Drag-Divergence Mach Number: The Sound Barrier

Imagine that we have a given airfoil at a fixed angle of attack in a wind tunnel, and we wish to measure its drag coefficient cd as a function of Mx. To begin with, we measure the drag coefficient at low subsonic speed to be cd 0, shown in Figure

11.11. Now, as we gradually increase the freestream Mach number, we observe that

cd remains relatively constant all the way to the critical Mach number, as illustrated in Figure 11.11. The flow fields associated with points a, b, and c in Figure 11.11 are represented by Figure 11.5a, b, and r, respectively. Asweverycarefullyincrea. se slightly above Mcr, say, to point d in Figure 11.11, a finite region of supersonic flow appears on the airfoil, as shown in Figure 11.5cf. The Mach number in this bubble of supersonic flow is only slightly above Mach 1, typically 1.02 to 1.05. Flowever, as we continue to nudge M00 higher, we encounter a point where the drag coefficient suddenly starts to increase. This is given as point e in Figure 11.11. The value of Мж at which this sudden increase in drag starts is defined as the drag-divergence Mach number. Beyond the drag-divergence Mach number, the drag coefficient can become very large, typically increasing by a factor of 10 or more. This large increase in drag is associated with an extensive region of supersonic flow over the airfoil, terminating in a shock wave, as sketched in the insert in Figure 11.11. Corresponding to point / on the drag curve, this insert shows that as Мж approaches unity, the flow on both the top and bottom surfaces can be supersonic, both terminated by shock waves. For example, consider the case of a reasonably thick airfoil, designed originally for low – speed applications, when Мж is beyond drag-divergence; in such a case, the local Mach number can reach 1.2 or higher. As a result, the terminating shock waves can be relatively strong. These shocks generally cause severe flow separation downstream of the shocks, with an attendant large increase in drag.

Now, put yourself in the place of an aeronautical engineer in 1936. You are familiar with the Prandtl-Glauert rule, given by Equation (11.51). You recognize that as Mх —>• 1, this equation shows the absolute magnitude of Cp approaching

Figure I I.1 I Sketch of the variation of profile drag coefficient with freestream Mach number, illustrating the critical and drag-divergence Mach numbers and showing the large drag rise near Mach 1.

infinity. This hints at some real problems near Mach 1. Furthermore, you know of some initial high-speed subsonic wind-tunnel tests that have generated drag curves which resemble the portion of Figure 11.11 from points a to /. How far will the drag coefficient increase as we get closer to MTO = 1? Will q go to infinity? At this stage, you might be pessimistic. You might visualize the drag increase to be so large that no airplane with the power plants existing in 1936, or even envisaged for the future, could ever overcome this “barrier.” It was this type of thought that led to the popular concept of a sound barrier and that prompted many people to claim that humans would never fly faster than the speed of sound.

Of course, today we know the sound barrier was a myth. We cannot use the Prandtl-Glauert rule to argue that q will become infinite at MTO = 1, because the Prandtl-Glauert rule is invalid at MTO = 1 (see Sections 11.3 and 11.4). Moreover, early transonic wind-tunnel tests carried out in the late 1940s clearly indicated that cj peaks at or around Mach 1 and then actually decreases as we enter the supersonic regime, as shown by points g and h in Figure 11.11. All we need is an aircraft with an engine powerful enough to overcome the large drag rise at Mach 1. The myth of the sound barrier was finally put to rest on October 14, 1947, when Captain Charles (Chuck) Yeager became the first human being to fly faster than sound in the sleek, bullet-shaped Bell XS-1. This rocket-propelled research aircraft is shown in Figure 11.12. Of course, today supersonic flight is a common reality; we have

Figure 11.12 The Bell XS-1 —the first manned airplane to fly faster than sound, October 14, 1947. (Courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum.)


Figure 11.14 By sweeping the wing, a streamline effectively sees a thinner airfoil.

Figure 11.15 A typical example of a swept-wing aircraft. The North American F-86 Sabre of Korean War fame.

sound. One of these—the area rule—is discussed in this section; the other—the supercritical airfoil—is the subject of Section 11.9.

For a moment, let us expand our discussion from two-dimensional airfoils to a consideration of a complete airplane. In this section, we introduce a design concept which has effectively reduced the drag rise near Mach 1 for a complete airplane.

As stated before, the first practical jet-powered aircraft appeared at the end of World War II in the form of the German Me 262. This was a subsonic fighter plane with a top speed near 550 mi/h. The next decade saw the design and production of many types of jet aircraft—all limited to subsonic flight by the large drag near Mach 1. Even the “century” series of fighter aircraft designed to give the U. S. Air Force supersonic capability in the early 1950s, such as the Convair F-102 delta-wing airplane, ran into difficulty and could not at first readily penetrate the sound barrier in level flight. The thrust of jet engines at that time simply could not overcome the large peak drag near Mach 1.

A planview, cross section, and area distribution (cross-sectional area versus dis­tance along the axis of the airplane) for a typical airplane of that decade are sketched in Figure 11.16. Let A denote the total cross-sectional area at any given station. Note that the cross-sectional area distribution experiences some abrupt changes along the axis, with discontinuities in both A and dA/dx in the regions of the wing.

In contrast, for almost a century, it was well known by ballisticians that the speed of a supersonic bullet or artillery shell with a smooth variation of cross-sectional area

Figure 11.16 A schematic of a non-area-ruled aircraft.

was higher than projectiles with abrupt or discontinuous area distributions. In the mid-1950s, an aeronautical engineer at the NACA Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Richard T. Whitcomb, put this knowledge to work on the problem of transonic flight of airplanes. Whitcomb reasoned that the variation of cross-sectional area for an airplane should be smooth, with no discontinuities. This meant that, in the region of the wings and tail, the fuselage cross-sectional area should decrease to compensate for the addition of the wing and tail cross-sectional area. This led to a “coke bottle” fuselage shape, as shown in Figure 11.17. Here, the planview and area distribution are shown for an aircraft with a relatively smooth variation of A(x). This design philosophy is called the area rule, and it successfully reduced the peak drag near Mach 1 such that practical airplanes could fly supersonically by the mid-1950s. The variations of drag coefficient with for an area-ruled and non-area-ruled airplane are schematically compared in Figure 11.18; typically, the area rule leads to a factor – of-2 reduction in the peak drag near Mach 1.

The development of the area rule was a dramatic breakthrough in high-speed flight, and it earned a substantial reputation for Richard Whitcomb—a reputation which was to be later garnished by a similar breakthrough in transonic airfoil design, to be discussed in Section 11.9. The original work on the area rule was presented by Whitcomb in Reference 31, which should be consulted for more details.

Figure 11.17 A schematic of an area-ruled aircraft.

Figure 11.18 The drag-rise properties of

area-ruled and non-area-ruled aircraft (schematic only).

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