# Thin Airfoil Theory Summary

• Replace airfoil with camber line (assume small
c
τ
)
• Distribute vortices of strength ) (x γ along chord line for 0 x c ≤ ≤ .

• Determine ) (x γ by satisfying flow tangency on camber line.

0
( )
0
2 ( )
c
dZ d
V
dx x
γ ξ ξ
α
π ξ

| |
− − =
|

\ .

• The pressure coefficient can be simplified using Bernoulli & assuming small
perturbation:

x
z
c
τ(x) = thickness
z(x) = camber line
x
z
c
z(x) = camber line
x
z
c
γ(x)dx
Thin Airfoil Theory Summary
16.100 2002 2
{ }
2
2 2 2
2 2
2
2
2 2 2
2
2 2
2
higher order
1
2
1 1
( )
2 2
( )
1
1
2
2
1
2
p
p p
c
V
p V u V p V
p p V u V
V
V
V V u u V
V
u u V
V V
ρ
ρ ρ
ρ

∞ ∞ ∞
∞ ∞

∞ ∞

∞ ∞

=
+ + + = +
− + +
⇒ = −
+ + +
= −
+
= − −

2
p
u
C
V

⇒ = −

• It can also be shown that

( ) ( ) ( )
2
( )
lower upper
upper lower
p p p upper lower
x u x u x
C C C u u
V
γ

= −
⇒ ∆ = − = −

( )
( ) 2
p
x
C x
V
γ

⇒ =

Symmetric Airfoil Solution

For a symmetric airfoil (i.e. 0
dz
dx
= ), the vortex strength is:

θ
θ
α θ γ
sin
cos 1
2 ) (
+
=

V

But, recall:

(1 cos )
2
c
x θ = −
Thin Airfoil Theory Summary
16.100 2002 3
2
2
cos 1 2
sin 1 cos
1 1 2
sin 2 (1 )
x
c
x
c
x x
c c
θ
θ θ
θ
⇒ = −
= −
| |
= − −
|
\ .
= −

1
( ) 2
(1 )
x
c
x V
x x
c c
γ α

⇒ =

1
( ) 2
x
c
x V
x
c
γ α

=

Thus,
1
4
p
x
c
C
x
c
α

∆ = .

Some things to notice:
• At trailing edge 0 = ∆
p
C .
⇒ Kutta condition is enforced which requires
upper lower
p p =
• At leading edge, ∞ → ∆
p
C ! “Suction peak” required to turn flow around
leading edge which is infinitely thin.

The instance of a suction peak exists on true airfoils (i.e. not infinitely thin)
though
p
C ∆ is finite (but large).

Suction peaks should be avoided as they can result in
2. low (very low) pressure at leading edge which must rise towards trailing edge

x
c
∆C
p
Thin Airfoil Theory Summary
16.100 2002 4
Cambered Airfoil Solutions

For a cambered airfoil, we can use a “Fourier series”–like approach for the vortex
strength distribution:

1
flat plate
cambered
contributions
contributions
1 cos
( ) 2 sin
sin
o n
n
V A A n
θ
γ θ θ
θ

=
(
(
+
(
⇒ = +
(
(
(
¸ ¸

Plugging this into the flow tangency condition for the camber line gives (after
some work):

0 0
0
0 0
0
1
2
cos
n
dz
A d
dx
dz
A n d
dx
π
π
α θ
π
θ θ
π
= −
=

After finding the
n
A ’s, the following relationships can be used to find ,
ac
m
C C
A
, etc.

4
2 1
0 0 0 1
0
2 ( )
( )
4
1 1
(cos 1)
2
c ac
LO
m m
LO
C
C C A A
dz
d A A
dx
π
π α α
π
α θ θ α
π
= −
= = −
= − − = − −

A

Note: in thin airfoil theory, the aerodynamic center is always at the quarter-chord
(
4
c
), regardless of the airfoil shape or angle of attack.