Retrotechtacular: Forces Acting On An Airfoil

floating film title We’ve probably all experimented with a very clear demonstration of the basic principles of lift: if you’re riding in a car and you put your flattened hand out the window at different angles, your hand will rise and fall like an airplane’s wing, or airfoil. This week’s Retrotechtacular explains exactly how flight is possible through the principles of lift and drag. It’s an Army training documentary from 1941 titled “Aerodynamics: Forces Acting on an Air Foil“.

What is an airfoil? Contextually speaking, it’s the shape of an airplane’s wing. In the face of pressure differences acting upon their surfaces, airfoils produce a useful aerodynamic reaction, such as the lift that makes flight possible. As the film explains, the ideas of lift and drag are measured against the yardstick of relative wind. The force of this wind on the airfoil changes according to the acute angle formed between the airfoil and the direction of the air flow acting upon it. As you may already know, lift is measured at right angles to the relative wind, and drag occurs parallel to it. Lift is opposed by the weight of the foil, and drag by tension.

wind tunnel testing

Airfoils come in several types of thicknesses and curvatures, and the film shows how a chord is derived from each shape. These chords are used to measure and describe the angle of attack in relation to the relative wind.

The forces that act upon an airfoil are measured in wind tunnels which provide straight and predictable airflow. A model airplane is supported by wires that lead to scales. These scales measure drag as well as front and rear lift.

In experimenting with angles of attack, lift and drag increase toward what is known as the stalling angle. After this point, lift decreases abruptly, and drag takes over. Lift and drag are proportional to the area of the wing, the relative wind velocity squared, and the air density. When a plane is in the air, drag is a retarding force that equals the thrust of the craft, or the propelling force.

monometer tubesAirfoil models are also unit tested in wind tunnels. They are built with small tubes running along many points of the foil that sit just under the surface. The tubes leave the model at a single point and are connected to a bank of manometer tubes. These tubes compare the pressures acting on the airfoil model to the reference point of atmospheric pressure. The different liquid levels in the manometer tubes give clear proof of the pressure values along the airfoil. These levels are photographed and mapped to a pressure curve. Now, a diagram can be made to show the positive and negative pressures relative to the angle of attack.

In closing, we are shown the effects of a dive on lift as an aircraft approaches and reaches terminal velocity, and that lift is attained again by pulling slowly out of the dive. Remember that the next time you fly your hand-plane out the window.

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‘Vortex-drive’ for underwater ROV propulsion

This is [Lee von Kraus'] new experimental propulsion system for an underwater ROV. He developed the concept when considering how one might adapt the Bristlebot, which uses vibration to shimmy across a solid surface, for use under water.

As with its dry-land relative, this technique uses a tiny pager motor. The device is designed to vibrate when the motor spins, thanks to an off-center weight attached to the spindle. [Lee's] first experiment was to shove the motor in a centrifuge tube and give it an underwater whirl. He could see waves emanating from the motor and travelling outward, but the thing didn’t go anywhere. What he needed were some toothbrush bristles. He started thinking about how those bristles actually work. They allow the device to move in one direction more easily than in another. The aquatic equivalent of this is an angled platform that has more drag in one direction. He grabbed a bendy straw, using the flexible portion to provide the needed surface.

Check out the demo video after the break. He hasn’t got it connected to a vessel, but there is definitely movement.

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Firing rocket engines in the wrong direction — this is only a test

LVL1 has a new rocketeering group. This rocket engine testing platform is the first project to come out of the fledgling club. The purpose of the tool is to gather empirical data from model rocket engines. Having reliable numbers on thrust over time will allow the team to get their designs right before the physical build even starts.

The rig uses a pine base, with a PVC frame, threaded bolts, and a PVC cuff for mounting the engine in place. It is set to fire up in the air, directing the thrust down onto a scale. The flex sensor in the scale is monitored by an Arduino, and should be able to hold up to the 5000 pounds grams of thrust max which this type of engines can put out. The data is pushed via USB to a laptop computer where it is stored in a spreadsheet.

Calibration would be an issue here. But as long as they’re always using the same strain sensor the numbers will be accurate enough relative to each other.

Hacking a scale to test rocket motors


[David Steeman] sent us this project. He uses a consumer scale to measure rocket engine thrust. He wanted to be able to map the thrust curve of his homemade rocket motors to determine whether they are meeting the design goals. It does this by measuring the force applied by the rocket engine via a microcontroller that records it in a text file on a computer. He then analyzes this data in an Excel spreadsheet.

The sensors were harvested from a consumer scale while the rest of the electronics were built by hand. He’s using a PIC 18F2550 microcontroller which has a built in USB interface. He has breakdowns of each piece with detailed information on how it works as well as some nice pictures. There is also a list of future improvements that he would like to do such as increasing sample speed, integrating it with the ignition, and decreasing the physical size. Files for the schematic, firmware, and excel spreadsheet are available for download at the bottom of the page, so keep scrolling down.

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