Aerodynamics: Classification and Practical Objectives

A distinction between solids, liquids, and gases can be made in a simplistic sense as follows. Put a solid object inside a larger, closed container. The solid object will not change; its shape and boundaries will remain the same. Now put a liquid inside the container. The liquid will change its shape to conform to that of the container and will take on the same boundaries as the container up to the maximum depth of the liquid. Now put a gas inside the container. The gas will completely fill the container, taking on the same boundaries as the container.

The word “fluid” is used to denote either a liquid or a gas. A more technical distinction between a solid and a fluid can be made as follows. When a force is applied tangentially to the surface of a solid, the solid will experience a finite deformation, and the tangential force per unit area—the shear stress—will usually be proportional to the amount of deformation. In contrast, when a tangential shear stress is applied to the surface of a fluid, the fluid will experience a continuously increasing deformation, and the shear stress usually will be proportional to the rate of change of the deformation.

The most fundamental distinction between solids, liquids, and gases is at the atomic and molecular level. In a solid, the molecules are packed so closely together that their nuclei and electrons form a rigid geometric structure, “glued” together by powerful intermolecular forces. In a liquid, the spacing between molecules is larger, and although intermolecular forces are still strong they allow enough movement of the molecules to give the liquid its “fluidity.” In a gas, the spacing between molecules is much larger (for air at standard conditions, the spacing between molecules is, on the average, about 10 times the molecular diameter). Hence, the influence of intermolecular forces is much weaker, and the motion of the molecules occurs rather freely throughout the gas. This movement of molecules in both gases and liquids leads to similar physical characteristics, the characteristics of a fluid—quite different from those of a solid. Therefore, it makes sense to classify the study of the dynamics of both liquids and gases under the same general heading, called fluid dynamics. On the other hand, certain differences exist between the flow of liquids and the flow of gases; also, different species of gases (say, N2, He, etc.) have different properties. Therefore, fluid dynamics is subdivided into three areas as follows:

Hydrodynamics—flow of liquids Gas dynamics—flow of gases Aerodynamics—flow of air

These areas are by no means mutually exclusive; there are many similarities and identical phenomena between them. Also, the word “aerodynamics” has taken on a popular usage that sometimes covers the other two areas. As a result, this author tends to interpret the word “aerodynamics” very liberally, and its use throughout this book does not always limit our discussions just to air.

Aerodynamics is an applied science with many practical applications in engineer­ing. No matter how elegant an aerodynamic theory may be, or how mathematically complex a numerical solution may be, or how sophisticated an aerodynamic exper-

iment may be, all such efforts are usually aimed at one or more of the following practical objectives:

1. The prediction of forces and moments on, and heat transfer to, bodies moving through a fluid (usually air). For example, we are concerned with the generation of lift, drag, and moments on airfoils, wings, fuselages, engine nacelles, and most importantly, whole airplane configurations. We want to estimate the wind force on buildings, ships, and other surface vehicles. We are concerned with the hydrodynamic forces on surface ships, submarines, and torpedoes. We need to be able to calculate the aerodynamic heating of flight vehicles ranging from the supersonic transport to a planetary probe entering the atmosphere of Jupiter. These are but a few examples.

2. Determination of flows moving internally through ducts. We wish to calculate and measure the flow properties inside rocket and air-breathing jet engines and to calculate the engine thrust. We need to know the flow conditions in the test section of a wind tunnel. We must know how much fluid can flow through pipes under various conditions. A recent, very interesting application of aerodynamics is high-energy chemical and gas-dynamic lasers (see Reference 1), which are nothing more than specialized wind tunnels that can produce extremely powerful laser beams. Figure 1.5 is a photograph of an early gas-dynamic laser designed in the late 1960s.


Figure 1.5 A CO2-N2 gas-dynamic laser, circa 1969. (Courtesy of the Avco-Everett Research Laboratory.!

The applications in item 1 come under the heading of external aerodynamics since they deal with external flows over a body. In contrast, the applications in item 2 involve internal aerodynamics because they deal with flows internally within ducts. In external aerodynamics, in addition to forces, moments, and aerodynamic heating associated with a body, we are frequently interested in the details of the flow field away from the body. For example, the communication blackout experienced by the space shuttle during a portion of its reentry trajectory is due to a concentration of free electrons in the hot shock layer around the body. We need to calculate the variation of electron density throughout such flow fields. Another example is the propagation of shock waves in a supersonic flow; for instance, does the shock wave from the wing of a supersonic airplane impinge upon and interfere with the tail surfaces? Yet another example is the flow associated with the strong vortices trailing downstream from the wing tips of large subsonic airplanes such as the Boeing 747. What are the properties of these vortices, and how do they affect smaller aircraft which happen to fly through them?

The above is just a sample of the myriad applications of aerodynamics. One purpose of this book is to provide the reader with the technical background necessary to fully understand the nature of such practical aerodynamic applications.

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