Low Reynolds number flow control through small-amplitude high-frequency motion

  • David Cleaver

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


There is currently growing interest in the field of Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs). A MAV is characterized by its low Reynolds numbers flight regime which makes lift and thrust creation a significant challenge. One possible solution inspired by nature is flapping flight, but instead of the large-amplitude low-frequency motion suited to the muscular actuators of nature, small-amplitude high-frequency motion may be more suitable for electrical actuators. In this thesis the effect of small-amplitude high-frequency motion is experimentally investigated focusing on three aspects: general performance improvement, deflected jets, and the effect of geometryResults presented herein demonstrate that using small-amplitude high-frequency plunging motion on a NACA 0012 airfoil at a post-stall angle of attack of 15° can lead to significant thrust production accompanying a 305% increase in lift coefficient. At low Strouhal numbers vortices form at the leading-edge during the downward motion and then convect into the wake. This ‘mode 1’ flow field is associated with high lift but low thrust. The maximum lift enhancement was due to resonance with the natural shedding frequency, its harmonics and subharmonics. At higher Strouhal numbers the vortex remains over the leading-edge area for a larger portion of the cycle and therefore loses its coherency through impingement with the upward moving airfoil. This ‘mode 2’ flowfield is associated with low lift and high thrust.At angles of attack below 12.5° very large force bifurcations are observed. These are associated with the formation of upwards or downwards deflected jets with the direction determined by initial conditions. The upwards deflected jet is associated with the counter-clockwise Trailing Edge Vortex (TEV) loitering over the airfoil and thereby pairing with the clockwise TEV to form a dipole that convects upwards. It therefore draws fluid from the upper surface enhancing the upper surface vortex leading to high lift. The downwards deflected jet is associated with the inverse. Deflected jets were not observed at larger angles of attack as the asymmetry in the strength of the TEVs was too great; nor at smaller amplitudes as the TEV strength was insufficient.To understand the effect of geometry comparable experiments were performed for a flat plate geometry. At zero degrees angle of attack deflected jets would form, as for the NACA 0012 airfoil, however their direction would switch sinusoidally with a period on the order of 100 cycles. The lift coefficient therefore also switched. At 15° angle of attack for Strouhal numbers up to unity the performance of the flat plate was comparable to the NACA 0012 airfoil. Above unity, the upper surface and lower surface leading-edge vortices form a dipole which convects away from the upper surface resulting in increased time-averaged separation and reduced lift.
Date of Award1 Sept 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorIsmet Gursul (Supervisor)


  • aerodynamics
  • flow control
  • low reynolds number
  • flapping

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