Introduction to Boundary Layers

A very satisfactory explanation of the physical process in the boundary layer between a fluid and a solid body could be obtained by the hypothesis of an adhesion of the fluid to the walls, that is, by the hypothesis of a zero relative velocity between fluid and wall. If the viscosity was very small and the fluid path along the wall not too long, the fluid velocity ought to resume its normal value at a very short distance from the wall. In the thin transition layer however, the sharp changes of velocity, even with small coefficient of friction, produce marked results.

Ludwig Prandtl, 1904

1 7.1 Introduction

The above quotation is taken from an historic paper given by Ludwig Prandtl at the third Congress of Mathematicians at Heidelberg, Germany, in 1904. In this paper, the concept of the boundary layer was first introduced—a concept which eventually revolutionized the analysis of viscous flows in the twentieth century and which allowed the practical calculation of drag and flow separation over aerodynamic bodies. Before Prandtl’s 1904 paper, the Navier-Stokes equations discussed in Chapter 15 were well known, but fluid dynamicists were frustrated in their attempts to solve these equations for practical engineering problems. After 1904, the picture changed completely. Using Prandtl’s concept of a boundary layer adjacent to an aerodynamic surface, the Navier-Stokes equations can be reduced to a more tractable form called the boundary – layer equations. In turn, these boundary-layer equations can be solved to obtain the distributions of shear stress and aerodynamic heat transfer to the surface. Prandtl’s boundary-layer concept was an advancement in the science of fluid mechanics of the caliber of a Nobel prize, although he never received that honor. The purpose of this chapter is to present the general concept of the boundary layer and to give a

few representative samples of its application. Our purpose here is to provide only an introduction to boundary-layer theory; consult Reference 42 for a rigorous and thorough discussion of boundary-layer analysis and applications.

What is a boundary layer? We have used this term in several places in our previous chapters, first introducing the idea in Section 1.10 and illustrating the concept in Figure 1.35. The boundary layer is the thin region of flow adjacent to a surface, where the flow is retarded by the influence of friction between a solid surface and the fluid. For example, a photograph of the flow over a supersonic body is shown in Figure 17.1, where the boundary layer (along with shock and expansion waves and the wake) is made visible by a special optical technique called a shadowgraph (see References 25 and 26 for discussions of the shadowgraph method). Note how thin the boundary layer is in comparison with the size of the body; however, although the boundary layer occupies geometrically only a small portion of the flow field, its influence on the drag and heat transfer to the body is immense—in Prandtl’s own words as quoted above, it produces “marked results.”

The purpose of the remaining chapters is to examine these “marked results.” The road map for the present chapter is given in Figure 17.2. In the next section, we discuss some fundamental properties of boundary layers. This is followed by a development

Figure I 7.1 The boundary layer on an aerodynamic body. (Courtesy of the U. S. Army Ballistics Laboratory, Aberdeen, Maryland.}

Figure I 7.2 Road map for Chapter 17.

of the boundary-layer equations, which are the continuity, momentum, and energy equations written in a special form applicable to the flow in the thin viscous region adjacent to a surface. The boundary layer equations are partial differential equations that apply inside the boundary layer.

Finally, we note that this chapter represents the second of the three options discussed in Section 15.7 for the solution of the viscous flow equations, namely, the simplification of the Navier-Stokes equations by neglecting certain terms that are smaller than other terms. This is an approximation, not a precise condition as in the case of Couette and Poiseuille flows in Chapter 16. In this chapter, we will see that the Navier-Stokes equations, when applied to the thin viscous boundary layer adjacent to a surface, can be reduced to simpler forms, albeit approximate, which lend themselves to simpler solutions. These simpler forms of the equations are called the boundary-layer equations—they are the subject of the present chapter.

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