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The results of the study of the flow separation over a NACA0015 airfoil section and the use
of an oscillating plate vortex generator to re-attach the separated flow shows some novel
use of smart materials for open loop control of separated boundary layer and the methods
can be used to improve the aerodynamic characteristics of an aircraft at off design
operating conditions."

Boundary Layer Control Using smart Materials


By A. Kushari

Introduction
Let us imagine an aircraft with no large moving
parts or control surfaces; or a conical diffuser
0
whose divergence angle exceeds 45 , or a
VTOL aircraft without jet vectoring nozzles or
a fighter aircraft that can go into a steep climb
without stalling. All of these, although seem to
be quite useful thinking, are possible by
controlling the flow of air over a body by
imparting controlled periodic motion to the
flow. The performance and maneuverability of
an aircraft/ helicopter are restricted by the
separation of the boundary layer at the top
surface of the wings. This flow separation
causes enormous decrease in aircraft lift
leading to the stalling of the aircraft. The flow
separation drastically increases the drag forces
also. Therefore, it is quite apparent, and has
been proved over the years, that the
performance of an aircraft can be significantly
enhanced by preventing this flow separation .
Many methods , e.g., blowing, suction, vortex
generators etc., have been tried over the years
to prevent the flow separation. This paper
discusses the effort initiated at the Department
of Aerospace Engineering at IIT Kanpur to
achieve controlled re-attachment of separated
boundary layers using smart materials.

Smart Vortex Generators


When an aircraft flies at high angle of attack,
the air flow over the wing can become
detached, or it stops following the shape of the
wing. When this happens, the lift produced by
the wing will suddenly and rapidly decrease,
and the wing is said to have stalled. When the
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flow separates from the wing, it usually


means the air moving too slowly, or there isn't
enough energy in the flow to keep it moving.
Since vortices are energetic, they can be used
to put energy back into the flow to keep it
moving in the desired direction. In simple
terms a vortex generator is a device that
creates a swirl or vortex of fluid due to its
shape. A great deal of research has been done
to develop guidelines to determine the size
and shape of a proper vortex generator .
Vortex generators work by mixing highenergy air from the free stream with the lower
energy air found in the boundary layer. The
vortices created by these generators cascades
energy and momentum from the free stream
to the boundary layer due to their recirculatory motion. In other words, the
vortex generator increases the mean streamwise momentum of the boundary layer by
drawing in high momentum fluid from the
free stream. This process is called reenergizing the boundary layer. The higher
energy fluid is more resistant to separation
and allows higher performance of the
aircraft. Vortex generators are simply small
plates that jut above the wing surface. They
look like tiny little wings jutting up
perpendicular to the wing itself. As air moves
past them, vortices are created off the tips of
the generators just like trailing vortices
created by the wings. These vortices interact
with the rest of the air moving over the wing
to speed it up and help reduce the possibility
of separation. It has been shown that by
using miniature vortex generator arrays,
installed on the upper surface of an aircraft
wing, the lift can be increased by about 10%,
drag reduced by 50% and the lift to drag ratio

can be increased by as much as 100%.

to improve the maneuverability and


aerodynamic characteristics of an aircraft.
Furthermore, these vortex generators can find
applications on rotor blades of helicopters to
prevent flow separation over the rotor blades
and, thus, reducing the pitching moments,
which will reduce the load on the helicopter
shaft at off design operating conditions.

The periodic addition of momentum can attain


the same degree of control that is obtained
from traditional boundary layer control
methods , but the cost of achieving this effect
can be orders of magnitude less than the
traditional methods.
Furthermore, the periodic perturbations may
trigger a premature transition to turbulence
and as the turbulent flow is less susceptible to
separation, flow separation can be delayed by
initiating transition. The research into the
mixing layer dynamics has demonstrated that
large coherent structures are primarily
responsible for the transport of momentum
across the flow field. The periodic excitation
accelerates and regulates the generation of
large coherent structures, particularly when the
mean flow is unstable, thereby transferring
high momentum fluid from the free stream
across the mixing layer into the retarded flow in
the boundary layer. Thus, an inherent
instability in the flow is exploited to achieve the
desired results.

This paper describes a visual study of the flow


separation over a NACA0015 airfoil section
and the use of an oscillating plate vortex
generator to re-attach the separated flow. A
schematic of the method is shown in Fig. 1.

Figure 1: Schematic of the actuation scheme.

It has been shown in the literature that if the


vortex generators are operated periodically at
moderate frequencies, the process of flow reattachment is more efficient and has a wider
range of application. The periodic motion of
the vortex generator provides additional axial
momentum to the shaded vortices during its
downward motion. At the same time, it creates
partial suction over the wing surface during the
downward motion. The pressure difference
thus created between the freestream and the
surface of the vortex generator induces a flow
towards the wing surface, thus, preventing flow
separation and re-attaching separated flow.

The vortex generator used in this study is a rigid


flat plate hinged at one end. The inner side of

the plate is connected to a CEDRAT APA


100S piezo actuator. The piezo actuator can
provide up to 100 m displacement and it has a
block force of 19 N. The maximum
aerodynamic force on the plate was estimated
considering the maximum possible pressure
over the plate and it was found to be an order
of magnitude less than 19 N. However, the
maximum displacement provided by the
actuator was needed to be amplified in order to
study the effect of the amplitude of the plate
oscillation on the flow. Therefore, a liver arm
based amplification mechanism was used
between the plate and the actuator. This
mechanism was able to provide a tip
displacement of up to 1 mm for the plate under
no load condition. The entire vortex generator
system (including the frame, hinged plate,
amplification mechanism and the piezo
actuator) was placed in a 20 mm X 40 mm X 25
mm box and the piezo actuator was screwed to
the wall of this box. Then the box was

Based on the above discussion, it is apparent


that by using a mechanism to provide
oscillatory momentum addition to the retarded
flow in the boundary layer, the separation of
the flow from the top surface of the airfoil can
be delayed. This will lead to an increase in the
stall margin, a reduction in drag, an increase in
the lift and a possible decrease in the pitching
moment. Thus, an actuation scheme, based on
the use of smart structures can be developed

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embedded on the airfoil. Care was taken to


prevent any portion of the box to protrude
over the airfoil surface because that can lead to
flow transition into turbulent flow by tripping
it. A photograph to the actuator embedded on
an airfoil is shown in Fig. 2.

Figure 3 (b): Flow re-attachment by 20 Hz actuation

Figure 2: A smart vortex generator


fitted on a NACA0015 airfoil.

The effect of periodic oscillation of the plate


on a separated flow was studied visually in a low
speed smoke tunnel having an air speed of 6
m/s. The airfoil was mounted in the wind
tunnel and the angle of attack of the airfoil was
changed over a range. It was observed that the
flow over the airfoil is completely separated at
0
an angle of attack of 21 , as seen in Fig. 3 (a),
when the actuator was off. However, with the
actuator on and plate oscillating at a frequency
of 20 Hz, with a maximum displacement of 0.5
mm, the flow reattaches itself to the airfoil
0
surface at 21 , as shown in Fig. 3 (b).

Figure 3 (a): Separated flow at 210.

Furthermore, the picture in Fig. 3 (b) shows


that the streamlines are bending towards the
airfoil and the wake of the airfoil is also
reduced when the actuation is on. It should be
pointed out that the angle of attack
corresponding to flow separation was pushed
to 270 by actuating at 20 Hz frequency. The
bending of the streamlines towards the body is
expected to lead to a favorable pressure
distribution over the body, causing an increase
in the lift. At the same time, the reduction in the
wake is expected to reduce the overall drag on
the airfoil.
Local Surface Modulation
It has been shown in the literature that blowing
or suction over the airfoil surface is an
economical process to prevent flow separation
by energizing the boundary layer (in the case of
blowing) or pulling the separated flow towards
the airfoil due to pressure differential (in the
case of suction). Furthermore, it has been
shown that a process of periodic blowing is
even more efficient than steady blowing.
Therefore, if both the blowing and
suctionprocess are repeated alternatively and
periodically, the process is expected to be even
more efficient. This can be achieved by a
periodic modulation of the local airfoil surface,
which helps in re-attaching the flow. A
schematic of the actuation scheme is shown in
Fig. 4. on page 32.
In the presented method, a CEDRAT piezo
actuator was glued to the center of a thin plastic

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Figure 4: Schematic for local surface modulation

sheet. At the activation of the actuation, the


actuator surface moves downward and pulls
the center of the sheet downward with it.

section. The airfoil was mounted in the wind


tunnel and the angle of attack of the airfoil was
changed over a range. It was observed that the
flow over the airfoil is completely separated at
an angle of 210, as seen in Fig. 3 (a), when the
actuator was off. However, with the actuator on
and the surface being modulated at 20 Hz, the
flow reattaches itself to the airfoil surface at
0
21 , as shown in Fig. 6 (a). The re-attachment
of the flow is caused by the movement of the
streamlines towards the airfoil surface, as is
seen in Fig. 6 (a). The effect becomes more
dominant at a higher frequency of 50 Hz and

Figure 5: Speculated flow field due to surface modulation.

This leads to the formation of a small suction


cavity on the surface of the airfoil as shown in
figure 5. The air at the vicinity of the deflected
sheet starts to move towards the cavity in order
to maintain no-slip condition at the airfoil
surface. In doing so, it pulls the separated flow
towards the airfoil surface. At the completion
of the actuation cycle the actuator sheet comes
back to its original equilibrium position at the
surface of the airfoil. During this process it
blows the air that has entered the cavity back to
the free stream flow over the airfoil. If the
magnitude of defection at the center of the
plate is small, the air will not have
enoughvertical velocity to disrupt the free
stream flow and it will be entrained by the free
stream flow. However, a fraction of the energy
of actuation will be transferred to the air flow
in this process. This increases the available
energy in the incoming air to surmount the
adverse pressure gradient, and, thus, prevents
the separation and re-attach an already
separated flow.
The effect of periodic local surface modulation
on a separated flow was studied visually in the
same smoke tunnel as discussed in the previous
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the streamlines are visibly affected by the


periodic actuation as seen in Fig. 6 (b). on page
32.

Figure 6 (a): Re-attachment of separated flow


at 210 by 20 Hz modulation of the surface.

The flow seems to be responding very well to


this moderate frequency and low magnitude
(the maximum surface modulation was 90m)
actuation of the airfoil surface. Furthermore,
the diffusion of the smoke close to the airfoil
surface suggests a transition to turbulent
boundary layer, which helps in re-attaching the

control of separated boundary layer and the


methods can be used to improve the
aerodynamic characteristics of an aircraft at
off design operating conditions. The same
actuation schemes can also be used for closed
loop control of aircraft stall in a feedback loop.
Currently, two wing sections are being
fabricated, with embedded smart actuators, for
wind tunnel testing of these schemes.
Figure 6 (a): Re attachment
of separated flow at 210
by 50 Hz modulation of the surface.

Acknowledgement

This project is funded by ADA under DISMAS


flow. The results of the study shows some scheme. Dr. K. Vijayaraju is the project
novel use of smart materials for open loop monitor.

References

Control of Flow Separation, P. K. Chang, Hemisphere Publishing Corporation, London, 1976.


The Control of Flow Separation by Periodic Excitation, D. Greenblatt and I. J. Wygnanski,
Progress in Aerospace Sciences, 36 (2000), 487-545.
Separation Control Review, M. Gad-el-Hak, D. M. Bushnell, J of Fluid Engineering, Vo. 113/5,
March 1991.
Oscillatory Blowing: A Tool to Delay Boundary Layer Separation, A. Seifert, T. Bachar, D.
Koss, M. Shepshelovich and I. Wygnanski, AIAA Journal, Vol. 31, No . 11, November 1993.
Vortex Generator Jets Means for Flow Separation Control, J. P. Johnston, M. Nishi, AIAA
Journal, Vol. 28, No. 6, June 1990.
Subsonic Aerodynamics and Performance of a Smart Vortex Generator System, R. Barrett, S.
Farokhi, J of Aircraft, Vol. 33, No. 2, March April 1996.

About the author: Dr. Abhijit Kushari had joined IIT Kanpur as an Assistant Professor in the Department
of Aerospace Engineering in July 2001. He had received his doctoral degree in Mechanical
Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA. Subsequently, I got his postdoctoral
training in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. His
research interests include Aerospace Propulsion, Combustion, Liquid Atomization, Combustion and
Flow diagnostics and Flow Control.

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