Without Friction Could We Have Lift?

In Section 1.5 we emphasized that the resultant aerodynamic force on a body immersed in a flow is due to the net integrated effect of the pressure and shear stress distributions over the body surface. Moreover, in Section 4.1 we noted that lift on an airfoil is primarily due to the surface pressure distribution, and that shear stress has virtually no effect on lift. It is easy to see why. Look at the airfoil shapes in Figures 4.12 and 4.13, for example. Recall that pressure acts normal to the surface, and for these airfoils the direction of this normal pressure is essentially in the vertical direction, that is, the lift direction. In contrast the shear stress acts tangential to the surface, and for these airfoils the direction of this tangential shear stress is mainly in the horizontal direction, that is, the drag direction. Hence, pressure is the dominant player in the generation of lift, and shear stress has a negligible effect on lift. It is for this reason that the lift on an airfoil below the stall can be accurately predicted by inviscid theories such as that discussed in this chapter.

However, if we lived in a perfectly inviscid world, an airfoil could not produce lift. Indeed, the presence of friction is the very reason why we have lift. These sound like strange, even contradictory statements to our discussion in the preceding
paragraph. What is going on here? The answer is that in real life, the way that nature insures that the flow will leave smoothly at the trailing edge, that is, the mechanism that nature uses to choose the flow shown in Figure 4.13c, is that the viscous boundary layer remains attached to the surface all the way to the trailing edge. Nature enforces the Kutta condition by means of friction. If there were no boundary layer (i. e., no friction), there would be no physical mechanism in the real world to achieve the Kutta condition.

So we are led to the most ironic situation that lift, which is created by the surface pressure distribution—an inviscid phenomenon, would not exist in a frictionless (in­viscid) world. In this regard, we can say that without friction we could not have lift. However, we say this in the informed manner as discussed above.