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
1. leading edge separation
2. low (very low) pressure at leading edge which must rise towards trailing edge
⇒ adverse pressure gradients ⇒ boundary layer separation.

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.

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