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11

Air cushion vehicle

The sketch (a) shows the cross-section of an air cushion vehicle of the "peripheral jet"

type, first developed by Christopher Cockerell in the mid-1950s. A fan draws air from

the ambient atmosphere at pressure p

a

and compresses it to a stagnation pressure p

o

in the

reservoir inside the vehicle. The air then exhausts downward through a narrow slot of

width w at the periphery of the vehicle (w<<R), creating a condition that maintains a

positive gage pressure (an "air cushion") underneath the vehicle. This allows the vehicle

to float at a height h above the ground.

This problem is concerned with the mechanics of how the “air cushion” is

maintained the vehicle holds itself off the ground. In what follows we assume that the

vehicle has total mass M and is circular with outer radius R,, the slot has a width w that is

very small compared with R, the jet issues vertically downward from the slot as shown,

and the vehicle’s elevation h is always small compared with R. A fan or turbine

maintains the pressure in the reservoir at pressure p

o

= p

a

+ ∆p.

In what follows, we proceed with the assumption that the flow from the reservoir

to the slot is steady, incompressible and inviscid. To simplify matters, we shall also

assume (tentatively) that the pressure p

b

under the vehicle is just slightly greater than p

a

,

such that

p

b

− p

a

<< ∆p , (1)

and justify this à posteriori by showing that our solution is consistent with is assumption.

Given: , M, g, R, w, ∆p, where w<<R, h<<R

GENERAL CASE

(a) Derive an expression for the outflow velocity V

j

in the slot jet.

HINT HINT2 ANSWER

(b) Show, using the vertical component of the linear momentum theorem, that in steady

state operation,

Mg = ( p

b

− p

a

) R

2

, (3)

where p

b

is the pressure under the vehicle. (The proof of this relation is not quite the self-

evident "one-liner" that one might jump to, for when the fan is on, the air drawn toward

the inlet on top has velocity and the pressure on the top of the craft is below

atmospheric.)

HINT

CASE 1 (Fig. 2)

Consider first the designor operating condition shown in Fig. 2 that is characterized

by h >> w. Assume that the jet issues from the slot as a thin, coherent sheet of constant

width w which bends around in a circular path until it becomes parallel to the ground, as

shown in the figure, after which it follows the ground outward. (This is a bit of a stretch,

but it will do as a working approximation.)

(c) Use the momentum theorem to obtain an expression for the supporting gage pressure

p

b

– p

a

for Case 1, expressed in terms of the given quantities and h.

HINT ANSWER

(d) Show that the assumption (1) is satisfied in Case 1 because h>>w.

(e) Obtain an expression for the vehicle's ground clearance h for Case 1 in terms of the

given quantities.

ANSWER

(f) The power delivered by the fan to the fluid is given by

˙

W = ∆pQ, (4)

where Q is the volume flow through the device. Express h in terms of

˙

W , , M, g, R, and

∆p. Show that for given hovercraft size R and ground clearance h, choosing a fan that

delivers the requisite power at the lowest pressure ∆p minimizes the power expenditure

per unit system weight,

˙

W Mg. (Note, however, that this does not necessarily mean that

power per unit payload weight is minimized. Fans that operate at low pressure are

typically larger and heavier than higher-pressure fans with the same power output, and

supporting their extra weight consumes some of the power. This must be factored into a

true system optimization.)

ANSWER

CASE 2 (Fig. 3)

Next consider a design where the slot is set back some distance L from the vehicle’s

periphery, as shown in Fig. 3, with L being small compared with R (L << R) but large

compared with h (L>>h). In this case, viscous forces cause the jet to become turbulent

and spread so it fills the gap under the vehicle's edge by the time the air exits at the

periphery.

(g) Repeat C-F for Case 2, replacing part D with the following: “Show that assumption

(1) is satisfied in Case 2 provided h>>w.”

Compare your result with that in Case 1 and comment. Which design is better?

HINT ANSWERS

An early reference:

J. T. Diez Roche, “The peripheral jet theory,” Applied Mechanics (Proc. 11

th

International

Congress of Applied Mechanics, Munich, 1964), Springer Verlag, Berlin, 1966.

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