Visualization of vortical flows around a rapidly pitching wing and propeller

Erlong Su, Ryan Randall, Lee Wilson, Sergey Shkarayev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study was conducted to visually investigate flows related to fixed-wing vertical-takeoff-and-landing micro air vehicles, using the smoke-wire technique. In particular, the study examines transition between forward flight and near-hover. The experimental model consists of a rigid Zimmerman wing and a propulsion system with contra-rotating propellers arranged in a tractor configuration. The model was pitched about the wing’s aerodynamic center at approximately constant rates using a five-axis robotic arm. Constant-rate pitching angles spanned 20° to 70°. No-pitching and four pitching-rates were used, along with three propulsive settings. Several observations were made during no-pitching tests. Turbulent wakes behind blades and laminar flow between them produces pulsations in the boundary layer. These pulsations alter the boundary layer from a laminar to turbulent state and back. An increase in lift and drag in the presence of a slipstream is a result of competing effects of the propulsive slipstream: (a) suppression of flow separation and increased velocity over the wing and (b) decrease of the effective angle of attack. Higher nose-up pitching-rates generally lead to greater trailing-edge vortex-shedding frequency. Nose-up pitching without a slipstream can lead to the development of a traditional dynamic-stall leading-edge vortex, delaying stall and increasing wing lift. During nose-up pitching, a slipstream can drive periodically shed leading-edge vortices into a larger vortical-structure that circulates over the upper-surface of a wing in a fashion similar to that of a traditional dynamic-stall leading-edge vortex. At lower nose-up pitching-rates, leading-edge vortices form at lower angles of attacks. As a slipstream strengthens, a few things occur: separation wakes diminish, separation occurs at a higher angle of attacks, and downward flow-deflection increases. Similar effects are observed for nose-up pitching, while nose-down pitching produces the opposite effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-43
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Micro Air Vehicles
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Flow
  • Propeller
  • Visualizations
  • Wing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering


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