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    Boundary Layer, Vortex Generator & Turbulator
    Experiments and Background Information


    Background Information


    The boundary layer is a thin layer of fluid created near the surface of a moving object through a fluid, or as a fluid moves past an object. The molecules of the fluid near the object are disturbed and move around the object. Aerodynamic forces are generated between the fluid and the object. This creates the boundary layer, called so because it occurs on the boundary of the fluid. Its main importance in aerodynamics lies in the fact that it increases aircraft drag.

    A vortex generator is a small, winglike device that generates vortices at its tip. It influences the boundary layer of air flow primarily for achieving drag reduction.

    A turbulator is often a thin zig-zag strip that is placed on the underside of the wing and sometimes on the fin of an aircraft, also reduces boundary layer drag.

    Topics of Interest

    In physics and fluid mechanics, a boundary layer is that layer of fluid in the immediate vicinity of a bounding surface. In the Earth's atmosphere, the planetary boundary layer is the air layer near the ground affected by diurnal heat, moisture or momentum transfer to or from the surface. On an aircraft wing the boundary layer is the part of the flow close to the wing. The boundary layer effect occurs at the field region in which all changes occur in the flow pattern. The boundary layer distorts surrounding nonviscous flow. It is a phenomenon of viscous forces. This effect is related to the Reynolds number.

    Laminar boundary layers come in various forms and can be loosely classified according to their structure and the circumstances under which they are created. The thin shear layer which develops on an oscillating body is an example of a Stokes layer, whilst the Blasius boundary layer refers to the well-known similarity solution for the steady boundary layer attached to a flat plate held in an oncoming unidirectional flow. When a fluid rotates, viscous forces may be balanced by Coriolis effects, rather than convective inertia, leading to the formation of an Ekman layer. Thermal boundary layers also exist in heat transfer. Multiple types of boundary layers can coexist near a surface simultaneously.

    The aerodynamic boundary layer was first defined by Ludwig Prandtl in a paper presented on August 12, 1904 at the third International Congress of Mathematicians in Heidelberg, Germany. It allows aerodynamicists to simplify the equations of fluid flow by dividing the flow field into two areas: one inside the boundary layer, where viscosity is dominant and the majority of the drag experienced by a body immersed in a fluid is created, and one outside the boundary layer where viscosity can be neglected without significant effects on the solution. This allows a closed-form solution for the flow in both areas, which is a significant simplification over the solution of the full Navier-Stokes equations. The majority of the heat transfer to and from a body also takes place within the boundary layer, again allowing the equations to be simplified in the flow field outside the boundary layer.

    Many of the principles that apply to aircraft also apply to ships and offshore platforms, however there are a few key differences.

    One key difference is the mass of the boundary layer. Since a good portion of the boundary layer travels at or near the speed of the ship, the energy required to accelerate and decelerate this additional mass must be taken into account. When calculating the power required by the engine, this mass is added to the mass of the ship. In aircraft, this additional mass is not usually taken into account because the weight of the air is so small. However, in ship design, this mass can easily reach 1/4 or 1/3 of the weight of the actual ship and therefore represents a significant drag in addition to frictional drag.

    The deduction of the boundary layer equations was perhaps one of the most important advances in fluid dynamics. Using an order of magnitude analysis, the well-known governing Navier-Stokes equations of viscous fluid flow can be greatly simplified within the boundary layer. Notably, the characteristic of the partial differential equations (PDE) becomes parabolic, rather than the elliptical form of the full Navier-Stokes equations. This greatly simplifies the solution of the equations. By making the boundary layer approximation, the flow is divided into an inviscid portion (which is easy to solve by a number of methods) and the boundary layer, which is governed by an easier to solve PDE.

    The treatment of turbulent boundary layers is far more difficult due to the time-dependent variation of the flow properties. One of the most widely used techniques in which turbulent flows are tackled is to apply Reynolds decomposition. Here the instantaneous flow properties are decomposed into a mean and fluctuating component.

    Boundary layer turbine> This effect was exploited in the Tesla turbine, patented by Nikola Tesla in 1913. It is referred to as a bladeless turbine because it uses the boundary layer effect and not a fluid impinging upon the blades as in a conventional turbine. Boundary layer turbines are also known as cohesion-type turbine, bladeless turbine, and Prandtl layer turbine (after Ludwig Prandtl).

    A vortex generator is an aerodynamic surface, consisting of a small vane that creates a vortex. They can be found in many devices, but the term is most often used in aircraft design.

    Vortex generators are added to the leading edge of a swept wing in order to maintain steady airflow over the control surfaces at the rear of the wing. They are typically rectangular or triangular, tall enough to protrude above the boundary layer, and run in spanwise lines near the thickest part of the wing. They can be seen on the wings and vertical tails of many airliners. Vortex generators are positioned in such a way that they have an angle of attack with respect to the local airflow.

    A vortex generator creates a tip vortex which draws energetic, rapidly-moving air from outside the slow-moving boundary layer into contact with the aircraft skin. The boundary layer normally thickens as it moves along the aircraft surface, reducing the effectiveness of trailing-edge control surfaces; vortex generators can be used to remedy this problem, among others, by re-energizing the boundary layer. Vortex generators delay flow separation and aerodynamic stalling; they improve the effectiveness of control surfaces (e.g Embraer 170 and Symphony SA-160); and, for swept-wing transonic designs, they alleviate potential shock-stall problems (e.g. Harrier, Blackburn Buccaneer, Gloster Javelin).

    Many aircraft carry vane vortex generators from time of manufacture, but there are also after-market suppliers who sell VG kits to improve the STOL performance of some light aircraft.

    Air jet vortex generators work on a different principle. They direct a jet of air into the boundary layer, thereby re-energising it.

    Vortex generators are also being used in automotive vehicles. In one form they are used as in aircraft to influence the boundary layer of air flow primarily for drag reduction. In another form they are installed in the engine's air intake hose. Manufacturers claim that the vortex generator creates a swirling motion within the air intake pipe, and within the combustion chamber causing improved burning of the fuel, increasing horsepower and fuel efficiency.

    A turbulator is a device for improving the flow of air over a wing.

    When air flows over the wing of an aircraft, there is a layer of air called the boundary layer between the wing's surface and where the air is undisturbed. Depending on the profile of the wing, the air will often flow smoothly in a thin boundary layer across much of the wing's surface. The boundary layer will be laminar near the leading edge and will become turbulent a certain distance from the leading edge depending on surface roughness and Reynolds Number (speed). However there comes a point, the separation point, in which the boundary layer breaks away from the surface of the wing due to the magnitude of the negative pressure gradient. Beneath the separated layer, bubbles of stagnant air form, creating additional drag because of the lower pressure in the wake behind the separation point.

    These bubbles can be reduced or even eliminated by shaping the airfoil to move the separation point downstream or by adding a device, a turbulator that trips the boundary layer into turbulence. The turbulent boundary layer contains more energy, so will delay separation until a greater magnitude of negative pressure gradient is reached, effectively moving the separation point further aft on the airfoil and possibly eliminating separation completely. A consequence of the turbulent boundary layer is increased skin friction relative to a laminar boundary layer, but this is very small compared to the increase in drag associated with separation.

    In gliders the turbulator is often a thin zig-zag strip that is placed on the underside of the wing and sometimes on the fin. The DG 300 glider used small holes in the wing surface to blow air into the boundary layer, but there is a risk that these holes will become blocked by polish, dirt and moisture.

    For the aircraft with low Reynolds numbers (i.e. where minimizing turbulence and drag is a major concern) such as gliders, the small increase in drag from the turbulator at higher speeds is minor compared with the larger improvements at best glide speed, at which the glider can fly the furthest for a given height.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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