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Chapter 14

Lifting line theory

The simplest quantitative model used for predicting the aerodynamic force on a wing of nite
span is the lifting line theory. It is covered in most texts on aerodynamics; e.g. Jones (1942,
ch. 5); Glauert (1926, ch. 1011); Prandtl and Tietjens (1957, pp. 185210); Abbott and von
Doenho (1959, pp. 927); Milne-Thomson (1973, ch. 1011); Thwaites (1987, pp. 305311);
Kuethe and Chow (1998, pp. 169200); Anderson (2001, pp. 351387); Bertin (2002, pp. 230
256); and Moran (2003, pp. 135138).
14.1 Basic assumptions of lifting line theory
Lifting line theory in its simplest form assumes that:
the thickness and chord are much shorter than the span;
the wing is unswept; and
the ight is steady and perpendicular to the span.
With the above assumptions, the wing is modelled (on the length scale of the span) as the
line segment
x = y = 0,
b
2
z
b
2
. (14.1)
This line segment is called the lifting line.
14.2 The lifting line, horseshoe vortices, and the wake
If the wing is to be producing lift, the KuttaJoukowsky theorem (3.66a) leads us to expect that
there will be circulation around it in circuits lying in planes parallel to the plane of symmetry
(i.e. planes of constant z ) and encircling the wing.
14.2.1 Deductions from vortex theorems
Stokess theorem ( 13.2.1) then requires that there are vortex laments running along the wing.
In the lifting line theory, these laments are assumed to run along the lifting line (14.1).
However, vortex laments cannot end in the uid ( 13.2.2) so this description is physically
incomplete. Since, by Helmholtzs theorems, vortex laments move with the uid, the simplest
157
158 AERODYNAMICS I COURSE NOTES, 2006
consistent model is that wherever each lament would end on the lifting line, it instead trails
behind the wing (back to a starting vortex at the take-o strip, or, essentially, to innity).
14.2.2 Deductions from the wing pressure distribution
This picture of vortex laments trailing behind the wing is consistent with the dierence in the
spanwise ow components over and under the wing induced by the pressure dierences associated
with the generation of lift ( 12.1.2). When the upper and lower streams reunite at the trailing
edge, they have the same speed (by Bernoullis equation, as the pressure is single-valued) and
also the same u and v components (by the KuttaJoukowsky condition); however, their spanwise
components are dierent: inboard for the upper stream and outboard for the lower. Thus
there forms a surface in the air behind the trailing edge across which the tangential (specically
spanwise) component of velocity is discontinuous. This is a vortex sheet, composed of vortex
laments, being the trailing legs of the vortex laments inferred above from the vortex theorems.
14.2.3 The lifting line model of air ow
The model of the wing therefore consists of a collection of horseshoe vortices, each of which
consists of a segment on the lifting line called a bound vortex (since it is constrained to move
with the wing rather than allowed to drift in the ow) and two semi-innite vortex laments
behind the wing called the trailing vortices. Together, the bound vortices of all the horseshoe
vortices constitute the lifting line and represent the wing, and the collection of trailing vortices
represent the wake.
The ow around the wing is then taken as the sum of the contributions from the free stream
q

= q

(i cos +j sin ) (14.2)

and the horseshoe vortices constituting the lifting line and the wake.
14.3 Horseshoe vortex
The horseshoe vortices are signicant in so far as they aect the ow near the wing. The bound
vortex part of the horseshoe doesnt induce any velocity on the lifting line (on which it lies), but
the trailing vortices do.
Consider as an example, a horseshoe vortex lament of strength running from i +
b
2
k to
b
2
k to
b
2
k to i
b
2
k, as illustrated in gure 14.1. The unit vectors of the three legs are i ,
k, and +i , respectively. The strength, , must be common to the three legs, by the vortex
laws ( 13.2.2).
The velocity induced on the line of the bound vortex (x = y = 0 ) can be calculated from
two applications of the formula for points in the perpendicular plane of the end of a semi-innite
rectilinear vortex lament (13.28)
q =

4

(r r

)
|

(r r

)|
2
.
Here, we can take

= i and r

=
b
2
k for the two trailing vortices so that, for some point on
the lifting line r = zk,

(r r

) = i (z
b
2
)k = (z
b
2
)j . (14.3)
Lifting line theory 159
x
y
z
(0, 0,
+b
2
)
(0, 0,
b
2
)
Figure 14.1: A rectangular horseshoe vortex, lying in the zx-plane with vertices at
b
2
k.
Therefore,
q(zk) =

4
_
z
b
2
|z
b
2
|
2

z +
b
2
|z +
b
2
|
2
_
j (14.4a)
=

4
_
(z +
b
2
)
2
(z
b
2
) (z
b
2
)
2
(z +
b
2
)
(z +
b
2
)
2
(z
b
2
)
2
_
j (14.4b)
=

4
_
(z +
b
2
) (z
b
2
)
(z +
b
2
)(z
b
2
)
_
j (14.4c)
=
j
b
_
1
_
2z
b
_
2
_ ; (14.4d)
cf. Glauert (1926, p. 134), Kuethe and Chow (1998, p. 174), or Anderson (2001, p. 361).
Notice that, having assumed that the trailing vortices lie in the zx-plane (the y = 0 plane),
the velocity induced at the bound vortex by the trailing vortices is purely perpendicular to this
plane; i.e. vertical. For |z| <
b
2
(i.e. on the bound vortex), v j q < 0, so that this velocity is
called downwash and denoted v
w
. The downwash is plotted in gure 14.2.
14.4 Continuous trailing vortex sheet
A diculty with using a single horseshoe vortex to model a wing is that the downwash given by
(14.4d) is innite at z =
b
2
. This diculty can be obviated by using a continuous trailing sheet
of vortex laments. If the trailing vortex lament from z

k to i +z

k has strength (z

)z

, it
contributes
q(zk) =
(z

)z

i (z z

)k
4(z z

)
2
(14.5)
=
(z

)j
4(z z

)
z

(14.6)
to the downwash at r = zk. The total downwash v
w
is
v
w
(z) j q(zk) =
1
4
_
b/2
b/2
(z

) dz

z z

. (14.7)
160 AERODYNAMICS I COURSE NOTES, 2006
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-1.5
-1.0
-0.5
0.0
0.5
1.0
1.5
2.0
-0.6 -0.5 -0.4 -0.3 -0.2 -0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6
D
O
W
N
W
A
S
H
,

v
w
/
(

/
b
)
SPANWISE POSITION, z/b
Figure 14.2: The downwash induced along the lifting line by a horseshoe vortex.
14.4.1 Circulation distribution and the wake
Since vortex laments cannot end in the uid, and since it is the strength of the bound vortex
laments that makes up the circulation around a section of the wing, the strength of the trailing
vortex lament arriving at the lifting line at z = z

must be related to the circulation there by

(z

) + (z

) z

= (z

+ z

) (z

) +
d
dz

(14.8a)
(z

)
d
dz

; (14.8b)
as in gure 14.3. Thus, in terms of the circulation distribution, the downwash is
v
w
(z) =
1
4
_
b/2
b/2
d
dz

dz

z z

; (14.9)
cf. Glauert (1926, p. 135), Prandtl and Tietjens (1957, p. 199), Kuethe and Chow (1998, p. 174),
or Anderson (2001, p. 364).
14.4.2 The form of the wake
In lifting line theory, the wake is assumed to be conned to a plane strip behind the wing. In
fact, the situation is not so simple. We have seen ( 14.3) that the horseshoe vortex laments
constituting the wake generate a downwash inside the horseshoe. Outside the horseshoe, they
generate an upwash. Since vortex laments move with the uid, the eect of this is that the
outer laments of the sheet drift upward and the edges of the sheet curl inward. These curled
edges form what are called the two wing-tip vortices, and are clearly visible when there is dust
in the air; e.g. in crop-spraying (Kuethe and Chow 1998, p. 172, gure 6.5). They are also made
Lifting line theory 161
(z

)
(z

+ z

)
(z

) z

Figure 14.3: Relation between the strength of the trailing vortex laments and the distribution
of circulation along the lifting line.
visible very commonly because, being regions of concentrated vorticity and therefore high speed
and, via Bernoullis equation, low pressure, they cause atmospheric moisture to condense into
liquid droplets, as in gure 7.3 of Bertin (2002, pp. 231233).
In spite of this very visible phenomenon, the model of a at wake is still appropriate for
computing the downwash on the wing. This is because the curling occurs while the air is passing
downstream behind the wing, so that immediately behind the wing the wake is atter than
implied by the photographs. From the BiotSavart law ( 13.5.1), the importance of a piece of a
vortex lament decreases like the inverse square of the distance; therefore, it is the nearer part
of the wake that is more important.
14.5 The eect of downwash
We have established that the system of trailing vortex laments in the wake cause a downwash
at the wing. What eect does this have on the aerodynamics?
Basically, instead of experiencing the free-stream velocity (14.2), the section at r = zk
experiences that plus the downwash; i.e.
q(z) = (q

cos )i +{q

sin + v
w
(z)} j . (14.10)
14.5.1 Eect on the angle of incidence: induced incidence
One eect is that instead of experiencing the geometric angle of incidence
arctan
q

sin
q

cos
= , (14.11)
162 AERODYNAMICS I COURSE NOTES, 2006
the section experiences

(z) = arctan
q

sin + v
w
(z)
q

cos
, (14.12)
which is called the eective incidence (Anderson 2001, p. 354). For small angles (tan ) and
small downwash (v
w
q

) this reduces to

(z) +
v
w
(z)
q

. (14.13)
The angle

i
(z)

(z) =
v
w
(z)
q

(14.14)
is called the induced incidence (Anderson 2001, p. 365).
Equation (14.14) may be combined with (14.9) to give

i
(z) =
1
4q

_
b/2
b/2
d
dz

dz

z
; (14.15)
cf. Anderson (2001, p. 365, equation 5.18).
14.5.2 Eect on the aerodynamic force: induced drag
In lifting line theory, we assume that the aerodynamics of each two-dimensional section is basi-
cally the same as in two dimensions, except that the section experiences the free stream modied
by the addition of the downwash.
Since the free stream is rotated by the induced incidence
i
, the lift and drag components of
the aerodynamic force per unit span are altered in accordance with (1.3)(1.4) to
C

= C

cos
i
C
d
sin
i
(14.16a)
C

d
= C

sin
i
+ C
d
cos
i
, (14.16b)
where the unprimed coecients refer to two-dimensional conditions and the primed to three-
dimensional. For perfect uid ow C
d
= 0 , and even when viscous eects are accounted for,
C
d
C
l
for a functioning wing section below stall incidence (Jones 1942, p. 85). With the small
angle approximation for
i
,
C

= C

(14.17a)
C

d
= C

i
. (14.17b)
Essentially, since the eective free stream has been rotated downwards and the aerodynamic
force acts, in accordance with the KuttaJoukowsky theorem, at right-angles to this, some of the
two-dimensional lift force has been rotated backwards and acts as a drag; this drag is called the
induced drag.
14.6 The lifting line equation
In (14.15), we can substitute for the local circulation using the KuttaJoukowsky theorem (3.66):
=
(z)
q

=
1
2
q

c(z)C

(z) (14.18)
Lifting line theory 163
-0.5 -0.4 -0.3 -0.2 -0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5
SPANWISE POSITION, z/b

1/2
Figure 14.4: A construction of the eccentric angle (14.20).
to get Prandtls lifting line equation (Abbott and von Doenho 1959, p. 20, equation 1.10)

i
(z) =
1
8
_
b/2
b/2
d(cC

)
dz

dz

z
. (14.19)
14.7 Glauerts solution of the lifting line equation
The lifting line equation (14.19) is more easily solved by changing the variable integration from
the spanwise coordinate z to the eccentric angle via
arccos
2z
b
(14.20a)
z
b
2
cos (14.20b)
illustrated in gures 14.414.5 The lifting line equation (14.19) in terms of the eccentric angle is

i
=
1

_

0
d
_
cC

4b
_
d

cos cos

. (14.21)
Comparing this with Glauerts integral (5.43)
_

0
cos n

cos cos

=
sin n
sin
, (14.22)
we see that if we can expand the spanwise lift loading as (cf. Abbott and von Doenho 1959,
p. 22)
cC

4b
=

n=1
A
n
sin n (14.23)
164 AERODYNAMICS I COURSE NOTES, 2006
0
1
2
3
-0.5 -0.4 -0.3 -0.2 -0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5
E
C
C
E
N
T
R
I
C

A
N
G
L
E
,

SPANWISE POSITION, z/b

Figure 14.5: The eccentric angle (14.20) used to described spanwise lift loadings.
so that
d
d
cC

4b
=

n=1
nA
n
cos n , (14.24)
then the lifting line equation (14.21) gives the induced incidence as (cf. Abbott and von Doenho
1959, p. 22)

i
=
1

_

0

n=1
nA
n
cos n

cos cos

(14.25a)
=

n=1
nA
n
_
1

_

0
cos n

cos cos

_
(14.25b)
=

n=1
nA
n
sin n
sin
. (14.25c)
Note that the lift loading (14.23) goes to zero at the wing tips z =
b
2
(i.e. = 0 and
) , which makes sense since the pressure dierence has to vanish there. Any function over

b
2
< z < +
b
2
could be represented by a trigonometric series like (14.23) but with cosines as well
as sines, but the cosines wouldnt vanish at the tips and so the coecients of the cosine terms
would have to be zero for a function vanishing at the tips.
Note also that if the lift loading is symmetric, A
n
must be zero for all even n.
Lifting line theory 165
14.7.1 Wing properties in terms of Glauerts expansion
Lift
Assuming we were able to determine Glauerts expansion coecients A
n
in (14.23), we could
compute the wings lift coecient from
C
L

_
b/2
b/2
dz
1
2
q
2

b c
(14.26a)
=
1
b c
_
b/2
b/2
cC

dz (14.26b)
=
4b
2 c
_

0
cC

4b
d (14.26c)
= 2A

n=0
A
n
_

0
sin n sin d . (14.26d)
Using the trigonometric integrals (for integer m and n)
_

0
sin m sin n d =
_

2
, m = n;
0 , m = n,
(14.27)
the lift coecient is simply
C
L
= AA
1
. (14.28)
Rolling moment
Similarly, the lift distribution (14.23) could be used to compute the rolling moment (the com-
ponent of the moment about the x-axis); of course, this vanishes when the lift distribution is
symmetric:
c(z)C

(z) = c(z)C

(z) . (14.29)
166 AERODYNAMICS I COURSE NOTES, 2006
Induced drag coecient
Using (14.17b) for the sectional induced drag coecient, the wings induced drag coecient is
C
D
=
D
1
2
q
2

b c
(14.30a)
=
_
b/2
b/2
d dz
1
2
q
2

b c
(14.30b)
=
_
b/2
b/2
1
2
q
2

cC
d
dz
1
2
q
2

b c
(14.30c)
=
_
b/2
b/2
cC
d
dz
b c
(14.30d)
=
1
b c
_
b/2
b/2
cC
l

i
dz (14.30e)
=
4
c
_
b/2
b/2
cC
l
4b

i
dz (14.30f)
= 2A
_

0
cC
l
4b

i
sin d (14.30g)
= 2A
_

0
_

n
A
n
sin n
__

m
mA
m
sin m
sin
_
sin d (14.30h)
= 2A

n
mA
m
A
n
_

0
sin m sin n d (14.30i)
= 2A

n
nA
2
n

2
(14.30j)
= A

n
nA
2
n
. (14.30k)
Thus only the rst term of Glauerts expansion (14.23) contributes to the lift, but all terms induce
drag; moreover, each term induces a positive amount of drag since squares are nonnegative.
Solving the lifting line equation for the lift distribution is quite dicult, but an easier problem
is the investigation of a given lift distribution. Since only the rst term in Glauerts expan-
sion (14.23) contributes to the lift, lets examine rst the lift distribution just consisting of this
term:
cC

4b
= A
1
sin =
C
L
A
sin =
C
L
A

1
_
2z
b
_
2
, (14.31)
or in dimensional terms
=
4L
b

1
_
2z
b
_
2
, (14.32)
as plotted in gure 14.6. It is called the elliptic lift loading.
Lifting line theory 167
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0
-0.6 -0.5 -0.4 -0.3 -0.2 -0.1 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6
L
I
F
T
,

l

(
z
)
/
l

(
0
)
SPANWISE POSITION, z/b
The corresponding induced incidence is given by the lifting line equation (14.25) as

i
=
C
L
A
, (14.33)
which is uniform across the span (Prandtl 1921, p. 191; Glauert 1926, p. 143; Abbott and von
Doenho 1959, p. 8; Milne-Thomson 1973, p. 202; Kuethe and Chow 1998, p. 179; Anderson
2001, p. 369; Bertin 2002, p. 243). The elliptic lift loading is clearly the only lift loading with
this property.
14.9 Properties of the elliptic lift loading
By (14.30k), an elliptically loaded wings induced drag coecient is
C
D
= AA
2
1
= A
_
C
L
A
_
2
=
C
2
L
A
, (14.34)
(Prandtl 1921, p. 192; Glauert 1926, p. 143; Abbott and von Doenho 1959, p. 8; Milne-Thomson
1973, p. 203; Kuethe and Chow 1998, p. 179; Anderson 2001, p. 369; Bertin 2002, p. 241; Moran
2003, p. 142). Drag polars of relation (14.34) are plotted in gure 14.7.
14.9.1 Same lift coecient, dierent aspect ratio
If we take two elliptically loaded wings with dierent aspect ratios (A
1
and A
2
) and vary their
geometric incidences (
1
and
2
) so that they have the same lift coecients C
L
, the induced
incidences
i,1
and
i,2
must be related by

i,1

i,2
=
C
L

_
1
A
1

1
A
2
_
. (14.35)
168 AERODYNAMICS I COURSE NOTES, 2006
-0.4
-0.2
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0
1.2
1.4
0.0 0.1 0.2
L
I
F
T

C
O
E
F
F
I
C
I
E
N
T
,

C
L
INDUCED DRAG COEFFICIENT, C
D
A=1
A=7
Figure 14.7: Theoretical draglift polars for elliptic lift loading and A = 1, 2, 3, . . . , 7 . N.B.:
drag includes only induced drag, not prole drag (skin friction and form drag); cf. Prandtl (1921,
gure 46, p. 193).
This follows by forming (14.33) for each wing and subtracting the two equations. Similarly, on
forming (14.34) and subtracting, the induced drag coecients must be related by
C
D,1
C
D,2
=
C
2
L

_
1
A
1

1
A
2
_
. (14.36)
These two equations, given by Prandtl (1921, p. 194), Glauert (1926, p. 144), Abbott and von
Doenho (1959, p. 8), Milne-Thomson (1973, p. 204), Kuethe and Chow (1998, pp. 182183),
and Bertin (2002, pp. 244, 242), are extremely useful: they allow the prediction of the properties
of a wing with one aspect ratio from measurements or computations of the properties at another
aspect ratio.
14.9.2 Elliptic lift loading minimizes induced drag
The induced drag coecient for the general lift loading (14.30k) can be expressed as
C
D
= A

n=1
nA
2
n
= AA
2
1

n=1
n
_
A
n
A
1
_
2
= C
D,ell
_
1 +

n=2
n
_
A
n
A
1
_
2
_
, (14.37)
where
C
D,ell
= AA
2
1
(14.38)
is the induced drag coecient of a wing with the same lift coecient but with elliptic lift loading.
Since the sum contains only nonnegative terms and vanishes for elliptic loading (for which A
1
is
the only nonzero sine coecient), a most important result follows:
The induced drag coecient is a minimum for elliptic loading.
Lifting line theory 169
14.10 Liftincidence relation
Say we know the liftincidence relation for innite aspect ratio:
C
L,
= f(

) . (14.39)
Then for a nite aspect ratio, A, with elliptic loading the induced incidence is

i
=
C
L
A
, (14.40)
and at geometric incidence the lift coecient is that for the innite aspect ratio at geometric
incidence

=
i
. (14.41)
Since, for elliptic loading, the downwash and induced incidence are uniform along the span,
if the wing is untwisted, the sectional lift coecient C

will be too and the total lift coecient

C
L
will change proportionately.
14.10.1 Linear liftincidence relation
If the innite aspect ratio (two-dimensional) liftincidence relation is linear,
C
L
= m(
i

0
) , (14.42)
but if the induced incidence is given by (14.33) then
C
L
=
m
1 +
m
A
(
0
) ; (14.43)
thus, if the two-dimensional liftincidence slope is m, the nite aspect ratio slope is
dC
L
d
=
m
1 +
m
A
. (14.44)
For 0 A , this is less than m. Note also in (14.43) that the zero-lift incidence
0
is
independent of aspect ratio. The result (14.43) for a thin aerofoil (m = 2) is illustrated in
gure 14.8.
If the eective wing section lift coecient is the same function of the eective incidence across
the span (i.e. no twist), C

is uniform too:
C

= C
L
. (14.45)
For this to be compatible with the elliptical lift loading, since
c(z)
(z)
1
2
q
2

, (14.46)
the chord c(z) must vary like
(z) =
2

q
2

cC
L

1
_
2z
b
_
2
; (14.47)
170 AERODYNAMICS I COURSE NOTES, 2006
-0.4
-0.2
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1.0
1.2
1.4
-10
o
0
o
10
o
20
o
L
I
F
T

C
O
E
F
F
I
C
I
E
N
T
,

C
L
GEOMETRIC ANGLE OF INCIDENCE,
A=1
A=7
Figure 14.8: Theoretical liftincidence relations for thin wings with zero-lift incidence
0
= 5

and aspect ratio A = 1, 2, 3, . . . , 7 ; cf. Prandtl (1921, gure 47, p. 193).

i.e. elliptically
c(z)
c
=
4

1
_
2z
b
_
2
; (14.48)
cf. Kuethe and Chow (1998, p. 178), Anderson (2001, p. 370), or Moran (2003, p. 143).
14.11.1 Corrections to the elliptic loading approximation
Practical wings are rarely constructed with an elliptic variation of chord length, since this is more
expensive to manufacture than rectangular or trapezoidal planforms (Anderson 2001, p. 374).
Nevertheless, the simple results for elliptic loading are appealing and useful at least as a rst
approximation. They are frequently used in a generalized form, with correction factors. For
example, in place of the elliptic loading induced drag coecient relation (14.34), Abbott and
von Doenho (1959, p. 16) recommend a corrected formula which for untwisted unswept wings
reduces to
C
D
=
C
2
L
Au
(14.49)
where u is an induced-drag factor which depends on the taper ratio and aspect ratio. The
values of u may be read o the charts of Abbott and von Doenho (1959, gure 10, p. 17).
An alternative induced-drag correction factor is given by (Anderson 2001, p. 376).
It should be noted that these correction factors dont change the induced drag coecient by
more than about ten per cent over the practical range of taper ratio and aspect ratio (Anderson
2001, p. 376), so that even the uncorrected formulae are sometimes useful for obtaining rough
initial estimates.