During the war a British engineer named Frank Whittle invented the jet engine, and deHavilland built the first production-type model. He produced a jet plane named Vampire, the first to exceed 500 mph. Then he built the experimental DH 108, and released it to young Geoffrey for test. In the first cautious trials the new plane behaved beautifully; but as Geoffrey stepped up the speed he unsuspectingly drew closer to an invisible wall in the sky then unknown to anyone, later named the sound barrier, which can destroy a plane not designed to pierce it. One evening he hit the speed of sound, and the plane disintegrated. Young Geoffrey’s body was not found for ten days.
From the Royal Air Force Flying Review, as digested in Reader’s Digest, 1959
The above quotation refers to an accident which took place on September 27, 1946, when Geoffrey deHavilland, son of the famed British airplane designer Sir Geoffrey deHavilland, took the D. H. 108 Swallow up for an attack on the world’s speed record. At that time, no airplane had flown at or beyond the speed of sound. The Swallow was an experimental jet-propelled aircraft with swept wings and no tail. During its first high-speed, low-level run, the Swallow encountered major compressibility problems and broke up in the air. deHavilland was killed instantly. This accident strengthened the opinion of many that Mach 1 stood as a barrier to manned flight and that no airplane would ever fly faster than the speed of sound. This myth of the “sound barrier” originated in the early 1930s. It was in full force by the time of the
Volta Conference in 1935 (see Section 7.1). In light of the opening quotation, the idea of a sound barrier was still being discussed in the popular literature as late as 1959, 12 years after the first successful supersonic flight by Captain Charles Yeager on October 14, 1947.
Of course, we know today that the sound barrier is indeed a myth; the supersonic transport Concorde flies at Mach 2, and some military aircraft are capable of Mach 3 and slightly beyond. The X-15 hypersonic research airplane has flown at Mach 7, and the Apollo lunar return capsule successfully reentered the earth’s atmosphere at Mach 36. Supersonic flight is now an everyday occurrence. So, what caused the early concern about a sound barrier? In the present chapter, we develop a theory applicable to high-speed subsonic flight, and we see how the theory predicts a monotonically increasing drag going to infinity as Mx —> 1. It was this type of result that led some people in the early 1930s to believe that flight beyond the speed of sound was impossible. However, we also show in this chapter that the approximations made in the theory break down near Mach 1 and that in reality, although the drag coefficient at Mach 1 is large, it is still a manageable finite number.
Specifically, the purpose of this chapter is to examine the properties of twodimensional airfoils at Mach numbers above 0.3, where we can no longer assume incompressible flow, but below Mach 1. That is, this chapter is an extension of the airfoil discussions in Chapter 4 (which applied to incompressible flow) to the high-speed subsonic regime.
In the process, we climb to a new tier in our study of compressible flow. If you survey our discussions so far of compressible flow, you will observe that they treat one-dimensional cases such as normal shock waves and flows in ducts. Even oblique shock waves, which are two – and three-dimensional in nature, depend only on the component of Mach number normal to the wave. Therefore, we have not been explicitly concerned with a multidimensional flow. As a consequence, note that the types of equations which allow an analysis of these flows are algebraic equations, and hence are relatively easy to solve in comparison with partial differential equations. In Chapters 8 to 10, we have dealt primarily with such algebraic equations. These algebraic equations were obtained by applying the integral forms of the conservation equations [Equations (2.48), (2.64), and (2.95)] to appropriate control volumes where the flow properties were uniform over the inflow and outflow faces of the control volume. However, for general two – and three-dimensional flows, we are usually not afforded such a luxury. Instead, we must deal directly with the governing equations in their partial differential equation form (see Chapter 2). Such is the nature of the present chapter. Indeed, for the remainder of our aerodynamic discussions in this book, we appeal mainly to the differential forms of the continuity, momentum, and energy equations [such as Equations (2.52), (2.113a to c), and (2.114)].
The road map for this chapter is given in Figure 11.1. We are going to return to the concept of a velocity potential, first introduced in Section 2.15. We are going to combine our governing equations so as to obtain a single equation simply in terms of the velocity potential; that is, we are going to obtain for compressible flow an equation analogous to Laplace’s equation derived for incompressible flow in Section 3.7 [see Equation (3.40)]. However, unlike Laplace’s equation, which is linear, the exact
velocity potential equation for compressible flow is nonlinear. By making suitable approximations, we are able to linearize this equation and apply it to thin airfoils at small angles of attack. The results enable us to correct incompressible airfoil data for the effects of compressibility—so-called compressibility corrections. Finally, we conclude this chapter by discussing several practical aspects of airfoil and general wing-body aerodynamics at speeds near Mach 1.