Aerodynamic and Aeroacoustic Analysis of Low Reynolds Number Propellers Using Higher-Order RANS Transition Turbulence Modeling

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Virginia Tech


The advent of advanced vehicle concepts involving Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) has brought about a new class of rotorcraft technology which operate predominantly in low-Reynolds (Re) number regimes. In such regimes, the flow experiences complex boundary layer phenomena like laminar separation, flow transition and reattachment. These effects are known to greatly alter the flow at and near the rotor wall, influencing its aerodynamic performance as well as the noise generated. Capturing these effects in our computational models is necessary to further our understanding of rotor aerodynamics and acoustics. The current study has introduced a novel RANS transition turbulence model, SSG/LRR-ω-γ, that is capable of modeling different modes of transition involving natural, bypass, separation-induced and crossflow transition. The model framework uses a Reynolds stress transport model, SSG/LRR-ω, as the base turbulence formulation and is coupled with Menter's γ transition model. It was validated using a number of canonical cases that exhibited different transition mechanisms and the model performed equivalently or better than existing state-of-the-art transition models. It is worthy to note that the proposed model was able to perform well in three-dimensional flows, demonstrated using the case of a prolate spheroid. This underscores the capability of Reynolds stress models to accurately capture complex flow curvatures, improving upon the capabilities of linear eddy viscosity models. The transition model, integrated into OpenFOAM, was then employed to analyze two different UAV propellers. The rotor flow was examined using a URANS simulation with an overset grid. The objective was twofold: firstly, to validate the predictions generated by the proposed model for low-Reynolds number (low-Re) rotors, and secondly, to evaluate its effectiveness across a range of operating conditions. Comparisons were drawn against established fully turbulent and transition models. The analysis showed that transition models in general tended to be consistent in their predictions and less sensitive to changing operating conditions when compared to fully turbulent models. They also demonstrated the ability to accurately predict the mechanisms leading to separation and transition. Further, the proposed transition model demonstrated superior capability in capturing detailed flow features, particularly in the wake, compared to other fully turbulent and transition models, which is attributed to its Galilean invariant framework. To leverage the boundary layer information obtained from the proposed model, a semi-empirical broadband noise prediction method was implemented. This method utilized boundary layer data predicted by URANS simulations to estimate blade self-noise. An evaluation of the fully turbulent k-ω SST model and the proposed transition model revealed that both exhibited reasonable accuracy at lower rotor advance ratios. However, the transition model performed better at higher advance ratios. It was also observed that CFD-based approaches provided superior prediction accuracy compared to lower-fidelity aerodynamic models in the context of blade self-noise prediction Finally, the proposed aerodynamic and acoustic computational framework was applied to a design case study of swept propellers to understand the advantages of blade sweep on rotor aerodynamics and noise. A qualitative analysis of the flow suggested that the swept rotor exhibited lower levels of blade wake interaction compared to the unswept geometry, in line with the experimental observations.



Flow Transition, Turbulence modeling, Reynolds Stress, Blade Self-noise