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2. Effects of Mach Number

Reading: Anderson 1.10, 1.12 (1.10, 1.11 in 3rd Ed.)

Dimensional Analysis has identified the important dimensionless parameters (or Π products),

which determine the nature of a given aerodynamic flow situation. The main parameters are

the Reynolds number and the Mach number, and their values in any given flow situation will

determine the nature of the flow (strongly viscous vs. nearly inviscid, low speed vs. high

speed)

Interpretation

The Reynolds number can be interpreted as a comparison of the pressure forces and viscous

shear forces which act on the body, done by forming their ratio.

pressure forces p − p∞ ρu2 ρ∞ V∞2 ρ∞ V∞ c

= ∼ ∼ ∼ ≡ Re∞

shear forces τ µ du/dn µ∞ V∞ /c µ∞

Note that p − p∞ is considered rather than p itself, since p∞ is just a large constant bias

which produces no net force on a body.

The Reynolds number is therefore a measure of the importance of pressure forces relative

to viscous shear forces. Hence, if the Reynolds number increases, the viscous effects on the

flow get progressively less important.

The viscosity of air and water is quite small when expressed in common units.

Air @ STP Water @ 15◦ C

µ 1.78 × 10−5 kg/m-s 1.15 × 10−3 kg/m-s

µ/ρ = ν 1.45 × 10−5 m2 /s 1.15 × 10−6 m2 /s

The ratio µ/ρ = ν is called the kinematic viscosity. This is more relevant than µ itself, since

the ratio is what actually appears in the Reynolds number.

V∞ c

Re∞ =

ν∞

From the small values of ν in the table above, it is clear that typical aerodynamic and

hydrodynamic flows will have very large Reynolds numbers. This can be seen in the following

table, which gives the Reynolds numbers based on the chord length of common winged

objects.

Object Re

Butterfly 5K

Pigeon 50 K

RC glider 100 K

Sailplane 1M

Business jet 10 M

Boeing 777 50 M

1

The Reynolds number is large even for insects, which means that the flow can be assumed

to be inviscid (i.e. µ = 0 and τ = 0) almost everywhere. The only place where the viscous

shear is significant is in boundary layers which form adjacent to solid surfaces and become a

wake trailing downstream.

boundary layer boundary layer

Re = 10 K Re = 1 M

cd 0.035 cd 0.0045

The larger the Reynolds number is, the thinner the boundary layers are relative to the size

of the body, and the more the flow behaves as though it was inviscid. This has a number of

consequences of great practical significance:

1. Neglecting the viscous shear stress greatly simplifies the equations of fluid motion, al-

lowing them to be manipulated and solved much more easily. Simple solutions then give

better insight and understanding of aerodynamic behavior of bodies such as airfoils,

wings, propellers, turbine blades, etc.

2. If the Reynolds number is large enough (i.e. viscosity is small enough), then its effects

on some aerodynamic forces and moments can be neglected. For example, if Re > 106

or so, then it has almost no influence on the aerodynamic lift and moment, which

means that the general dependencies for cℓ and cm simplify as follows.

cℓ = cℓ (α, M∞ , Re∞ ) cℓ = cℓ (α, M∞ )

→ (Re∞ large)

cm = cm (α, M∞ , Re∞ ) cm = cm (α, M∞ )

The above assumption that viscosity has negligible effects on lift and moment is valid only

for streamline bodies which gradually taper to a point or sharp edge, and are roughly

aligned with the freestream flow direction. Examples are slender bodies, airfoils, and wings,

operating at small angles of attack. For bluff bodies which have blunt rear faces, or for

streamline bodies at large angles of attack, viscosity always plays an important role for all

the forces and moments. Such flows exhibit flow separation , which is the sudden thickening

or breakaway of the boundary layer from the surface, resulting in a thick trailing wake.

flow separation

flow separation

cd 0.1 − 0.5 cd 0.6 − 1.2

Bodies with separation exhibit much larger drag forces than comparably-sized streamline

bodies without separation. When an airfoil stalls, its drag will typically increase by a factor

2

of 10 or more. Most of this drag increase is due to a sharp rise of pressure drag, defined as

the integrated pressure p − p∞ normal to the body. The friction drag, which is the integrated

tangential shear stress τ , is not significantly different between streamline and bluff bodies of

similar size.

The reference length used to define cd is arbitrary. Traditionally, for streamline bodies such

as an airfoil we use the streamwise length c. For bluff bodies we use the transverse height,

typically denoted by h. For a circular cylinder they are of course the same, and equal to the

diameter d.

Interpretation

The Mach number is defined as the ratio of the freestream speed to the speed of sound.

V∞

≡ M∞

a∞

The speed of sound a∞ is the velocity at which pressure disturbances travel in the fluid,

although what this implies for the flow is not immediately apparent.

Another interpretation of the Mach number arises when we estimate the fractional variation

of pressure in the flowfield.

1

∆p q∞ ρ V2

2 ∞ ∞ γ ρ∞ V∞2 γ V∞2 γ 2

∼ = = = = M∞

p∞ p∞ p∞ 2 γp∞ 2 a∞

2 2

where γ = cp /cv is the thermodynamic ratio of specific heats. So the Mach number squared

is a measure of the fractional pressure variations in the flowfield, as shown in the figure.

p/p

1

∆p / p ~ M2

3

Low-Speed flows

A low-speed flow is defined as one for which

2

M∞ ≪ 1.

From the above derivation this implies that fractional pressure changes are small, and from

thermodynamics we then conclude that that density and temperature changes must also be

small.

∆p ∆ρ ∆T

≪1 , ≪1 , ≪1

p ρ T

So an important feature of a low-speed flow is nearly constant fluid properties throughout the

flow field. All hydrodynamic flows can be classified as low-speed flows, since liquids feature

an essentially constant density.

One practical feature of low-speed flows is that they are extremely insensitive to Mach

2

number variations, as long as M∞ ≪ 1. So a flow with M∞ = 0.01 is almost indistinguishible

from a flow with M∞ = 0.1 when compared using dimensionless variables. So for low speed

flows we can remove the influence of M∞ from the dependency list.

cℓ = cℓ (α, M∞ ) cℓ = cℓ (α)

2

cm = cm (α, M∞ ) → cm = cm (α) M∞ ≪1

cd = cd (α, M∞ , Re∞ ) cd = cd (α, Re∞ )

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