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Does downwash account for lift? How large must it be?

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Presently, there is a discussion about lift resulting from a wing passing in a straight line through a fluid. (The

following discussion will take the fluid to be air, although it applies to a hydrofoil in water or a foil in any

fluid.) Some say that the air travels faster above the wing than below it. The resulting Bernoulli effect results

in a pressure differential which produces lift. Others say that the wing deflects the flow downward, commonly

referred to as downwash, and the downward thrust of air causes an upward reaction in accordance with

Newtons third law. It is this reaction that creates lift. Still again others say that both are correct, and in fact

one can be deduced from the other. But, in practice, more aerodynamic analysis is done on the first effect than

the second. It is the purpose here to perform a simplified analysis to obtain the characteristics (size, mass,

velocity) of the block of air which is thrust downward in the downwash.

There is not much doubt that downwash occurs as shown in the photograph in Figure 1.

Figure 1.

This picture dramatically shows airplane downwash. The picture is from Jan-Olov Newborg, of Stockholm,

Sweden, and was originally taken by Paul Bowens. In the picture, the Cessna Citation has just flown above a

cloud deck shown in the background. The downwash from the wing has pushed a trough into the cloud deck.

The swirling flow from the tip vortices is also evident. At the time of this writing, the picture was available on

the web at http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/airplane/downwash.html.

An upward reaction to downwash is one thing, but what is this about a block of air coupled to the wing? There

must be a layer of air coupled to the wing so that the wing creates a downwash and thrusts air downward. The

layer cannot be infinitely thick, because then walking on water would be as easy as taking a walk in the park.

Conversely, it cannot be infinitesimal, because then birds and airplanes would be falling from the sky (if they

could get there in the first place.) The thickness must be somewhere in-betweensome finite value, T. The

schematic diagram in Figure 2 shows the side view of this arrangement, including the side view of the coupled

air block, an airfoil section, some fictitious isobars and some of the pertinent parameters.

Well, what is the volume of this coupled air block? Its lateral dimensions are assumed to correspond with the

plan-view area of the wing, S, projected through the angle of attack, , onto the horizontal plane. So, the

projected area is (S cos ). Since the height is T, the volume is (TS cos and using an air density of , the

mass of the air block is

That is the size, but what is the elapsed time during which the wing is engaged with the air block? The

horizontal component of the wing chord, c, is (c cos ), and the airspeed is v. So, the time required for the wing

to pass through the air block is

And with what velocity does the wing thrust the air block downward? When the wing passes through the air

block, it thrusts the air block downward a distance (c sin ). If the air block moves downward at a uniform rate

of speed during the time it is engaged with the wing, then it has velocity

Then the momentum of the air block changes by mvz over the time period t, and the reaction is lift due to

downwash LD,

Expressing a force as a time rate of change of momentum looks like Newtons second law, and a direct

proportionality with tan is nearly the same as proportionality with . That looks reasonable.

It is now desirable to compare this result with the conventional expression for lift, LC obtained by taking the

product of dynamic pressure, v2 with S to get a dynamic force, and then multiplying by the coefficient of lift,

CL:

Assuming that LD accounts for lift, LC , we can equate the right hand sides of 4.) and 5.)

It is apparent that the equations so far are valid only for a symmetric wing, since they require LD, vz, and CL to

vanish whenever goes to zero. Clearly that is not the case when camber is introduced into the airfoil. We can

eliminate that problem and also reduce the dependence on by differentiating equation 7.) with respect to :

Or,

Many airplanes cruise at an angle of attack at around 6 degrees. At that value of , the assumption that

introduces only 1% error into equation 8.), so for moderately small values of ,

The derivative of CL is just the lift slope. So we now have a direct relationship between lift slope and the T/c

ratio for the coupled air block.

Analysis of thin airfoils yields a lift slope of 2 per radian. Empirical results show observations cluster around

2 at airfoil thicknesses at or below about 12% of chord, which includes most commonly used airfoils as seen in

Figure 3. Note that 2 per radian = 2/90 per degree, which is about 0.11 per degree.

Figure 3. Lift slope data for 4-digit and 5-digit NACA airfoils published in NASA TR-824 in 1945.

At the time of this writing, TR-824 is available online at http://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=19930090976 . So,

we come to the conclusion then that under these circumstances

Maybe /2 chords above the wing and /2 chords below the wing? This result is also constrained to infinite

wings. Real wings with finite aspect ratio will have somewhat lower values. Note that T/c is independent of air

density and air speed. In fact, it is not dependent on much of anything. It is like the circumference of a circle

divided by its diameter. It is just there. It is just.

Dennis Stevens

12/01/2014

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