A model of an inflatable elastic aerofoil

Adam Yorkston, Mark Blyth, Emilian Parau

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A novel method is presented to calculate the deformation of a simple elastic aerofoil with a view to determining its aerodynamic viability. The aerofoil is modelled as a thin two-dimensional elastic sheet whose ends are joined together to form a corner of prescribed angle, with a simple support included to constrain the shape to resemble that of a classical aerofoil. The weight of the aerofoil is counterbalanced exactly by the lift force due to a circulation set according to the Kutta condition.
An iterative process based on a boundary integral method is used to compute the deformation of the aerofoil in response to an inviscid fluid flow, and a range of flow speeds is determined for which the aerofoil maintains an aerodynamic shape.
As the flow speed is increased the aerofoil deforms significantly around its trailing edge, resulting in a negative camber and a loss of lift. The loss of lift is ameliorated by increasing the inflation pressure but at the expense of an increase in drag as the aerofoil bulges into a less aerodynamic shape.
Boundary layer calculations and nonlinear unsteady viscous simulations are used to analyse the aerodynamic characteristics of the deformed aerofoil in a viscous flow. By tailoring the internal support the viscous boundary layer separation can be delayed and the lift-to-drag ratio of the aerofoil can be substantially increased.
Original languageEnglish
Article number11
JournalJournal of Engineering Mathematics
Early online date1 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Aerodynamics
  • Boundary-integral method
  • Fluid–structure interaction

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