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1. Laplace’s equation is a second order linear partial differential equation. The fact
that it is linear is particularly important, because the sum of any particular solutions of a
linear differential equation is also a solution of the equation. Since irrotational,
incompressible flow is governed by Lapace’s equation and Lapace’s equation is linear,
we conclude that a complicated flow pattern for an irrotational, incompressible flow can
be synthesized by adding together a number of elementary flows that are also irrotational
2. Consider the irrotational, incompressible flow fields over different aerodynamic
shapes, such as sphere, cone, or airplane wing. Each flow is going to be distinctly
different and the streamlines and pressure distribution will be different from each other.
However, these different flows are all governed by the same equation, namely, Laplace
equation. So the different flows for the different bodies can be obtained by using
boundary conditions which conform to the different geometric shapes, and hence yield
different flow-field solutions. Boundary conditions are therefore of vital concern in
3. There are four elementary flows with their corresponding boundary conditions are
as given below: -
(a) Uniform Flow
; 0 u V v
(b) Source Flow and Sink Flow
Boundary Conditions: ; 0
(c) Doublet Flow (a degenerate case of source + sink flows)
A | `
(d) Vortex Flow
Boundary Conditions: 0;
4. We can combine two or more of elementary flows and generate more complex
flows. The different geometric shapes defined by these flow fields are decided by finding
their stagnation points and dividing streamlines. For example,
(a) Combination of uniform flow with a source: This gives the flow over a
(b) Combination of uniform flow with a source and sink: This gives flow over
a closed solid body called Rankine oval.
(c) Combination of uniform flow and a doublet: This gives the non-lifting
flow over a circular cylinder. In this, we encounter the d’Alembert’s
paradox i.e., the paradox between the theoretical result of zero drag during
flow over a circular result, and the knowledge that in real life the drag is
finite. The lift also is zero, which is somewhat acceptable in real life.
(d) Combination of uniform flow, doublet and a vortex: This gives the lifting
flow over the cylinder. The interpretation can be of a spinning cylinder
placed in a uniform flow.
(i) Here it is theoretically proved that a finite lift is produced and this
lift is directly proportional to circulation. This relation is called the
Kutta-Joukowski theorem (
' L V p
(ii) This phenomenon of generation of aerodynamic force
perpendicular to the body’s angular velocity vector is called
(iii) It is also theoretically proved that the drag once again is zero
giving rise to d’Alembert’s paradox.
The Kutta-Joukowski Theorem
5. Consider the incompressible flow over an airfoil section. Let curve A be any curve
in the flow enclosing thee airfoil. If the airfoil is producing lift, the velocity field around
the airfoil will be such that the line integral of velocity around A will be finite, that is, the
V dS I =
is finite. In turn, the lift per unit span L’ on the airfoil will be given by the Kutta-
Joukowski theorem as
' L V p
6. The Kutta-Joukowski theorem states that lift per unit span on a two-dimensional
body is directly proportional to the circulation around the body.
7. This definition of circulation to obtain lift is the essence of the circulation theory
of lift in aerodynamics. The calculation of lift involved the pressure distribution
calculation over the spinning cylinder (lifting flow). Thus Kutta-Joukowski theorem is
simply an alternate way of expressing the consequences of the surface pressure
8. Consequently, the theoretical analyses of lift on two-dimensional bodies in
incompressible, inviscid flow focuses on the calculation of the circulation about the body.
Once Γ is obtained, then the lift per unit span follows directly from Kutta-Joukowski
The Numerical Source Panel Method
9. The different complex flows like flow over semi-infinite body, Rankine oval, non
lifting and lifting flow over a cylinder were obtained by adding elementary flows in
certain ways. This method is called the indirect method wherein we start with a given
combination of elementary flows and see what body shape comes out of it.
10. This can hardly be used in practical sense for bodies of arbitrary shape. Hence we
want a direct method wherein we specify the shape of an arbitrary body and solve for the
distribution of singularities, which in combination with a uniform stream produce the
flow over the given body. The source panel method is a numerical method for calculating
the non-lifting flow over bodies of arbitrary shape.
(a) In case of source or sink flow, the radial component of velocity is defined
by Vr=Λ/2πr where Λ defines the source strength. Λ is physically the rate
of volume flow from the source per unit depth perpendicular to the plane
of the source. This in effect forms a line source along the surface of a
(b) Now imagine we have an infinite number of such line sources side by side,
where the strength of each line source is infinitesimally small. These side-
by-side line sources form a source sheet.
(c) If a small section of the source sheet of strength λds induces an
infinitesimally small potential dφ at any point P, the complete velocity
potential at point P, induced by the entire source sheet can be obtained by
integration from the initial to final point of the source sheet.
(d) From the velocity potential, the flow velocities can be numerically
(e) The pressure distribution can then be calculated from the pressure
coefficient equation using the flow velocities.
(f) Thus the source panel method gives the pressure distribution over the
surface of a non-lifting body of arbitrary shape.
The Flow over a Circular Cylinder-The Real Case
11. The real flow over a circular cylinder is quite different from the theoretical
analysis using elementary flows, due to the influence of friction. Moreover, the drag
coefficient for the real flow over a cylinder is certainly not zero. For a viscous
incompressible flow, the results of dimensional analysis clearly demonstrate that the drag
coefficient is a function of the Reynolds number.
12. The coefficient of drag CD is very large for the extremely small values of Re<1,
but decreases until Re=300,000. At this Reynolds number, there is a precipitous drop of
CD from a value near 1 to about 0.3, then a slight recovery to about 0.6 for Re=10 power
7. This phenomenon is caused by a sudden transition of laminar flow within the boundary
layer at the lower values Re to a turbulent boundary layer at the higher values of Re.
(a) For very low values of Re, say, 1<Re<4, the streamlines are almost
symmetrical, and the flow is attached. This regime of viscous flow is
called Stokes flow; it is characterized by a near balance of pressure forces
with friction forces acting on any given fluid element; the flow velocity is
so low that inertia effects are very small.
(b) For 4<Re<40, the flow becomes separated on the back of the cylinder,
forming two distinct, stable vortices that remain in position.
(c) As Re is increased above 40, the flow behind the cylinder becomes
unstable; the vortices which were in a fixed position are alternately shed
from the body in a regular fashion and flow downstream. The alternately
shed vortex pattern is called a Karman vortex sheet.
(d) As the Reynolds number is increased to large numbers, the Karman vortex
sheet becomes turbulent and begins to metamorphose into a distinct wake.
The laminar boundary layer on the cylinder separates from the surface on
the forward face. The value of Reynolds number is about the order of 10
raised to 5.
(e) From 300000<Re<3000000, the separation of the laminar boundary layer
still takes place on the forward face of the cylinder. However, in the free
shear layer over the top of the separated region, transition to turbulent
flow takes place. The flow then reattaches on the back face of the cylinder,
but separates again at about 120 deg from stagnation point. This transition
and corresponding thinner wake reduces the pressure drag resulting in
drop in CD.
(f) For Re>3000000, the boundary layer directly transits to turbulent flow.
The CD actually increases slightly because the separation points on the
back begin to move closer to the top and bottom of the cylinder producing
a fatter wake and hence larger pressure drag.
THEORETICAL SOLUTIONS FOR LOW-SPEED FLOW OVER AIRFOILS: THE
13. The source panel method gives the pressure distribution over the surface of a non-
lifting body of arbitrary shape. Here we imagine that we have an infinite number of such
line sources side by side, where the strength of each line source is infinitesimally small.
These side-by-side line sources form a source sheet. In case of the lifting flow over a
cylinder, we consider the analogous situation of vortex flow.
(a) In case of vortex flow, the axial (tangential) component of velocity is
defined by Vθ=Γ/2πr where Γ defines the vortex strength. This in effect
forms a line vortex along the surface of a cylinder.
(b) Now imagine we have an infinite number of such line vortexes side by
side, where the strength of each vortex source is infinitesimally small.
These side-by-side line sources form a vortex sheet.
(c) If a small section of the vortex sheet of strength γds induces an
infinitesimally small circulation dΓ at any point P, the complete circulation
at point P, induced by the entire vortex sheet can be obtained by
integration from the initial to final point of the vortex sheet.
14. The concept of a vortex sheet is instrumental in the analysis of the low-speed
characteristics of an airfoil. Consider an airfoil of arbitrary shape and thickness in a
freestream with velocity Vinf. Replace the airfoil surface with a vortex sheet of variable
strength γ(s). Calculate the variation of γ as a function of s such that the induced velocity
field from the vortex sheet when added to the uniform velocity of magnitude Vinf will
make the vortex sheet (hence the airfoil surface) a streamline of the flow. In turn the
circulation around the airfoil will be given by
ds y I ·
where the integral is taken around the complete surface of the airfoil. Finally the resulting
lift can be calculated from Kutta-Joukowski theorem.