# MAE 3241: AERODYNAMICS AND FLIGHT MECHANICS

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 Kutta-Joukowski 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 65-006 SYMMETRIC AIRFOIL
• Bell X-1 used NACA 65-006
(6% thickness) as horizontal tail
• Thin airfoil theory lift slope:
dc
l
-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
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
• Can be re-written in terms of the lift
coefficient
can be related to the moment coefficient
• Center of pressure is at the quarter-
chord point for a symmetric airfoil
EXAMPLE: NACA 65-006 SYMMETRIC AIRFOIL
• Bell X-1 used NACA 65-006
(6% thickness) as horizontal tail
• Thin airfoil theory lift slope:
dc
l
-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
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
nd
EDITION
BY F. B. HILDEBRAND, PRENTICE-HALL, INC., ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J., 1976
ADVANCED CALCULUS FOR APPLICATIONS, 2nd EDITION
BY F. B. HILDEBRAND, PRENTICE-HALL, INC., ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J., 1976
ADVANCED CALCULUS FOR APPLICATIONS, 2nd EDITION
BY F. B. HILDEBRAND, PRENTICE-HALL, 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
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
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
• Perform integration, “The details are left
for Problem 4.9”, see hand out
• Result of integration gives moment
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
edge of cambered airfoil
• Can re-writte 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 quarter-chord 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
– Quarter-chord 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
• Trailing Edge Stall
Increasing airfoil
thickness
• 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
flow-field separation occurs
over top surface of airfoil →
significant loss of lift
• 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
bending-over of lift curve at
maximum lift, “soft stall”
• High c
l,max
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 Dr-1
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 63-2XX, NACA 63-212 looks about optimum
c
l,max
NACA 63-212
MODERN LOW-SPEED AIRFOILS
NACA 2412 (1933)
NASA LS(1)-0417 (1970)
Whitcomb [GA(w)-1] (Supercritical Airfoil)