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R. Shankar Subramanian

The failure of potential flow theory to predict drag on objects when a fluid

flows past them provided the impetus for Prandtl to put forward a theory

of

the boundary layer adjacent to a rigid surface. Prandtl’s principal

assumptions are listed below.

Assumptions

1. When a fluid flows past an object at large values of the Reynolds number,

the flow region can be divided into two parts.

(i) Away from the surface of the object, viscous effects can be considered

negligible, and potential flow can be assumed.

(ii) In a thin region near the surface of the object, called the boundary layer,

viscous effects cannot be neglected, and are as important as inertia.

2. The pressure variation can be calculated from the potential flow solution

along the surface of the object, neglecting viscous effects altogether, and

assumed to be impressed upon the boundary layer.

x

laminar turbulent

flat xU

Re

plate occurs at , where 5 ˜×

10 5 Re = . Here, is the

x x

1

The following approximate estimates can be written for the thickness of

laminar and turbulent boundary layers.

d 5

~

x Re

x

Turbulent Boundary

Layer

d 0.16

~

x ()Re x 1/ 7

high Reynolds number

ideas about the drag experienced by a body when a fluid flows past it.

Professor Shapiro showed experimental observations that initially

appeared

to be paradoxical, and later explained them using physical aspects of

boundary layer theory.

increased. But at a certain value of the velocity, the drag suddenly decreases

drastically, and then begins to increase again as the velocity is subsequently

increased. We learned that this is because the boundary layer at first is

laminar at small velocities, and separates from the sphere immediately past

the shoulder, creating a large wake behind the sphere in which reverse flow

vortices are maintained by the external flow. A simplistic explanation of

boundary layer separation is given here. For the correct explanation for the

formation of a standing eddy behind a blunt object, caused by accumulation

of vorticity, and the consequent flow separation, you should consult Section

4.12 of Batchelor (1967). In this picture, the formation of reverse flow

eddies is the cause of flow separation, not the consequence of it.

Nevertheless, a simplistic explanation is provided below.

gradient from potential flow is impressed on the boundary layer fluid. In the

2

forward region facing the flow, the pressure gradient is favorable, with

pressure decreasing from the forward stagnation point toward the shoulder.

But, in the rear of the object, the pressure gradient is adverse. This means

that the pressure increases in the direction of motion of fluid in the boundary

layer. The only mechanism for the boundary layer to resist this adverse

pressure gradient is the exchange of momentum from the free stream. This

is a weak mechanism for a laminar boundary layer. The adverse pressure

gradient causes the boundary layer to separate from the body, and leads to a

recirculation in the wake. The pressure in the wake is relatively low when

compared with the pressure in the forward half of the sphere. This pressure

difference pushes the sphere in the direction of flow. As a consequence

there is a large “pressure drag” on the sphere, in addition to “skin friction

drag,” a term used to describe drag from the shear stress exerted on the

surface of the sphere by the flow. The total drag is the sum of the skin

friction drag and the pressure drag. As the velocity is increased gradually, at

a certain value, the flow in the boundary layer becomes turbulent. This

leads to turbulent exchange of momentum with the free stream which is far

more efficient than viscous transport of momentum. Therefore, the

free

stream is able to transfer a significant amount of momentum to a turbulent

boundary layer in the rear half of the sphere, causing the boundary layer to

stay attached farther. This means that the wake is much smaller, with a

consequent reduction in the pressure drag. Even though the skin friction

drag is increased slightly, the reduction in the pressure drag is much larger,

and leads to a net reduction in the drag on the sphere when the boundary

layer becomes turbulent. Eventually, as the free stream velocity is increased

further, the concomitant increase in the skin friction drag leads to a higher

drag on the sphere.

can be smaller than the drag on a smooth sphere in a certain range of

velocities. This can be explained by noticing that the boundary layer

becomes turbulent at lower velocities on the slightly roughened sphere than

on the smooth sphere. This leads to advancement of the point of separation

behind the rough sphere, with a reduced wake, and consequently reduced

pressure drag. As a result, the rough sphere experiences less drag than a

smooth sphere over a certain range of velocities.

much smaller than that on a blunt object that offers the same projected shape

to the flow when flow occurs at high Reynolds number past these objects,

3

even though the streamlined object has a much larger surface area. In

contrast, at low Reynolds number, the streamlined shape experiences larger

drag. These facts can be explained using the concept of the boundary layer

and its separation behind the blunt object in high Reynolds number flow.

The streamlined object is designed to minimize and nearly eliminate

boundary layer separation in the region of adverse pressure gradient.

Therefore, even though the skin friction drag on it is larger than that on the

blunt object, the pressure drag is nearly eliminated, leading to a smaller total

drag than that on a blunt object. In contrast, at low Reynolds number, there

is no boundary layer, and the drag is caused only by viscous forces at the

surface of the object. Streamlining offers no special advantage here, and the

drag is larger on the streamlined object because it h as a mu ch larger surface

area than the blunt object used in the experiments.

References

Britannica Corporation, 1966; videos produced and marketed by Insight

Media, New York.

University Press, Cambridge, 1967.

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