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J. Marine Sci. Appl.

(2011) 10: 199-205
DOI: 10.1007/s11804-011-1038-5

A Lifting Line Theory for a Three-dimensional Hydrofoil
Hui Liang and Zhi Zong
*
School of Naval Architecture Engineering, Dalian University of Technology, Dalian 116024, China
Abstract: Prandtl’s lifting line theory was generalized to the lifting problem of a three-dimensional hydrofoil in
the presence of a free surface. Similar to the classical lifting theory, the singularity distribution method was
utilized to solve two-dimensional lifting problems for the hydrofoil beneath the free surface at the air-water
interface, and a lifting line theory was developed to correct three-dimensional effects of the hydrofoil with a large
aspect ratio. Differing from the classical lifting theory, the main focus was on finding the three-dimensional Green
function of the free surface induced by the steady motion of a system of horseshoe vortices under the free surface.
Finally, numerical examples were given to show the relationship between the lift coefficient and submergence
Froude numbers for 2-D and 3-D hydrofoils. If the submergence Froude number is small free surface effect will
be significant registered as the increase of lift coefficient. The validity of these approaches was examined in
comparison with the results calculated by other methods.
Keywords: lifting line theory; singularity distribution method; 3-D hydrofoil; free surface; Green function
Article ID: 1671-9433(2011)02-0199-07

1 Introduction
1

Hydrofoil is the most important device of a hydrofoil boat
for producing lift when travelling in water (Zhao et al.,
2009). The lift generated by a hydrofoil is much larger than
its partner in air of the same size because the density of
water is approximately 800 times larger than air. Lifted
above the water surface by the hydrofoil, a hydrofoil boat
features high-speed and good sea-keeping performance
(Faltinsen, 2005).

Experimental method remains a powerful tool for predicting
the lift produced by a hydrofoil (Faltinsen, 2005). The
surface wave around the hydrofoil has been studied
experimentally and the influence of different hydrofoils and
different attack angles on wave front's evolution has been
analyzed (Kang et al., 2007). The lift of the foil and the
performance of the control system in regular waves have
been discussed through experiment in a towing tank. The
sluggishness of the control system in following seas has
been confirmed (Kim et al., 2004). The thickness effects on
the hydrodynamic behavior of the hydrofoil have been
investigated experimentally and particular attention has been
paid to the hysteretic behavior at the static stall angle (Sarraf
et al., 2010).

Recent years also saw many attempts to utilize theoretical
methods for finding solution to hydrofoil dynamics among
which a potential based panel method was used to solve the
lifting problem of a two-dimensional hydrofoil travelling

Received date: 2010-04-14.
Foundation item: Supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of
China under Grant No.50921001 and 973 Program under Grant No.
2010CB83270.
*Corresponding author Email: zongzhi@dlut.edu.cn

© Harbin Engineering University and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011
under the free surface without considering cavitation (Bal,
1999). The lift coefficients of a two-dimensional hydrofoil
versus submergence Froude number were calculated based
on vortex distribution method using Neumann type
boundary condition (Hough et al., 1969). The performance
of a two-dimensional hydrofoil under the free surface was
analyzed by distributing source on undisturbed free surface
and doublet on the hydrofoil and wake surface (Kouh et al.,
2002; Filippov, 2001). The problem of an elastic lifting
hydrofoil in a randomly perturbed flow was discussed using
stochastic perturbation method. A numerical application to
the case of an elastic control surface for a prototype
high-speed marine vessel was presented (Antonio et al.,
2005).

Numerical simulation has also been applied for hydrofoils in
a number of literatures. The investigations of the time-space
distribution of the wall-pressure field for a NACA66
hydrofoil undergoing a transient up-and-down pitching
motion have been preformed experimentally and numerically.
The experimental investigation was performed using an
array of wall-pressure transducers located on the suction side
and a numerical study was conducted for the same flow
conditions based on a 2-D RANS code (Antoine et al., 2009).
A numerical-experimental collaborative research program
was carried out on partial cavitation flow, which was
investigated by multipoint wall-pressure measurements. The
experiments were conducted in a cavitation tunnel and the
computations were conducted on a two-dimensional
hydrofoil based on a single fluid model of cavitation
(Leroux et al., 2005). The simulation of cavitating flow
around a two-dimensional hydrofoil was predicted using
computational fluid dynamics software FLUENT (Huang et
al., 2010). The hydrodynamic performance of a
two-dimensional flat plate hydrofoil in rowing motion was
Hui Liang, et al. A Lifting Line Theory for a Three-dimensional Hydrofoil

200
numerically studied by a Cartesian grid method with the cut
cell approach (Chung, 2008). Reynolds averaged
Navier-Stokes equations were carried out to analyze the
effect of cavitation on the dynamic stall of an oscillating
hydrofoil. It has been found that the flow physics changes
considerably with cavitation (Kartikeya et al., 2006).
However, these researches only focused on two-dimensional
hydrofoil for the presence of free surface allowing for
cavitation or without considering cavitation.

In the analysis of three-dimensional hydrofoil with free
surface, the iterative boundary element method was
employed to solve the 2-D and 3-D single cavitating
hydrofoils and it was also extended to include the surface
piercing hydrofoils and the case of tandem hydrofoils (Bal,
2007). This method was also applied to cavitating swept and
V-type hydrofoils (Bal, 2005). The boundary element
method was used for 2-D and 3-D cavitating hydrofoils
moving beneath the free surface and the effect of the Froude
number on the results was discussed (Bal et al., 2002). The
panel method was used to determine the steady potential
flow about the three-dimensional hydrofoil under the free
surface. The constant strength doublets and source density
distribution over the hydrofoil and Dirichlet type boundary
condition were utilized (Xie et al., 2007).

Lifting line theory put forward by Prandtl is used to solve
the lift problem of high aspect ratio wing (Newman, 1977).
It is a simplified theory, valid to calculate the lift of a low
speed, high aspect ratio straight wing. The theory is also
extended to calculate the thrust of screw propellers.
Therefore, lifting line theory is expected to solve the lifting
problem of hydrofoil very well. Compared with the lifting
surface theory and panel method, lifting line theory features
fast computation.

Based on the characteristics of a hydrofoil moving under
the free surface at the air-water interface, in this paper
we use the singularity distribution method to solve the
lifting problem of a two-dimensional hydrofoil.
Furthermore, a three-dimensional lifting line theory is
then developed.

2 2-D lifting theory for a hydrofoil
We assume two-dimensional steady flow and consider a thin
flat hydrofoil submerged at h below the mean free surface.
Infinite water depth is assumed, however, the circulation Γ is
influenced by the presence of free surface. The lift will vary
from submergence Froude number and the value of h/c (here,
c is the length of chord). Here, we define submergence
Froude number (Faltinsen, 2005) as

h
U
Fr
gh
=
(1)
where U is the velocity of two-dimensional hydrofoil and g
the acceleration gravity.

According to Wing Theory, vortex distributions are used to
represent the two-dimensional lifting problem. Similarly,
source distribution is used to solve the thickness problem.
The strengths of sources tend to be zero owing to the
hypothesis of a thin flat hydrofoil. So, there are only vortex
distributions along the cut (Newman, 1977), as shown in
Fig.1.


Fig.1 Schematic of singularity distribution method

In order to satisfy the boundary condition, the linear
boundary condition on the body and the linear free-surface
condition are used,

2
2
2
0 U g
x y
¢ ¢ c c
+ =
c c
,
0 y =
(2)
where φ is the velocity potential due to the hydrofoil.

The complex velocity produced by a hydrofoil traveling
under the free surface (Voitkunskii, 1977) is

( )
( )
( )
( )
( )
( ) ( )
( )
( )
0
i i
0
0
i i
0 0
i d
i
2π i
i d 1 1
e
2 1 1
d e d
1

c
c
z h
k z h
c
u v
z h
a a
k
a a
k k
a
k a k
v ç
ç
¸ ç ç
ç
¸ ç ç
v
¸ ç ç v
v v
÷ + ÷ (
¸ ¸
÷ + ÷ ( · ¸ ¸
÷ = ÷ +
÷ ÷
÷ ÷ | |
+ +
|
+ +
\ .
÷
÷
÷ + +
}
}
} }
(3)
where
0 2
air
1
, ,
1
g a
a k
U a
µ
v v
µ
÷
= = =
+
, and ρ is the density of
water, ρ
air
is the density of air.

Separating the real and imaginary parts of Eq.(3) results in
vertical velocity component. Setting y h = ÷ , we obtain the
induced vertical velocity on the hydrofoil,

( )
( ) ( )
( )
( )
2
0 0
2
0 0
d
e cos d

d
e sin d

c c
h
c
kh
v x
x
k
k x k
k
v
¸ ç ç
¸ ç v v ç ç
ç
¸ ç ç v
ç
v
÷
·
÷
= + + ÷
÷
÷
+
+
} }
} }
(4)
Journal of Marine Science and Application (2011) 10: 199-205

201
Here the approximation of
air
a
µ
µ
= ~ · has been used.

According to Wing Theory, a flat hydrofoil is represented by
a cut, on which the boundary condition v = Uα should be
satisfied. Corresponding to Eq.(4), a singular integral
equation is obtained. The circulation ( )
0
d
c
Γ x x ¸ =
}
is then
found by solving the singular integral equation. For
two-dimensional hydrofoil, the lift coefficient is

2 2
2
1 1
2 2
L
L U
C
Uc
U c U c
µ I I
µ µ
= = =
(5)
The lift curve slope of the hydrofoil will be obtained by
calculating the derivative of lift coefficient,

0
d
d
L
C
a
o
= (6)
We turn to finding the lift curve slope of the hydrofoil. Fig.2
shows the lift curve slope as a function of submergence
Froude number for different h/c. Abscissa is submergence
Froude number Fr
h
, and ordinate is lift curve slope a
0
.

Based on Eq.(6), Fig.2 can be obtained.


Fig.2 Lift curve slope versus submergence Froude number

Fig.2 shows that free surface affects lift curve slope for a flat
two dimensional thin hydrofoil. Here, h stands for the
hydrofoil’s submergence, and c represents hydrofoil’s chord
length.

Fig.2 shows that in the case of h/c=0.5, the curve of lift
curve slope versus submergence Froude number has a peak
at 0.9. It is interesting that the peak vanishes when the ratio
of hydrofoil submergence and hydrofoil’s chord length is
larger than or equal to 1. As submergence Froude number
increases, effect of free surface becomes weaker and the
curve of lift curve slope is flatter. Free surface effect is
significant if the submergence Froude number is small.
When submergence Froude number is pretty small, the effect
of free surface can be regarded as a solid surface. When the
submergence Froude number is large, the lift curve slope is
nearly independent of Fr
h
(Faltinsen, 2005). When the
submergence Froude number is larger than 0.8 and less than
2.0, the curve of lift curve slope waves due to the
wave-making effect.

Lift curve slope in free flow is equal to 2π (Newman, 1977),
and lift curve slope under the free surface can be obtained
based on Eq.(6). In Fig.3, the results obtained by present
work are compared with the results calculated by vortex
distribution method. The abscissa is submergence Froude
number Fr
h
, and the ordinate is lift curve slope a
0
. The solid
line is the result obtained from present method, and the
circles are the results given by Hough & Moran using vortex
distribution method.

(a) h/c = 0.5

(b) h/c = 1.0

(c) h/c = 5.0
Fig.3 Lift curve slope versus Fr
h
Hui Liang, et al. A Lifting Line Theory for a Three-dimensional Hydrofoil

202
Compared with the results by Hough & Moran, we conclude
that the present method works very well. Therefore, lifting
problem for two-dimensional hydrofoil solved by singularity
distribution method is validated.

3 A lifting line theory for 3-D hydrofoil
3.1 The induced velocity by 3-D hydrofoil
The key part of the Prandtl’s lifting line theory is replacing
the hydrofoil by a system of horseshoe vortices. Due to the
presence of the free surface, the hydrofoil and the free
surface will interact. The velocity potential of the wake of
the horseshoe vortices system in free flow can be expressed
as (Lan, 1974):

( )( )
( ) ( )
( ) ( )
2
2 2
2
2 2
2
1

1 d
W
z h
y z h
x
x y z h
o
o
I q
u
q
q
q
÷
+
= ·
÷ + +
(
(
+
(
+ ÷ + +
¸ ¸
}
(7)
where σ is the span of the hydrofoil. Differentiating Eq.(7)
with respect to z yields the velocity of downwash on the
one-quarter chord line:

( )
( )
2
W
2
0
2
d 1

W
z h
x
w
z
y
o
o
I q q u
q

= ÷
c
= =
c
÷
}
(8)
where w
W
stands for the velocity of downwash on the
hydrofoil induced by wake. In the same way, differentiating
Eq.(7) with respect to x yields the perturbation velocity on
the one-quarter chord line in the direction of incoming flow:

0
0
W
W
z h
x
u
z
u

=
c
= =
c
(9)
where u
W
represents the perturbation velocity on the
one-quarter chord line in the direction of incoming flow
induced by wake.

Based on the law of Biot-Savart (Katz et al., 2001), the
induced velocity by a vortex filament can be calculated:

3
d

C
r
I
×
=
}
l r
V (10)
For the bound vortex, the expression of dl×r in Eq.(10) can
be obtained:
( ) d 0 d 0 d d z h x
x y z h
q q q
q
× = = + ÷
÷ +
i j k
i k l r (11)
Thus the expression of the perturbation velocity in the
direction of incoming flow induced by bound vortex can be
expressed as

( )( )
( ) ( )
2
3
2 2
2 2
2
d 1

B
z h
u
x y z h
o
o
I q q
q
÷
+
=
(
+ ÷ + +
¸ ¸
}
(12)
where u
B
is the perturbation velocity in the direction of
incoming flow induced by bound vortex. And the velocity of
downwash on the one-quarter chord line induced by bound
vortex can be calculated:

( )
( ) ( )
2
3 0
2 2
2 2
2
d 1
0

B
x
x
w
x y z h
o
o
I q q
q
=
÷
÷
= =
(
+ ÷ + +
¸ ¸
}
(13)
where w
B
stands for the velocity of downwash on the
one-quarter chord line induced by bound vortex.

Therefore the velocity of downwash on the one-quarter
chord line induced by the system of horseshoe vortices can
be expressed as

( )
( )
2
2
2
d 1

B W
w w w
y
o
o
I q q
q
÷
= + =
÷
}
(14)
And the perturbation velocity in the direction of incoming
flow induced by the system of horseshoe vortices is

( )( )
( ) ( )
2
3
2 2
2 2
2
d 1

B W
z h
u u u
x y z h
o
o
I q q
q
÷
+ ·
= + =
(
+ ÷ + +
¸ ¸
}
(15)

3.2 3-D Green function of free surface
Based on the theory of potential flow, the relationship
between the velocity potential of the system of horseshoe
vortices and their induced velocities is

u
x
w
z
u
u
c ¦
=
¦
¦ c
´
c
¦
=
¦
c ¹
(16)
The velocity potential in the flow field can be divided into
two parts: the velocity potential of the system of horseshoe
vortices Φ and the velocity potential induced by free surface
G. Substituting Eq.(16) into Eq.(2) yields

2
2
G G u
k k w
x z x
c c c
+ = ÷ ÷
c c c
(17)
where k is equal to
2
U
g
.
Denote distance using ( ) ( )
2 2
2
R x y z h q = + ÷ + + . The
partial derivative of
1
R
can be expressed as
Journal of Marine Science and Application (2011) 10: 199-205

203

3 3
1 1
,
x z h
x R R z R R
c c + | | | |
= ÷ = ÷
| |
c c
\ . \ .
(18)
Rewriting Eq.(7) as an integral along the semi-infinite wake
vortices yields

( )
2
0
2
d 1
d

W
z R
o
o
I q q
u ç
·
÷
c | |
= ÷
|
c
\ .
} }
(19)
Calculating the partial derivative of Eq.(19) yields the
velocity of downwash induced by wake,

( )
2 2
2
0
2
d 1
d

W
z z R
o
o
I q q u
ç
·
÷
c c | |
= ÷
|
c c
\ .
} }
(20)
Substituting Eq.(18) into Eq.(12) yields

( )
2
2
1
d

B
w
x R
o
o
I q
q
÷
c | |
=
|
c
\ .
}
(21)
Thus the velocity of downwash in the flow field induced by
the system of horseshoe vortices can be expressed as

( ) ( )
W
B
2 2 2
2
0
2 2
d d 1 1
d
4π 4π
w w
z
x R z R
o o
o o
u
I q q I q q
ç
·
÷ ÷
c
= + =
c
c c | | | |
÷
| |
c c
\ . \ .
} } }
(22)
Substituting Eq.(18) into Eq.(15) yields the perturbation
velocity in the direction of incoming flow induced by the
system of horseshoe vortices,

2
2
( )d 1

u
z R
o
o
I q q
÷
c | |
= ÷
|
c
\ .
}
(23)
The Fourier series expression of the reciprocal of the
distance (Abramowitz and Stegun, 1972) can be expressed
as

( ) ( ) ( )
π
i cos sin
0 -π
1 1
e d d

m z h m x y
m
R
ç u q u
u
·
÷ + + ÷ + ÷ (
¸ ¸
=
} }
(24)
Substituting Eq.(24) into Eq.(22) and Eq.(23) yields the
perturbation velocity induced by the system of horseshoe
vortices in the form of Fourier series expression:
( )
( ) ( ) ( )
( )
( ) ( ) ( )
π 2
i cos sin 2
2
0 π
2
π 2
i cos sin
2
0 π
2
d
e d d

d
i cos e d d

m z h m x y
m z h m x y
w m m
m m
o
ç u q u
o
o
ç u q u
o
I q q
u
I q q
u u
·
÷ + + ÷ + ÷ (
¸ ¸
÷
÷
·
÷ + + ÷ + ÷ (
¸ ¸
÷
÷
= ÷ +
} } }
} } }
(25)
( )
( ) ( ) ( )
π 2
i cos sin
2
0 π
2
d
e d d

m z h m x y
u m m
o
ç u q u
o
I q q
u
·
÷ + + ÷ + ÷ (
¸ ¸
÷
÷
= ÷
} } }
(26)
Substituting Eq.(25) and Eq.(26) into Eq.(17) yields a partial
differential equation with respect to G:
2
2
π 2
2 ( ) i [( ) cos ( ) sin ]
2
0 -π
2
π 2
( ) i [( ) cos ( ) sin ]
2
0 -π
2
π 2
2 ( ) i [( ) cos ( ) s
2
0 0 -π
2
( )d
i cos e d d

( )d
i cos e d d

( )d
e

m z h m x y
m z h m x y
m z h m x y
G G
k
x z
k m m
m m
m
o
ç u q u
o
o
ç u q u
o
o
ç u q
o
I q q
u u
I q q
u u
I q q
·
÷ + + ÷ + ÷
÷
·
÷ + + ÷ + ÷
÷
· ·
÷ + + ÷ + ÷
÷
c c
+ =
c c
÷
+
} } }
} } }
} } } }
in ]
d d d m
u
u ç
(27)
After solving the partial differential equation in Eq.(27), the
expression with respect to G can be obtained:
( )
( )
( ) ( )
( )
( ) ( ) ( )
2
2
2
π
i cos sin
2
0 π
i cos sin π 2
2 2
0 0 π
2
d

i cos 1
e d d
1 cos
d e
d d d
8π 1 cos
m z h m x y
m z h m x y
G
km
m
km
m
m
km
o
o
u q u
o
ç u q u
o
I q q
u
u
u
I q q
u ç
u
÷
·
÷ + + ÷ (
¸ ¸
÷
÷ + ÷ + ÷ ( · ·
¸ ¸
÷
÷
= ·
÷
+
÷
÷
·
÷
}
} }
} } } }
(28)
Then, the total velocity of downwash on the one-quarter
chord line can be calculated,
( ) ( )
st
0
Re
z h
x
G
v y w y
z =÷
=
(
c
(
= ÷
( c
¸ ¸
(29)
And the velocity of incoming flow is
( )
0
Re
z h
x
G
v y U
x =÷
=
(
c
(
= +
( c
¸ ¸
(30)
4 Finding lift coefficient
According to the formula by Kutta-Joukowski, the lift per
unit span is L= ρUΓ, where ρ is the density of medium, U is
the velocity of effective coming flow and Γ is the circulation
of the hydrofoil. Therefore, the relationship of the lift and
lift coefficient is:

2
1
( ) ( ) ( ) ( )
2
L
v y y C y U C y µ I µ = · (31)
where C
L
is the lift coefficient of the hydrofoil. It is the
Hui Liang, et al. A Lifting Line Theory for a Three-dimensional Hydrofoil

204
function of lift curve slope, geometrical attack angle and the
angle of downwash: ( ) ( )
0 L i
C y a y o o = ÷ (
¸ ¸
. Here, a
0
is lift
curve slope which is obtained by two-dimensional lifting
theory, α is geometrical attack angle and
i
o

is the angle of
downwash. If the attack angle is small, α
i
is equivalent to
st
v U .

Calculating Eq.(29), Eq.(30) and Eq.(31), we can obtain a
singular integral equation with respect to Γ. It can be solved
by Fourier series. And the lift coefficient which is a
dimensionless parameter is thus expressed as

( ) ( )
2
2
2 2
d
1 1
2 2
L
v y y y
L
C
U S U S
o
o
µ I
µ µ
÷
= =
}
(32)
Substituting the expression of Γ into Eq.(32), we get the lift
coefficient.

Consider the lift coefficient of the hydrofoil of different
aspect ratio. Assume that attack angle is equal to five degree.
Based on Eq.(32), Fig.4 can be obtained.

Fig.4 shows the lift coefficient as a function of submergence
Froude number for different h/c. Abscissa denotes
submergence Froude number, and ordinate denotes lift
coefficient.

(a) Aspect ratio is equal to 5

(b) Aspect ratio is equal to 6

(c) Aspect ratio is equal to 7


(d) Aspect ratio is equal to 8
Fig.4 Lift coefficient versus submergence Froude number

We can find from Fig.4 that the lift coefficient increases with
the aspect ratio while submergence Froude number and the
value of h/c are fixed. The larger the submergence depth is,
the smoother the curve of lift coefficient will be. Thus, the
influence of the free surface on the lifting coefficient
becomes weaker as the submergence depth increases. Free
surface effect will be significant if the submergence Froude
number is small. When we set h/c=0.5, the curve of lift
coefficient versus submergence Froude number has a peak at
which the abscissa is approximately equal to 0.9 whatever
the aspect ratio is. It should be noted again that the peak
vanishes when the submergence-to-chord ratio of the
hydrofoil is larger than or equal to 1.

5 Conclusions
In this paper, we propose a systematic procedure for
predicting surface effect on lifting for 2-D and 3-D
hydrofoils beneath the free surface at the air-water interface.
It dedicates to quickly estimate the lift of three-dimensional
hydrofoil in the preliminary design stage.

The Prandtl’s lifting theory is generalized to the case where
there’s free surface. The value of submergence-to-chord ratio
has a significant impact on lift. The larger the value, the
smoother the curve of lift versus Fr
h
. Free surface effect is
also important if the submergence Froude number is small.
Journal of Marine Science and Application (2011) 10: 199-205

205
At the end of large submergence Froude number, free
surface effect is not important.

Further studies are, however, necessary to extend the theory
to case where the water depth is finite.
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Hui Liang, born in 1988, is currently an
undergraduate student at the School of Naval
Architecture Engineering, Dalian University of
Technology. His research interests include
hydrodynamics, aerodynamics and fluid-structure
interaction.



Zhi Zong, born in 1964, is a professor at Dalian
University of Technology. His research interests are
hydrodynamics, underwater explosion and
fluid-structure interaction. He authored two
monographs in English published by Elsevier
Science in 2006 and CRC Press in 2009,
respectively.