Aerodynamics (Encyclopedia of Science)
Aerodynamics is the study of air flow over airplanes, cars, and other objects. Airplanes fly because of the way in which air flows over their wings and around their bodies, so a knowledge of aerodynamics is crucial to the design and construction of airplanes. The efficiency with which automobiles use fuel is also a function of air flow. Even stationary objects are affected by aerodynamics. Winds blowing past a tall building, for example, may cause windows to pop out if they are not properly designed and installed.
Factors affecting air flow
Four properties of air affect the way in which it flows past an object: viscosity, density, compressibility, and temperature. Viscosity is the resistance of a fluid to flow. Molasses is very viscous because is flows slowly, while water is less viscous because it flows readily. The viscosity of air is important in aerodynamics because air tends to stick to any surface over which it flows, slowing down the motion of the air.
The density and compressibility of air are important factors at high speeds. As an object travels rapidly through air, it causes air to become compressed and more dense. As a result, other properties of air then change.
The effects of temperature change on air flow also become important at high speeds. A regular commercial airplane, after landing, will feel cool to...
(The entire section is 1366 words.)
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Aerodynamics (World of Earth Science)
Aerodynamics is the science of airflow over airplanes, cars, buildings, and other objects. Aerodynamic principles are used to find the best ways in which airplanes produce lift, reduce drag, and remain stable (by controlling the shape and size of the wing, the angle at which it is positioned with respect to the airstream, and the flight speed). The flight characteristics change at higher altitudes as the surrounding air becomes colder and thinner. The behavior of the airflow also changes dramatically at flight speeds close to, and beyond, the speed of sound. The explosion in computational capability has made it possible to understand and exploit the concepts of aerodynamics and to design improved wings for airplanes. Increasingly sophisticated wind tunnels are also available to test new models.
Airflow is governed by the principles of fluid dynamics that deal with the motion of liquids and gases in and around solid surfaces. The viscosity, density, compressibility, and temperature of the air determine how the air will flow around a building or a plane. The viscosity of a fluid is its resistance to flow. Even though air is 55 times less viscous than water, viscosity is important near a solid surface because air, like all other fluids, tends to stick to the surface and slow down the flow. A fluid is compressible if its density can be increased by squeezing it into a smaller volume. At flow speeds less than 220 mph (354 kph), one third the speed of sound, we can assume that air is incompressible for all practical purposes. At speeds closer to that of sound (660 mph [1,622 kph]) however, the variation in the density of the air must be taken into account. The effects of temperature change also become important at these speeds. A regular commercial airplane, after landing, will feel cool to the touch. The Concorde jet, which flies at twice the speed of sound, can feel hotter than boiling water.
Flow patterns of the air may be laminar or turbulent. In laminar or streamlined flow, air, at any point in the flow, moves with the same speed in the same direction at all times so that smoke in the flow appears to be smooth and regular. The smoke then changes to turbulent flow, which is cloudy and irregular, with the air continually changing speed and direction.
Laminar flow, without viscosity, is governed by Bernoulli's principle that states that the sum of the static and dynamic pressures in a fluid remains the same. A fluid at rest in a pipe exerts static pressure on the walls. If the fluid starts moving, some of the static pressure is converted to dynamic pressure, which is proportional to the square of the speed of the fluid. The faster a fluid moves, the greater its dynamic pressure and the smaller the static pressure it exerts on the sides.
Bernoulli's principle works very well far from the surface. Near the surface, however, the effects of viscosity must be considered since the air tends to stick to the surface, slowing down the flow nearby. Thus, a boundary layer of slow-moving air is formed on the surface of an airplane or automobile. This boundary layer is laminar at the beginning of the flow, but it gets thicker as the air moves along the surface and becomes turbulent after a point.
Airflow is determined by many factors, all of which work together in complicated ways to influence flow. Very often, the effects of factors such as viscosity, speed, and turbulence cannot be separated. Engineers have found ingenious ways to get around the difficulty of treating such complex situations. They have defined some characteristic numbers, each of which tells us something useful about the nature of the flow by taking several different factors into account.
One such number is the Reynolds number, which is greater for faster flows and denser fluids and smaller for more viscous fluids. The Reynolds number is also higher for flow around larger objects. Flows at lower Reynolds numbers tend to be slow, viscous, and laminar. As the Reynolds number increases, there is a transition from laminar to turbulent flow. The Reynolds number is a useful similarity parameter. This means that flows in completely different situations will behave in the same way as long as the Reynolds number and the shape of the solid surface are the same. If the Reynolds number is kept the same, water moving around a small stationary airplane model will create exactly the same flow patterns as a full-scale airplane of the same shape, flying through the air. This principle makes it possible to test airplane and automobile designs using small-scale models in wind tunnels.
At speeds greater than 220 mph (354 kph), the compressibility of air cannot be ignored. At these speeds, two different flows may not be equivalent even if they have the same Reynolds number. Another similarity parameter, the Mach number, is needed to make them similar. The Mach number of an airplane is its flight speed divided by the speed of sound at the same altitude and temperature. This means that a plane flying at the speed of sound has a Mach number of one.
The drag coefficient and the lift coefficient are two numbers that are used to compare the forces in different flow situations. Aerodynamic drag is the force that opposes the motion of a car or an airplane. Lift is the upward force that keeps an airplane afloat against gravity. The drag or lift coefficient is defined as the drag or lift force divided by the dynamic pressure, and also by the area over which the force acts. Two objects with similar drag or lift coefficients experience comparable forces, even when the actual values of the drag or lift force, dynamic pressure, area, and shape are different in the two cases.
There are several sources of drag. The air that sticks to the surface of a car creates a drag force due to skin friction. Pressure drag is created when the shape of the surface changes abruptly, as at the point where the roof of an automobile ends. The drop from the roof increases the space through which the air stream flows. This slows down the flow and, by Bernoulli's principle, increases the static pressure. The air stream is unable to flow against this sudden increase in pressure and the boundary layer gets detached from the surface creating an area of low-pressure turbulent wake or flow. Because the pressure in the wake is much lower than the pressure in front of the car, a net backward drag or force is exerted on the car. Pressure drag is the major source of drag on blunt bodies. Car manufacturers experiment with vehicle shapes to minimize the drag. For smooth or "streamlined" shapes, the boundary layer remains attached longer, producing only a small wake. For such bodies, skin friction is the major source of drag, especially if they have large surface areas. Skin friction comprises almost 60% of the drag on a modern airliner.
An airfoil is the two-dimensional cross-section of the wing of an airplane as one looks at it from the side. It is designed to maximize lift and minimize drag. The upper surface of a typical airfoil has a curvature greater than that of the lower surface. This extra curvature is known as camber. The straight line, joining the front tip or the leading edge of the airfoil to the rear tip or the trailing edge, is known as the chord line. The angle of attack is the angle that the chord line forms with the direction of the air stream.
The stagnation point is the point at which the stream of air moving toward the wing divides into two streams, one flowing above and the other flowing below the wing. Air flows faster above a wing with greater camber since the same amount of air has to flow through a narrower space. According to Bernoulli's principle, the faster flowing air exerts less pressure on the top surface, so that the pressure on the lower surface is higher, and there is a net upward force on the wing, creating lift. The camber is varied, using flaps and slats on the wing in order to achieve different degrees of lift during takeoff, cruise, and landing.
Because the air flows at different speeds above and below the wing, a large jump in speed will tend to arise when the two flows meet at the trailing edge, leading to a rearward stagnation point on top of the wing. Wilhelm Kutta (1867944) discovered that a circulation of air around the wing would ensure smooth flow at the trailing edge. According to the Kutta condition, the strength of the circulation, or the speed of the air around the wing, is exactly as much as is needed to keep the flow smooth at the trailing edge.
Increasing the angle of attack moves the stagnation point down from the leading edge along the lower surface so that the effective area of the upper surface is increased. This results in a higher lift force on the wing. If the angle is increased too much, however, the boundary layer is detached from the surface, causing a sudden loss of lift. This is known as a stall; the angle at which this occurs for an airfoil of a particular shape is known as the stall angle.
The airfoil is a two-dimensional section of the wing. The length of the wing in the third dimension, out to the side, is known as the span of the wing. At the wing tip at the end of the span, the high-pressure flow below the wing meets the low-pressure flow above the wing, causing air to move up and around in wing-tip vortices. These vortices are shed as the plane moves forward, creating a downward force or down-wash behind it. The downwash makes the airstream tilt downward and the resulting lift force tilt backward so that a net backward force or drag is created on the wing. This is known as induced drag or drag due to lift. About one third of the drag on a modern airliner is induced drag.
In addition to lift and drag, the stability and control of an aircraft in all three dimensions is important since an aircraft, unlike a car, is completely surrounded by air. Various control devices on the tail and wing are used to achieve this. Ailerons, for instance, control rolling motion by increasing lift on one wing and decreasing lift on the other.
Flight at speeds greater than that of sound are supersonic. Near a Mach number of one, some portions of the flow are at speeds below that of sound, while other portions move faster than sound. The range of speeds from Mach number 0.8 to 1.2 is known as transonic. Flight at Mach numbers greater than five is hypersonic.
The compressibility of air becomes an important aerodynamic factor at these high speeds. The reason for this is that sound waves are transmitted through the successive compression and expansion of air. The compression due to a sound wave from a supersonic aircraft does not have a chance to get away before the next compression begins. This pile up of compression creates a shock wave, which is an abrupt change in pressure, density, and temperature. The shock wave causes a steep increase in the drag and loss of stability of the aircraft. Drag due to the shock wave is known as wave drag. The familiar "sonic boom" is heard when the shock wave touches the surface of the earth.
Temperature effects also become important at transonic speeds. At hypersonic speeds above a Mach number of five, the heat causes nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the air to break up into atoms and form new compounds by chemical reactions. This changes the behavior of the air and the simple laws relating pressure, density, and temperature become invalid.
The need to overcome the effects of shock waves has been a formidable problem. Swept-back wings have helped to reduce the effects of shock. The supersonic Concorde that cruises at Mach 2 and several military airplanes have delta or triangular wings. The supercritical airfoil designed by Richard Whitcomb of the NASA Langley Laboratory has made air flow around the wing much smoother and has greatly improved both the lift and drag at transonic speeds. It has only a slight curvature at the top and a thin trailing edge. The proposed hypersonic aerospace plane is expected to fly partly in air and partly in space and to travel from Washington to Tokyo within two hours. The challenge for aerodynamicists is to control the flight of the aircraft so that it does not burn up like a meteor as it returns to Earth at several times the speed of sound.
See also Atmosphere; Atmospheric circulation; Atmospheric composition and structure; Atmospheric pressure; Aviation physiology; Bernoulli's equation; Meteorology; Physics; Space physiology; Wind shear