Numerical 3D study on the influence of spanwise distribution of tubercles on wings for UAV applications


In this work, a 3D numerical study on the influence of the spanwise distribution of tubercles for UAV applications is presented. The idea of using tubercles in aeronautics comes from the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) which has a characteristic flipper, with a spanwise scalloped leading edge, creating an almost sinusoidal shape, consisting of bumps called tubercles. Early experimental research showed a great potential in enhancing the 3D aerodynamic characteristics of a wing. Most of the existing experimental results concern infinite wings (2D) models and are accompanied with substantial loss in lift and increase in drag in pre–stall region. On the other hand, finite models (3D) have displayed a better overall aerodynamic performance (increased lift and moment, but also decreased drag). At a range of Reynolds number between 500,000 and 1,000,000 (based on the mean chord of the flipper), tubercles act as virtual fences, introducing a pair of counter rotating vortices that delays the stall of the flipper, a phenomenon that the whales use to perform sharp turns and catch their prey. The aforementioned Reynolds number range is the same as the operational Reynolds number for typical Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). To assess the influence of the tubercles installation on UAV wings, a full 3D computational study is carried-out, with the use of CFD tools that at a first phase are validated and calibrated with available in the literature experimental data. Then, computations are performed, for different spanwise tubercles distributions. The results show that there is a noticeable potential on controlling the flow on the wings of a UAV operating in a Reynolds number range between 500,000 and 1,000,000 (based on UAV’s wing mean chord), which can lead to an aerodynamic performance and efficiency increase

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