered by boundary layer instability
Effects of free stream disturbances and surface conditions
3-D effects in otherwise 2-D flows
non linear lift/drag characteristics
lift and drag hysteresis at static conditions
bifurcations of boundary layer states

Bifurcation of boundary layer states yields non unique and un-symmetric

solutions even for symmetric conditions.
Theories of slender body aerodynamics at low Reynolds number have
been developed by several authors, including Burgers (1938), Taylor
(1969), Lighthill (1975). At very low Reynolds number the inertial forces
are negligible.

Separation Bubble
A separation bubble is a region of locally separated flow on the airfoil.
The extent of this region depends on the operational parameters (Reynolds
number, angle of attack, free stream turbulence), and airfoil geometry
(thickness, camber, surface quality). Depending on a complicated

combination among the above quantities the bubble can be short or long, it
can contract or extend with the increasing angle of attack.

Figure 2: Laminar Separation Bubble

A long separation bubble usually starts far behind the leading edge, causes
a collapse of the leading edge pressure peak and modifies the total
pressure distribution on the upper side of the airfoil. This type of bubble is
associated with a large loss in lift.
A short bubble is just behind the leading edge, does not alter
macroscopically the surface pressure distribution, and changes only
slightly the lift coefficient.

Figure 3: Cp characteristics

Turbulent Transition
Bubble reattachment and airfoil characteristics are strongly dependent on
turbulent transition. A bubble reattaches as turbulent, transition occurring
at some location within the bubble. At very low Reynolds number a
delayed transition may prevent bubble reattachment, and thus cause a
premature stall and a consistent loss of lift. For this reason accurate
knowledge of transition is necessary.
Factors affecting Transition
The most general physical causes that trigger turbulent flow transition on a
solid wall are the following:

External pressure gradients

Surface roughness
External disturbances and acoustic waves

Forced Transition
If transition does not occur by natural means, it can be forced by operating
of the surface roughness or adding transition trips of appropriate size and
shape. One simple criterion sometimes applied to predict bubble
reattachment is the Owen-Klanfer criterion, that consists in evaluating the
Reynolds number based on boundary layer thickness.
Predicting Transition
There are several theoretical methods for predicting turbulent transition.
Some methods commonly used in aerodynamics include the Michel
method, the eN method. The accuracy of these methods (or any other
methods currently known) is not always sufficient for computing airfoil
characteristics as those reported below.

Lift/Drag Characteristics
Lift and drag characteristics are affected by the Reynolds number in a way
that is unknown at the speeds proper of commercial flight. The extent of
the viscous flow and the separated region (e.g. the size and behavior of the
separation bubble).

Fig. 4 and Fig. 5 show two different, albeit typical, lift curves at Reynolds
numbers below 100,000.

Figure 4: Airfoil Lift characteristics

In the figure above the lift curve is dominated by the laminar separation
bubble (B). When the bubble contracts with the increasing incidence, the
bubble lift decreases slightly, then increases again and the airfoil finally
stalls with a trailing edge separation.

Figure 5: Airfoil Lift characteristics

The case above shows a a hysteresis loop (I), that occurs when the airfoil
flow at increasing angle of attack features different characteristics of those

at decreasing angle of attack. This result

Figure 6: Drag characteristics

Aerodynamics of Bluff Bodies

The bluff bodies considered at low Reynolds number are almost
exclusively of spheric shape, since they include the motion of liquid drops
bubbles and particulate in air, that are of general technical interest (for
example, cavitation problems, combustion, fluidized beds, magnetohydrodynamics; diffusion problems, etc.).
At the limit of zero Reynolds number the Navier-Stokes equations are
reduced to a condition of equilibrium for the pressure, whose fundamental
solution is a point force called stokeslet (Hancock, 1953). In practice the
Reynolds number cannot be zero, so small inertia forces are present.
The drag coefficient of solid particles and bubbles has been widely
investigated, and often some correlations are given: Oseen's equation for
Re < 1; For reference, the drag coefficient of a bubble is CD = 10 at Re =
1; CD = 2.6 at Re = 42. Data are also available for slender cylinders.

Current Research Topics

For streamlined bodies (airfoils and wings) there is ongoing research in
the fields of wind tunnel testing, airfoil design, turbulent transition studies
for gliding, human-powered flight, solar-powered flight, wind turbine
blades, micro air vehicles.
For bluff bodies the field of research includes a wide array of industrial

multi-phase flows, wherein at least one phase is a solid particulate

(exhaust gases, fluidized beds, combustion problems), or a bubble
(cavitation), dynamics of sprays and jets.
Transition prediction is an interesting topic for the most advanced CFD
methods. The traditional Reynolds averaged Navier-Stokes equations deal
with ensemble averaged equations, and therefore is unable to resolve the
large scale eddies. The large eddy simulation (LES) methods model the
turbulence in the sub-grid scale.
As an alternative, direct Navier-Stokes solution (DNS) may be used. This
approach requires very fine grids and small steps to resolve the
Kolmogoroff scale. Both LES and DNS are still at a development stage to
predict how well they can predict turbulent transition at small Reynolds
Related Material

Navier-Stokes Equations

On the Web
These sites are not part of the aerodyn.org domain. There is no control over their content
or availability.

Low Speed Airfoils at the University of Illinois

Selected References

Proceedings of the Conference on Low Reynolds Number Airfoil

Aerodynamics, UNDAS-CP-77B123, Notre Dame, Indiana, June
Proceedings of the Aerodynamics at Low Reynolds Number 10^4 <
Re <
International Conference, The Royal Aeronautical
Society, London, Oct. 1986.
AGARD, Low Reynolds Number Vehicles , AGARDograph AG288, 1985.
Selig M, Lyon C, Giguere P, Ninham C, and Guglielmo J.,
Summary of Low-Speed Airfoil Data, Vol. 2, SoarTech Publ.,
Virginia Beach, VA, 1996.
[Top of Page]

Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.

Grid Generation

Importance of the Subject

Conceptual Problems
Visualization Problems
o Algebraic Methods
o Elliptic Methods
o Hyperbolic Methods
o Unstructured Methods
o Adaptive Methods
o Other Methods
Surface Control
Selected References

Grid generation is an essential aspect of all numerical methods that

employ finite differences, finite volumes and finite elements for the
solution of partial differential equations (PDE). Shortly, it consists in
dividing bounded or unbounded flow domains into elements (triangles,
quadrilaterals, polygons in 2-D; tetraedrons, parallelepipeds, n-edrons,

etc.) called cells.

The problem is a non-trivial one, and requires a considerable amount of
time. Development of a grid generation system requires years of work.

Figure 1: 3-D structured grid for external aerodynamics

Importance of the Subject

The topic of grid generation has become a field on its own in the
increasigly vast field of computational fluid dynamics (CFD). A short
selection of publications for reference is given below. Some general
considerations regarding suitable methods and their role in CFD are the

Almost any method works on a good grid, whereas the bad

methods only work on good grids;
If one had enough resolution (e.g. enough points), then the grid
quality would be of minor importance, provided that some basic
requirements are satisfied; if the grid is necessarily coarse, then its
quality becomes essential;
A good grid can accelerate the convergence of the solution, while a
bad grid can even lead to a divergent iteration history.

Conceptual Problems
There are a number of conceptual problems that must be addressed when
choosing a grid generation system for a particular problem:

Open or closed flow domain

Domain topology (C, H, O, and combinations therein)

Single or multiple (single- of multi-block)
o block-interface type for multi-block (continuous ?)
Overlapping (ex. chimera type) or non-overlapping
Algebraic or from differential equations
Structured or unstructured
Fixed or fully-adaptive
Two- or three dimensional

Fig. 2. below shows some typical multi-block interfaces (for structured

grids). The most common interface is the full matching (top left). The
other systems require interpolation of fluid dynamic quantities at nonmatching points.

Figure 2: Some common multi-block interface structures

Visualization Issues
Once the grid has been generated, it must be visualized to check for errors
(they come in an infinite variety). For 3-D grids this is a particular difficult
stage, where a computer animated image, or a CAD-based system is
absolutely essential, and this is proven by the fact that the most
sophisticated systems currently available come with visualization
facilities. Minor errors can be fixed with ad hoc post- processing, going
under the definition of grid smoothing.

Input Requirements
Given the complexity of the problem just outlined, one can argue also on
the amount of user input required. Some methods excel for the amount of
data that must be set (for example a multi-block structured grid, requiring

point bunching on all sides).

Unstructured grids have been sometimes preferred on the structured
counterparts because grids - also in complex domains - can be generated
more automatically.
How about the grid quality then ? - If the code runs, do not fix it,
otherwise repeat the fundamental steps.

Grid Generation Methods

Below it is described a set of algebraic and differential methods that
makes up the bulk of the available methods.
Algebraic Methods
Algebraic methods are based on coordinate transformation equations in a
physical domain. In their most simple form they are Lagrange and Hermite
transformations (are called shearing transformations). Some methods are
based on interpolation schemes in multi-dimensions.
Transfinite interpolation (Eriksson, 1982), and multi- surface
transformation (Eiseman, 1985) produce good grids for closed domains.
Integration of the methods with additional control on the boundary values
and elliptic smoothing (see further down) give efficient grid generation
systems (for example ICEM/CFD, GridPro) These methods in their most
developed form allow some control on the values of the derivatives at the
Elliptic Methods
Elliptic methods are based on the solution of elliptic partial differential
equations with some conditions (called forcing terms) to force point
bunching. The problem is formulated via a set of Poisson equations
(Thompson, 1977) with forcing terms usually defined by the ThomasMiddlecoff terms (Thomas-Middlecoff, 1982), or by other appropriate
control functions (Sorenson, 1995).
The solution of the system is iterative, for example with a Successive
Over- Relaxation (SOR) method. For large grids the computing time is
Elliptic systems produce very smooth grids (sometimes too smooth) and
they can be used to smooth out metric discontinuities in the transfinite
interpolation systems (for this purpose also a Laplace smoother will

Hyperbolic Methods
Hyperbolic methods are based on the solution of partial differential
equations of hyperbolic type, that are solved marching outward from the
domain boundaries.
The idea of using hyperbolic PDEs is very effective for external flows
where the wall boundaries (airfoil, wing, wing-body, etc.) are well
defined, whereas the far field boundary is left arbitrary. This situation also
eliminates the need to specify point distribution on some of the edges of
the flow domain, and makes it more handy than for example the transfinite
interpolation methods.
In its basic formulation (Steger- Chaussee, 1980) the hyperbolic grid
generator is based on a condition of orthogonality, and a condition on the
cell area. The method can be integrated with grid line smoothing and
orthogonality checks.
Unstructured Methods
There are several algorithms for generating unstructured grids. The
Delauney triangulation method other Voronoi methods and the advancing
front method are the most popular, also among solution-adaptive systems,
and they are the basis of some commercial fluid dynamic codes (for
example Star-CD, Rampant).
The field is in rapid expansion, and there are schools of thought whether
the unstructured approach is better or worse than the structured approach
to the solution of PDEs in fluid dynamics.
Briefly, unstructured grids can be generated faster on most complex
domains, and exists for all domains. Mesh refinement can be done without
difficulties, also on a local basis and adaptively.
Storage of the grid data is no easy (it requires information on which node
is neighbor to which), it takes far more memory than in a structured sense,
and therefore hinders parallelizarion of computer codes.
Adaptive Grids
All the methods described above make use of some empirical knowledge
about the form of the solution of the PDEs. This knowledge makes us
force many points in regions of large field gradients (for ex. boundary

Better solutions could be obtained if a first guess grid could be adapted in
a time-marching numerical scheme to follow exactly the evolution of the
field gradients (a particular difficult problem is the position of the shock
wave in a transonic flow.)
Methods that can be used to follow the solution include: weight functions,
Poisson smoothing, electro-dynamic analogy. The major problem of the
adaptivity systems is that they must be built in the solver of the PDEs, and
cannot be left out as in the most popular approach.
Other Methods
For some problems of particular difficult nature scientists have developed
hybrid methods that feature both structured and unstructured zones. These
methods are the chimera technique and the hybrid structured/ unstructured
The chimera approach consists in building partially overlapping blocks.
Boundary conditions need to be exchanged at the interface between
domains and this is usually done through some form of interpolation.
The hybrid scheme takes advantage of both unstructured and structured
methods by applying structured body fitted coordinates to the body and
unstructured networks in the outer boundaries.
Problems that require such a complex CFD approach include
rotor/fuselage interaction in a full rotorcraft simulation, propeller to fixed
wing analysis, etc.

Surface Control
All grid generation processes (especially 3-D problems) start with a
surface definition. This definition is seldom an easy task. The input may
consist of points, lines, curves, splines, surface patches, etc.
All these items can be defined through a CAD system. Sometimes it is
necessary to spline, smooth and re-patch the input data. Some examples
for 2-D airfoil problems are shown in theexamples. Some grid generation
systems come with their own facilities (for ex. ICEM/Surf, widely used in
automotive industry).


Presently there is no one method that fits all. Most still depends on the
quality of the CFD solution that can be achieved.
The characteristics of the block boundaries depend on the capabilities of
the flow solver. In the structured domain, algebraic methods have been
preferred because faster.
Multi-Disciplinary Strategies
The most up-to-date methods have been embedded in sophisticated multidisciplinary tools that come with CAD/CAE interface, surface treatment
techniques, complex visualization tools, post-processing, etc. These tools
allow multi-block structured.
Problem Size
The number of cells that can are necessary depends on the particular
problem. Usually a minimum number is easy to figure out. Most practical
aerodynamic problems can be solved with several million cells. The 10
million mark is current practical bound.
More on

Examples of calculation

On the Web
These sites are not part of the aerodyn.org domain. There is no
guarantee nor control over their content and availability.

Mesh Generation: Web Authority

Selected References

AGARD, Application of Mesh Generation to Complex 3-D

Configurations, AGARD CP-464, Aug. 1989.
NASA, Surface Modeling, Grid Generation, and Related Issues in
Computational Fluid Dynamic Solutions, NASA CP-3291, May
Thompson JF, Warsi ZUA, Mastin CW. Numerical Grid
Generation, North Holland, 1985.
Eiseman P. Grid Generation for Fluid Mechanics, Ann. Rev. Fluid
Mech, Vol 17, pages 487-522, 1985.
AGARD, Three-Dimensional Grid generation for Complex

Configurations - Recent Progress, AGARDograph AG-309, 1988.

[Top of Page]
Copyright A. Filippone (1999-2002). All Rights Reserved.