Any object with an angle of attack in a moving fluid, such as a flat plate, a building, or the
deck of a bridge, will generate an aerodynamic force perpendicular to the flow calledlift.
Airfoils are more efficient lifting shapes, generating lift with lower dragand maintaining lift athigher angles of attack. A lift and drag curve obtained inwind tunneltesting is shown on theright.Airfoil design is a major facet of aerodynamics. Various airfoils serve different flight regimes.Asymmetric airfoils can generate lift at zero angle of attack, while a symmetric airfoil may better suit frequent inverted flight as in an aerobaticairplane. Supersonic airfoils are much
more angular in shape and can have a very sharp leading edge. Asupercritical airfoil,with its
low camber, reducestransonic drag divergence. Movable high-lift devices,flapsandslatsare
fitted to airfoils on many aircraft.Schemes have been devised to describe airfoils — an example is the NACA system. Variousad-hoc naming systems are also used. An example of a general purpose airfoil that finds wideapplication, and predates the NACA system, is theClark-Y. Today, airfoils are designed for specific functions using inverse design programs such as PROFIL and XFOIL. Modern aircraftwings may have different airfoil sections along the wing span, each one optimized for theconditions in each section of the wing.An airfoil designed for winglets(PSU 90-125WL)
The various terms related to airfoils are defined below:
mean camber line
is a line drawn half way between the upper and lower surfaces.
is a straight line connecting the leading and trailing edges of the airfoil,at the ends of the mean camber line.
is the length of the chord line and is the characteristic dimension of theairfoil section
and the location of maximum thickness are expressed as a percentage of the chordAn airfoil section is nicely displayed at the tip of this Denney Kitfox aircraft (G-FOXC), builtin 1991.
Thin Airfoil Theory