© Prof. Dr. Mustafa Cavcar, 2004.

1
Blade Element Theory

Prof. Dr. Mustafa Cavcar
Anadolu University, School of Civil Aviation
Eskisehir, Turkey
mcavcar@anadolu.edu.tr

The simple momentum theory provides an initial idea regarding the performance
of a propeller but not sufficient information for the detailed design. Detailed
information can be obtained through analysis of the forces acting on a blade
element like it is a wing section. The forces acting on a small section of the blade
are determined and then integrated over the propeller radius in order to predict the
thrust, torque and power characteristics of the propeller.

V
ωr
β
φ
α
dL
dD
dT
dF
w
V
R

V
e

α
i

r dr
ω
R
c

Figure 1. Propeller blade element with velocity and force diagram.

© Prof. Dr. Mustafa Cavcar, 2004. 2
A differential blade element of chord c and width dr , located at a radius r from
the propeller axis, is shown in Figure 1. The element is shown acting under the
influence of the rotational velocity, r ω , forward velocity of the airplane, V , and
the induced velocity, w. Vector sum of these velocities produce

w V r V
e
+ + = ω (1)

The section has a geometric pitch angle of its zero lift line of β . If it is assumed
that V and r ω are known, then calculation of the induced velocity w is desired
to find
i
α , and consequently the section angle of attack α . Knowing α , and the
section type,
l
C and
d
C can be calculated, then the differential lift and drag of the
section will follow. However, w depends on dL which in turn depends on w.
Thus the problem is closely related to the finite wing problem but is more
complicated because of the helicoidal geometry of the propeller [1].

Combined Momentum – Blade Element Theory

A starting approximate value of w can be obtained by application of the
momentum theory principles to an annulus of width dr and radius r (Figure 2).
In this case

φ φ ρ cos 2 ) cos ( w w V dA dT + = (2)


Figure 2. Annulus to calculate w.
In Eq. (2) φ cos w is applied as the induced velocity rather than w alone, because
only φ cos w component of the induced velocity acts in the axial direction as
shown in Figure 3. If it is assumed that
i
α is small and w varies only with the
radius, then

r
dr
R
© Prof. Dr. Mustafa Cavcar, 2004. 3
i R
V w α = (3)

Therefore, the differential thrust applied to the annulus becomes

φ α φ α π ρ cos 2 ) cos )( 2 (
R i R i
V V V rdr dT + = (4)


Figure 3. Axial flow component of the induced velocity.

Since the effective angle of attack of the section is

i
α φ β α − − = (5)

then, the differential lift acting on B blades will be

cdr a V B dL
i e
) (
2
0
2
α φ β
ρ
− − = (6)

where
0
a is the lift curve slope of propeller’s blade section. The theoretical value
of
0
a is π 2 , but experiment shows that the value for a two-dimensional airfoil is
typically about 5.7 per radian, or about 0.1 per degree.

The thrust and the radial force acting on the blade element

) sin( ) cos(
i i
dD dL dT α φ α φ + − + = (7)
) cos( ) sin(
i i
dD dL dF α φ α φ + + + = (8)

However, if it is assumed that
R e
V V ≅ , and the drag is much smaller than lift,
then:

φ cos dL dT =

or

w
φ
V
R
direction
φ
wcosφ
rotation
plane
V
© Prof. Dr. Mustafa Cavcar, 2004. 4
dr ca V B dT
i R
φ α φ β
ρ
cos ) (
2
0
2
− − = (9)

From Eqs. (4) and (9)

0 ) (
8 8
2
0
2
0 2
= − −
|
|
.
|

\
|
+ + φ β
σ σ λ
α α
T
R
T
R
i i
V x
V a
V x
V a
x
(10)

where

x R
Bc
V x V R V
R
V
R
r
x
T R T
λ
φ
π
σ λ ω
ω
λ
1 2 2
tan , , , , ,

= = + = = = =

The induced angle of attack
i
α can be obtained from (3) as

(
(
¸
(

¸


+
|
|
.
|

\
|
+ +
|
|
.
|

\
|
+ − =
T
R
T
R
T
R
i
V x
V a
V x
V a
x V x
V a
x
2
0
2
2
0
2
0
2
) (
8 8 2
1 φ β σ σ λ σ λ
α (11)

If the propeller geometry defined by blade pitch β , blade chord length c , and the
ratio of the forward velocity to the tip speed λ , are given, the induced angle of
attack can be calculated from (11). Knowing this, the angle of attack can be
calculated by Eq. (5), and then
l
C and
d
C are obtained. The thrust and power can
then be predicted by



+ =
− =
R
l R
R
l R
dr cC rV
B
P
dr cC V
B
T
0
2
0
2
) tan ( cos
2
) tan 1 ( cos
2
φ ε φ ω ρ
φ ε φ ρ


or in dimensionless form


− + =
1
0
2 2 2
) tan 1 ( cos ) ( dx C x C
l T
φ ε φ λ σ λ (12)


+ + =
1
0
2 2 3
) tan ( cos ) ( dx C x x C
l P
φ ε φ λ σ λ (13)

where ε is the drag-to-lift ratio of the section. For simplified solutions, ε may be
assumed equal to zero.
© Prof. Dr. Mustafa Cavcar, 2004. 5
Calculations by the blade element theory show that the lift does not vanish toward
the tips of blades. However, the lift on the propeller must go to zero at the tips, as
in the finite wings. In order to simulate this condition, it may be assumed that the
lift acts only on a radius of eR, so that Eq. (12) becomes


− + =
e
l T
dx C x C
0
2 2 2
) tan 1 ( cos ) ( φ ε φ λ σ λ (14)

and Eq. (13) for the power becomes

∫ ∫
+ + + + =
1
2 2
0
2 2 3
cos ) ( ) tan ( cos ) (
0
e
d
e
l P
dx C x x dx C x x C φ λ σ φ ε φ λ σ λ (15)

where
d d
C C =
0
for 0 =
l
C . McCormick [1] recommended that a value of
97 . 0 = e may be used for preliminary estimates. However, this value is still an
approximation. Thus, the blade element theory provides a better performance idea
compared to the momentum theory, but not sufficient enough yet to approach an
exact solution. Calculation of the lift reduction towards the blade tips requires
vortex analysis, which is a more complex theory.

References

[1] McCormick, B.W., Aerodynamics of V/STOL Flight, Academic Press,
Orlando, 1967.

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