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Thin Airfoil Theory
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department
Florida Institute of Technology
D. R. Kirk
OVERVIEW: THIN AIRFOIL THEORY
• In words: Camber line is a streamline
• Written at a given point x on the chord line
• dz/dx is evaluated at that point x
• Variable ç is a dummy variable of integration
which varies from 0 to c along the chord line
• Vortex strength ¸=¸ (ç) is a variable along the
chord line and is in units of
• In transformed coordinates, equation is written
at a point, u
0
. u is the dummy variable of
integration
– At leading edge, x = 0, u = 0
– At trailed edge, x = c, u =t
• The central problem of thin airfoil theory is
to solve the fundamental equation for ¸ (ç)
subject to the Kutta condition, ¸(c)=0
• The central problem of thin airfoil theory is
to solve the fundamental equation for ¸ (u)
subject to the Kutta condition, ¸(t)=0
( )
( )
( )
( )

.

\

÷ =
÷
÷ =
=
÷ =

.

\

÷ =
÷
·
·
}
}
dx
dz
V
d
c
x
d d
c
dx
dz
V
x
d
c
o
u u
u u u ¸
t
u
u u ç
u ç
o
ç
ç ç ¸
t
t
0 0
0
0
cos cos
sin
2
1
Equation d Transforme
cos 1
2
sin
cos 1
2
tion Transforma Coordinate
2
1
: Theory Airfoil Thin
of Equation l Fundamenta
SUMMARY: SYMMETRIC AIRFOILS
( )
( )
( )
( )
o
u u
u u u ¸
t
u
u u ç
u ç
o
ç
ç ç ¸
t
t
·
·
=
÷
÷ =
=
÷ =
=

.

\

÷ =
÷
}
}
V
d
c
x
d d
c
dx
dz
dx
dz
V
x
d
c
0 0
0
0
cos cos
sin
2
1
Equation d Transforme
cos 1
2
sin
cos 1
2
tion Transforma Coordinate
0
: airfoils Symmetric
2
1
: Theory Airfoil Thin
of Equation l Fundamenta
SUMMARY: SYMMETRIC AIRFOILS
( )
( )
( )
( )
( ) 0
cos
sin
2
0
0
2
sin
cos 1
2
cos cos
sin
2
1
2
0
0
=
÷
=
=
+
=
=
÷
·
·
·
·
}
t
t
o t ¸
o t ¸
u
u
o u ¸
o
u u
u u u ¸
t
t
V
V
V
V
d
• Fundamental equation of thin airfoil theory for
a symmetric airfoil (dz/dx=0) written in
transformed coordinates
• Solution
– “A rigorous solution for ¸(u) can be
obtained from the mathematical theory of
integral equations, which is beyond the
scope of this book.” (page 324, Anderson)
• Solution must satisfy Kutta condition ¸(t)=0 at
trailing edge to be consistent with experimental
results
• Direct evaluation gives an indeterminant form,
but can use L’Hospital’s rule to show that
Kutta condition does hold.
SUMMARY: SYMMETRIC AIRFOILS
• Total circulation, I, around the airfoil (around the
vortex sheet described by ¸(ç))
• Transform coordinates and integrate
• Simple expression for total circulation
• Apply KuttaJoukowski theorem (see §3.16),
“although the result [L’=µ
∞
V
∞
2
I] was derived
for a circular cylinder, it applies in general to
cylindrical bodies of arbitrary cross section.”
• Lift coefficient is linearly proportional to angle of
attack
• Lift slope is 2t/rad or 0.11/deg
( )
( )
t
o
to
µ to µ
to
u u u ¸
ç ç ¸
t
2
2
sin
2
2
0
0
=
=
= I =
'
= I
= I
= I
· · · ·
·
}
}
d
dc
c
V c V L
cV
d
c
d
l
l
c
EXAMPLE: NACA 65006 SYMMETRIC AIRFOIL
• Bell X1 used NACA 65006
(6% thickness) as horizontal tail
• Thin airfoil theory lift slope:
dc
l
/do = 2t rad
1
= 0.11 deg
1
• Compare with data
– At o = 4º: c
l
~ 0.45
– At o = 6º: c
l
~ 0.65
– dc
l
/do = 0.11 deg
1
dc
l
/do = 2t
SUMMARY: SYMMETRIC AIRFOILS
( )
0
4
4
2
2
1
2 2
1
4 ,
, 4 ,
,
2
,
2 2
0 0
=
+ =
÷ =
÷ =
'
=
÷ =
'
÷ = ÷ =
'
· ·
· ·
· ·
} }
c m
l
le m c m
l
le m
LE
le m
LE
c c
LE
c
c
c c
c
c
Sc V
M
c
c V M
d V dL M
to
µ
to
µ
ç ç ç¸ µ ç
• Total moment about the leading edge (per
unit span) due to entire vortex sheet
• Total moment equation is then transformed
to new coordinate system based on u
• After performing integration (see hand out,
or Problem 4.4), resulting moment
coefficient about leading edge is –to/2
• Can be rewritten in terms of the lift
coefficient
• Moment coefficient about the leading edge
can be related to the moment coefficient
about the quarterchord point
• Center of pressure is at the quarter
chord point for a symmetric airfoil
EXAMPLE: NACA 65006 SYMMETRIC AIRFOIL
• Bell X1 used NACA 65006
(6% thickness) as horizontal tail
• Thin airfoil theory lift slope:
dc
l
/do = 2t rad
1
= 0.11 deg
1
• Compare with data
– At o = 4º: c
l
~ 0.45
– At o = 6º: c
l
~ 0.65
– dc
l
/do = 0.11 deg
1
• Thin airfoil theory:
c
m,c/4
= 0
• Compare with data
c
m,c/4
= 0
CENTER OF PRESSURE AND AERODYNAMIC CENTER
• Center of Pressure: Point on an airfoil (or body) about which aerodynamic
moment is zero
– Thin Airfoil Theory:
• Symmetric Airfoil:
• Aerodynamic Center: Point on an airfoil (or body) about which aerodynamic
moment is independent of angle of attack
– Thin Airfoil Theory:
• Symmetric Airfoil:
4
c
x
cp
=
4
. .
c
x
C A
=
CAMBERED AIRFOILS: THEORY
• In words: Camber line is a streamline
• Written at a given point x on the chord line
• dz/dx is evaluated at that point x
• Variable ç is a dummy variable of integration
which varies from 0 to c along the chord line
• Vortex strength ¸=¸ (ç) is a variable along the
chord line and is in units of
• In transformed coordinates, equation is written
at a point, u
0
. u is the dummy variable of
integration
– At leading edge, x = 0, u = 0
– At trailed edge, x = c, u =t
• The central problem of thin airfoil theory is
to solve the fundamental equation for ¸ (ç)
subject to the Kutta condition, ¸(c)=0
• The central problem of thin airfoil theory is
to solve the fundamental equation for ¸ (u)
subject to the Kutta condition, ¸(t)=0
( )
( )
( )
( )

.

\

÷ =
÷
÷ =
=
÷ =

.

\

÷ =
÷
·
·
}
}
dx
dz
V
d
c
x
d d
c
dx
dz
V
x
d
c
o
u u
u u u ¸
t
u
u u ç
u ç
o
ç
ç ç ¸
t
t
0 0
0
0
cos cos
sin
2
1
Equation d Transforme
cos 1
2
sin
cos 1
2
tion Transforma Coordinate
2
1
: Theory Airfoil Thin
of Equation l Fundamenta
CAMBERED AIRFOILS
• Fundamental Equation of
Thin Airfoil Theory
• Camber line is a streamline
• Solution
– “a rigorous solution for
¸(u) is beyond the scope
of this book.”
• Leading term is very similar
to the solution result for the
symmetric airfoil
• Second term is a Fourier
sine series with coefficients
A
n
. The values of A
n
depend on the shape of the
camber line (dz/dx) and o
( )
( )
( )
( )
u
u
o u ¸
u
u
u
u ¸
o
u u
u u u ¸
t
t
sin
cos 1
2
: Compare
sin
sin
cos 1
2
: Solution
cos cos
sin
2
1
1
0
0
0
+
=

.

\

+
+
=

.

\

÷ =
÷
·
·
=
·
·
¿
}
V
n A A V
dx
dz
V
d
n
n
EVALUATION PROCEDURE
( )
( )
( )
dx
dz d n A d A
n A A V
dx
dz
V
d
n
n
n
n
÷ =
÷
+
÷
+

.

\

+
+
=

.

\

÷ =
÷
¿
} }
¿
}
·
=
·
=
·
·
o
u u
u u u
t u u
u u
t
u
u
u
u ¸
o
u u
u u u ¸
t
t t
t
1
0
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
0
cos cos
sin sin 1
cos cos
cos 1 1
sin
sin
cos 1
2
cos cos
sin
2
1
PRINCIPLES OF IDEAL FLUID AERODYNAMICS
BY K. KARAMCHETI, JOHN WILEY & SONS, INC., NEW YORK, 1966. APPENDIX E
PRINCIPLES OF IDEAL FLUID AERODYNAMICS
BY K. KARAMCHETI, JOHN WILEY & SONS, INC., NEW YORK, 1966. APPENDIX E
CAMBERED AIRFOILS
( )
( )
( )
( )
}
}
¿
¿
¿
=
=
+ =
+ ÷ =
÷ = ÷
·
=
·
=
·
=
t
t
u u u
t
u u
t
u u
u o
o u
0
0
0
1
0
1
0 0
1
0 0
cos
2
1
cos
cos
cos
d n f B
d f B
n B B f
n A A
dx
dz
dx
dz
n A A
n
n
n
n
n
n
n
• After making substitutions of standard
forms available in advanced math
textbooks
• We can solve this expression for dz/dx
which is a Fourier cosine series
expansion for the function dz/dx,
which describes the camber of the
airfoil
• Examine a general Fourier cosine
series representation of a function f(u)
over an interval 0 ≤ u ≤ t
• The Fourier coefficients are given by
B
0
and B
n
ADVANCED CALCULUS FOR APPLICATIONS, 2
nd
EDITION
BY F. B. HILDEBRAND, PRENTICEHALL, INC., ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J., 1976
ADVANCED CALCULUS FOR APPLICATIONS, 2nd EDITION
BY F. B. HILDEBRAND, PRENTICEHALL, INC., ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J., 1976
ADVANCED CALCULUS FOR APPLICATIONS, 2nd EDITION
BY F. B. HILDEBRAND, PRENTICEHALL, INC., ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J., 1976
CAMBERED AIRFOILS
}
}
}
=
÷ =
= ÷
t
t
t
u u
t
u
t
o
u
t
o
0
0 0
0
0 0
0
0 0
cos
2
1
1
d n
dx
dz
A
d
dx
dz
A
d
dx
dz
A
n
• Compare Fourier expansion of dz/dx
with general Fourier cosine series
expansion
• Analogous to the B
0
term in the
general expansion
• Analogous to the B
n
term in the
general expansion
CAMBERED AIRFOILS
( )
( )
( )
( )
( )

.

\

+ = I
(
¸
(
¸
+ + = I

.

\

+
+
=
= I
= I
·
·
=
·
·
=
·
}
¿
}
¿
}
}
1 0
0
1
0
0
1
0
0
0
2
sin sin cos 1
sin
sin
cos 1
2
: for solution general Recall
sin
2
A A cV
d n A d A cV
n A A V
d
c
d
n
n
n
n
c
t
t
u u u u u
u
u
u
u ¸
u ¸
u u u ¸
ç ç ¸
t t
t
• We can now calculate
the overall circulation
around the cambered
airfoil
• Integration can be done
quickly with symbolic
math package, or by
making use of standard
table of integrals
(certain terms are
identically zero)
• End result after careful
integration only
involves coefficients A
0
and A
1
CAMBERED AIRFOILS
( )
( )
t
o
u u
t
o t
t
µ
t
t µ
t
t
µ
t
2
1 cos
1
2
2
2
1
2
2
0
0 0
1 0
2
1 0
2
1 0
=
(
¸
(
¸
÷ + =
+ =
'
=

.

\

+ = '

.

\

+ = I
I = '
}
· ·
· ·
·
· ·
d
dc
d
dx
dz
c
A A
S V
L
c
A A c V L
A A cV
V L
l
l
l
• Calculation of lift per unit span
• Lift per unit span only involves coefficients
A
0
and A
1
• Lift coefficient only involves coefficients
A
0
and A
1
• The theoretical lift slope for a cambered
airfoil is 2t, which is a general result
from thin airfoil theory
• However, note that the expression for c
l
differs from a symmetric airfoil
CAMBERED AIRFOILS
( )
( )
( )
( )
}
}
÷ ÷ =
(
¸
(
¸
÷ + =
÷ =
÷ =
=
=
=
t
t
u u
t
o
u u
t
o t
o o t
o o
o
0
0 0 0
0
0 0
0
0
1 cos
1
1 cos
1
2
2
d
dx
dz
d
dx
dz
c
c
d
dc
c
L
l
L l
L
l
l
• From any c
l
vs. o data plot for
a cambered airfoil
• Substitution of lift slope = 2t
• Compare with expression for
lift coefficient for a cambered
airfoil
• Let o
L=0
denote the zero lift
angle of attack
– Value will be negative for
an airfoil with positive
(dz/dx > 0) camber
• Thin airfoil theory provides a
means to predict the angle of
zero lift
– If airfoil is symmetric
dz/dx = 0 and o
L=0
=0
SAMPLE DATA: SYMMETRIC AIRFOIL
L
i
f
t
C
o
e
f
f
i
c
i
e
n
t
Angle of Attack, o
A symmetric airfoil generates zero lift at zero o
SAMPLE DATA: CAMBERED AIRFOIL
L
i
f
t
C
o
e
f
f
i
c
i
e
n
t
Angle of Attack, o
A cambered airfoil generates positive lift at zero o
SAMPLE DATA
• Lift coefficient (or lift) linear
variation with angle of attack, a
– Cambered airfoils have
positive lift when o = 0
– Symmetric airfoils have
zero lift when o = 0
• At high enough angle of attack,
the performance of the airfoil
rapidly degrades → stall
L
i
f
t
(
f
o
r
n
o
w
)
Cambered airfoil has
lift at o=0
At negative o airfoil
will have zero lift
AERODYNAMIC MOMENT ANALYSIS
( )
( )
( )
( ) ( )

.

\

÷ + ÷ =
÷ ÷ =
÷ =
'
=
'
=

.

\

+
+
=
÷ = ÷ = '
}
}
¿
} }
·
·
· · · ·
·
=
·
· ·
2 2
sin
2
cos 1
2
1
2
2
1
2
1
sin
sin
cos 1
2
2
1 0 ,
0
,
0
2
,
2 2 2
,
1
0
0 0
A
A A c
d
c
V
c
d
c V
c
c V
M
Sc V
M
c
n A A V
d V dL M
le m
le m
c
le m
LE LE
le m
n
n
c c
LE
t
u u u ¸ u
ç ç ç¸
µ µ
u
u
u
u ¸
ç ç ç¸ µ ç
t
• Total moment about the leading edge (per
unit span) due to entire vortex sheet
• Total moment equation is then
transformed to new coordinate system
based on u
• Expression for moment coefficient about
the leading edge
• Perform integration, “The details are left
for Problem 4.9”, see hand out
• Result of integration gives moment
coefficient about the leading edge, c
m,le
,
in terms of A
0
, A
1
, and A
2
AERODYNAMIC MOMENT SUMMARY
( )
( )
( )
(
¸
(
¸
÷ + =
÷ =
(
¸
(
¸
÷ + ÷ =

.

\

÷ + ÷ =
2 1
1 2 4 ,
2 1 ,
2
1 0 ,
1
4
4
4 4
2 2
A A
c
c
x
A A c
A A
c
c
A
A A c
l
cp
c m
l
le m
le m
t
t
t
t
• Aerodynamic moment coefficient about leading
edge of cambered airfoil
• Can rewritte in terms of the lift coefficient, c
l
– For symmetric airfoil
• dz/dx=0
• A
1
=A
2
=0
• c
m,le
=c
l
/4
• Moment coefficient about quarterchord point
– Finite for a cambered airfoil
• For symmetric c
m,c/4
=0
– Quarter chord point is not center of
pressure for a cambered airfoil
– A
1
and A
2
do not depend on o
• c
m,c/4
is independent of o
– Quarterchord point is theoretical location
of aerodynamic center for cambered airfoils
CENTER OF PRESSURE AND AERODYNAMIC CENTER
• Center of Pressure: Point on an airfoil (or body) about which aerodynamic
moment is zero
– Thin Airfoil Theory:
• Symmetric Airfoil:
• Cambered Airfoil:
• Aerodynamic Center: Point on an airfoil (or body) about which aerodynamic
moment is independent of angle of attack
– Thin Airfoil Theory:
• Symmetric Airfoil:
• Cambered Airfoil:
( )
(
¸
(
¸
÷ + =
=
2 1
1
4
4
A A
c
c
x
c
x
l
cp
cp
t
4
4
. .
. .
c
x
c
x
C A
C A
=
=
ACTUAL LOCATION OF AERODYNAMIC CENTER
NACA 23012
x
A.C.
< 0.25c
NACA 64212
x
A.C.
> 0.25 c
x/c=0.25
x/c=0.25
IMPLICATIONS FOR STALL
• Flat Plate Stall
• Leading Edge Stall
• Trailing Edge Stall
Increasing airfoil
thickness
LEADING EDGE STALL
• NACA 4412 (12% thickness)
• Linear increase in c
l
until stall
• At o just below 15º streamlines
are highly curved (large lift) and
still attached to upper surface of
airfoil
• At o just above 15º massive
flowfield separation occurs
over top surface of airfoil →
significant loss of lift
• Called Leading Edge Stall
• Characteristic of relatively thin
airfoils with thickness between
about 10 and 16 percent chord
TRAILING EDGE STALL
• NACA 4421 (21% thickness)
• Progressive and gradual movement of separation from trailing edge toward leading
edge as o is increased
• Called Trailing Edge Stall
THIN AIRFOIL STALL
• Example: Flat Plate with 2% thickness (like a NACA 0002)
• Flow separates off leading edge even at low o (o ~ 3º)
• Initially small regions of separated flow called separation bubble
• As a increased reattachment point moves further downstream until total separation
NACA 4412 vs. NACA 4421
• NACA 4412 and NACA 4421 have
same shape of mean camber line
• Theory predicts that linear lift slope
and o
L=0
same for both
• Leading edge stall shows rapid
drop of lift curve near maximum lift
• Trailing edge stall shows gradual
bendingover of lift curve at
maximum lift, “soft stall”
• High c
l,max
for airfoils with leading
edge stall
• Flat plate stall exhibits poorest
behavior, early stalling
• Thickness has major effect on c
l,
max
AIRFOIL THICKNESS
AIRFOIL THICKNESS: WWI AIRPLANES
English Sopwith Camel
German Fokker Dr1
Higher maximum C
L
Internal wing structure
Higher rates of climb
Improved maneuverability
Thin wing, lower maximum C
L
Bracing wires required – high drag
OPTIMUM AIRFOIL THICKNESS
• Some thickness vital to achieving high maximum lift coefficient
• Amount of thickness influences type of stall
• Expect an optimum
• Example: NACA 632XX, NACA 63212 looks about optimum
c
l,max
NACA 63212
MODERN LOWSPEED AIRFOILS
NACA 2412 (1933)
Leading edge radius = 0.02c
NASA LS(1)0417 (1970)
Whitcomb [GA(w)1] (Supercritical Airfoil)
Leading edge radius = 0.08c
Larger leading edge radius to flatten c
p
Bottom surface is cusped near trailing edge
Discourages flow separation over top
Higher maximum lift coefficient
At c
l
~1 L/D > 50% than NACA 2412
MODERN AIRFOIL SHAPES
http://www.nasg.com/afdb/listairfoile.phtml
Root MidSpan Tip
Boeing 737
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