Experimental Determination of Lift and Lift Distributions for Wings In Formation Flight

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Virginia Tech


Experimental methods for the investigation of trailing vortex strengths, total lift, and lift distributions for three-dimensional wings in close proximity flight were developed. With these experiments we model compound aircraft flight either docked tip-to-tip, or flying in formation. There is a distinct lack of experimental formation flight data using three-dimensional wing models for tests. The absence of fixed walls on either end of the wing permits the development of the asymmetric shedding of vortices, and the determination of the asymmetric circulation distribution induced by the proximity of the leading wing. The pair consisted of a swept NACA-0012 non-cambered wing simulating one half of a leading aircraft and a rectangular cambered NACA 63-420 wing simulating the trailing aircraft. Important aspects of the work included theoretical development, experimental setup, data acquisition and processing, and results validation. Experimentally determining the lift for formation flight, in addition to the local flow behavior for a pair of wings, can provide valuable insight for the proposition of flying actual aircraft in formation to increase mission efficiency. To eliminate the need for bulky mounting stings and direct load measurement devices that can potentially interfere with the local flowfield, a minimally invasive velocity probe method is developed. A series of experiments were performed to assist with the development of the method. Velocity and vorticity distributions obtained along a near-field plane were processed to calculate wingtip vortex strengths. Additionally, vortex position instabilities and the shedding of vorticity inboard of the wingtips were observed. To determine the circulation distributions for the trailing wing, the initial method is modified. By processing velocity information acquired in a near-field plane, both the lift and induced drag were calculated for the trailing airfoil. Comparisons are made to directly measured loads and to results reported earlier. Directly measured lift and drag coefficients were found to agree with existing literature.



wake vorticity, wings, lift, circulation distribution, experimental wind tunnel tests, formation flight, multi-wing formation, Trefftz plane