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Any two dimension relative velocity problem is an application of vector addition. There

are two scenarios you must learn to identify, when reading a question. Also, it is important

to note that what happens in one direction is independent of what happens in the other

and that only time of travel is common to both.

Read the problem carefully! At this point you need to determine if we have a case 1

or case 2 problem. In case 1, the object of interest is compared to a moving surface or

medium, for example a boat in a river or a balloon in the wind. In case 2, the object of

interest is compared to another moving object. The both objects must be on a common

surface or in a common medium and this surface or medium has a constant velocity, usually

it is at rest, for example a shark chasing a fish.

1. A large panel van has a velocity of 30 m/s at 20 S of E in still air. A gust of wind of

20 m/s due East relative to the Earth strikes the van. What is the resultant velocity

of the van relative to the Earth, during the gust?

Ans: The van is the object of interest and is affected by a moving medium, the

wind. The speed of the wind (air) is relative to the Earth. The speed of the van is

relative to the air.

The velocity of the van to the earth. We write this using subscripts VvE . The first

letter of the subscript identifies the object, v means van. The second letter of the

subscript identifies the frame of reference, E means Earth. Literally translated VvE

means the velocity of the van relative to the Earth.

We are given the velocity of the van to the air. Vva = 30 m/s at 20 S of E. Also, we

are given the velocity of the air to the Earth. VaE = 20 m/s E. Note the subscript

a here means air.

VvE = Vva + VaE

(1)

It is worth pointing out now that we know Vva = 30 m/s at 20 S of E, and VaE = 20

m/s E.

Vector (v) and angle ()

Vva = 30 m/s, 20

VvE = 20 m/s, 0

Resultant

X-comp

Vvax = 28.19

VvEx = 20

VvEx = 48.19

Y-comp

Vvay = 10.26

VvEy = 0

VvEy = 10.26

p

2

2

vvEx

+ vvEy

= 48.192 + (10.26)2 = 49.3 m/s

vvEy

10.26

1

1

= tan

= tan

= 12.0 S of E

vvEx

48.19

vvE =

5.

Last step before the math, draw a labelled tip to tail diagram based on the vector equation

you wrote.

i.

ii.

air. A gust of wind of 20 m/s due East relative to the Earth strikes the van.

What is the resultant velocity of the van relative to the Earth, during the

gust?

torpedo travels at 27 knots NW. The freighter travels at 7 knots 30 S of

2. U-531 fires a torpedo at a freighter in the North Atlantic. The torpedo travels at 27

E. What is the velocity of the torpedo relative to the freighter?

knots NW. The freighter travels at 7 knots 30 S of E. What is the velocity of the

torpedo relative to the freighter?

Ans: The object of interest is the torpedo and is compared to a freighter, another

moving object. Both the torpedos and freighters velocity are relative to the ocean

(water). We assume the water is still.

The velocity of the torpedo to the freighter is Vtf . The first letter of the subscript

identifies the object, t means torpedo. The second letter of the subscript identifies the frame of reference, f means freighter. Literally translated Vtf means the

velocity of the torpedo relative to the freighter.

We are given the velocity of the torpedo to the water. Vtw = 27 kts at NW. Also, we

are given the velocity of the freighter to the water. Vf w = 7 kts 30 S of E. Note the

subscript w here means water. Now,

Vtf = Vtw + Vwf

(2)

It is worth pointing out now that we know Vtw = 27 kts NW, and Vf w = 7 kts at 30

S of E. However, we really need to know the velocity of the water relative to the

freighter, Vwf and not the velocity of freighter to the water, Vf w !!!!

Before proceeding to the next step, lets determine the velocity of the water relative

to the freighter, Vwf . The following is a unique feature of this kind of relative velocity

problems, i.e. Vwf = Vf w . This means the size of both velocities are the same, but

the directions of each are perfectly opposing. Therefore, Vwf = 7 kts at 30 N of W!

ii.

torpedo travels at 27 knots NW. The freighter travels at 7 knots 30 S of

E. What is the velocity of the torpedo relative to the freighter?

Vector (v) and angle ()

Vtw = 27 kts, 45

Vwf = 7 kts, 30

Resultant

X-comp

Vtwx = 19.1

Vwf x = 6.1

Vtf x = 25.2

Y-comp

Vtwy = 19.1

Vwf y = 3.5

Vtf y = 22.6

q

p

2

2

vtf

(25.2)2 + (22.6)2 = 33.8 kts

x + vtf y =

vtf y

22.6

1

1

= tan

= tan

= 41.8 N of W

vtf x

25.2

vtf =

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