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MAE 3050 - Fall 2016 1 I - Fundamental quantities

M&AE 3050 Introduction to Aeronautics

Fundamental quantities, units, and
dimensional analysis in aeronautics
Fall 2016

What you should be able to do at the end of this chapter:

Comfortably switch between the two consistent sets of units commonly used in aeronau-
tics: English units and SI units.

List the main non-dimensional numbers relevant to aeronautics.

Use appropriate non-dimensional groups to design small-scale model experiments to eval-

uate forces acting on aircrafts.

Textbook resources (Anderson, 8th edition)

Chapter 2 - Fundamental thoughts

Section 5.3 - Lift, drag, and moment coefficients

1 Flowing gas properties

1.1 Fundamental dimensions and units

We will regularly use 2 dierent sets of units:

SI units: (Systeme International)

English units:

Those sets of units are consistent, meaning that conversion factors are not needed in physical
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1.2 Fundamental quantities

Flow variables, defined at any point in the fluid (gas):
Pressure: Normal force per unit area exerted on a surface due to collision between the gas
molecules and that surface.

Dimension: SI units: English units:

Density: Amount of mass in unit volume

Dimension: SI units: English units:

Temperature: Measure of the average kinetic energy of the gas molecules as they move and
collide with each other.

Dimension: SI units: English units:

It is sometime more convenient to use enthalpy instead of temperature, which measures the
total energy of a system.

Dimension: SI units: English units:

Velocity: Net motion of the gas, relative to some frame of reference.

Dimension: SI units: English units:

In this class, we will always consider steady flows (no changes in time). For steady flows,
the path followed by small fluid elements are called streamlines.
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Fluid properties: We will assume in this class that they are constant (no dependency on tem-
perature, for example).

Viscosity Measure of the resistance of a gas to gradual deformation by shear stress.

Dimension: SI units: English units:

Specific heat capacity: Amount of heat required to raise the temperature of a unit mass of
fluid by one degree.

Dimension: SI units: English units:

Ideal gas law: The knowledge of pressure, density, temperature and velocity fully determines the
state of a (non-reacting) flow. Their evolution/values are govern by conservation equations (mass,
momentum, energy) and an equation of state. In this class, we will always assume that air behaves
as a perfect gas. In this case, the relationship between density, temperature and pressure is given
by the ideal gas law:
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Example The air above the wing of a Boeing 747 is 10 degrees below freezing. Pressure is one
atmosphere. What is the air density at that point?

1.3 Aerodynamic forces and moments

The flow of air around an aircraft will exert forces on this aircraft, called aerodynamic forces,
through two mechanisms:

Pressure distribution on the surface, always acting normal to the surface.

Shear stress (friction) on the surface, acting tangentially to the surface.

The overall force is obtained by integrating pressure forces and shear stresses over the entire aircraft
surface. Note that both mechanisms will contribute to both lift and drag. A large part of the class
will be devoted to evaluating those aerodynamic forces.
MAE 3050 - Fall 2016 5 I - Fundamental quantities

2 Dimensional Homogeneity

Each term of an algebraic equation of physical significance must have the same dimension:

If a = b, then a [=] b

Example The pressure in the atmosphere depends on altitude h, the acceleration of the gravity at
sea level g0 , the temperature at sea level T0 , and the temperature gradient a, which indicates how
fast the temperature decreases as altitude increases.

3 The Buckingham- Theorem, or how dimensional analysis can

give us insights on a problem
Any problem involves a number of physical parameters (such as those mentioned above), which
are related to each other through governing equations or state relations (e.g. ideal gas law). These
relations have to be dimensionally homogeneous, which :

imposes some additional constraints on the way the dierent physical parameters can be

regardless of the exact details of the governing equations.

This leads to the existence of non-dimensional groups, i.e. groups of physical variables combined
in such a way that units cancel each other out. These groups are very important, since it is the
value of those non-dimensional groups, rather than those of the individual physical pa-
rameters, that will truly control the behavior of the problem. (Note: they are not unique!)

Here, we will learn how to construct non-dimensional groups for a given physical problem. The main
objective is to identify some of the non-dimensional groups relevant in aeronautics, by considering
which physical parameters are involved in determining aerodynamic forces.
MAE 3050 - Fall 2016 6 I - Fundamental quantities

3.1 Simple example: Pendulum

Problem: What can we know about the period of oscillation of a pendulum without using force

1. Identify dimensional variables involved in the motion of the pendulum. Use physical intuition:
there are no right or wrong answers, but some choices may turn out more judicious than others.

Those variables are related to each other through the equations of motion, whose most general
form is:

2. Look for non-dimensional groups, i.e. combinations of variables for which dimensions cancel
out: these groups therefore are constants. This can be done by inspection (here) or in a
systematic fashion (next session).

3.2 Buckingham- theorem

Buckingham- theorem: gives us the number of independent non-dimensional groups

applicable to the problem of interest. This theorem states that:

The relation f (d1 , d2 , ..., dm ) = 0 between m dimensional variables is equivalent to

the relation
g (1 , 2 , ..., n ) = 0 ,

or, if one of the variables has more importance than others: 1 = g (2 , ..., n ), where

n=m k,

k is the number of independent dimensions

i,i=1..n are dimensionless combinations of the m dimensional variables di .

MAE 3050 - Fall 2016 7 I - Fundamental quantities

3.3 Why do we care? Application to Aerodynamic Forces

Problem: We want to obtain a preliminary design of the wings of a new long-range plane. The
experimental facility we have access to is a small wind tunnel, in which we can put scaled models
of the aircraft. How do we choose flow conditions in the tunnel (pressure, airspeed, temperature...)
and how can we relate the measurements (such as lift and drag forces) we make on our small model
aircraft to those that will be experienced by the actual plane?
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MAE 3050 - Fall 2016 9 I - Fundamental quantities

Coming back to our initial problem: our model airplane is a 1/50 scale model of a jet airliner.
The airliner is designed to fly at V = 250 m/s at an altitude where the air temperature and density
are T = 216.7 K and = 0.36 kg/m3 , respectively. The temperature of the air in the wind tunnel
test section is fixed at T = 288.2 K, the tunnel is pressurized to 13 bars. Assume that the viscosity
is constant: = 1.789 10 5 kg/m.s.

1. What should the airspeed in the tunnel be for the wind tunnel measurements to be useful for
our design project?

2. If the airliner, in a steady, level flight, needs to create a lift of L = 1.6 106 N, what lift force
should we expect to measure on our model?
MAE 3050 - Fall 2016 10 I - Fundamental quantities

3.4 Force coefficients

In aeronautics, the forces of interest are the lift L, drag D and moments M . In practice, we usually

Lift coefficient

Drag coefficient

where S is usually the planform area of the object (wing, plane etc.)

Moment coefficient:

where c is usually the mean aerodynamic chord.

Can it really be so simple?

Figure 1: Experimental measurements of the drag on a cylinder Taken from Cantwell et al., JFM 1983.
MAE 3050 - Fall 2016 11 I - Fundamental quantities

3.5 What if we consider more physics?

Again, coming back to wind tunnel experiment problem: Is our experimental set up going to cap-
ture appropriately the eect of compressibility on the plane aerodynamics?
MAE 3050 - Fall 2016 12 I - Fundamental quantities

3.6 Note on non-uniqueness of non-dimensional group

In our aeronautic example, we chose to solve our under-constrained system of equations in terms
of the viscosity exponent. As a result, the density appeared in the force coefficient, but not the
viscosity: this can be referred to as the inertial scaling.
What if we do it in terms of the density exponent? After re-arranging, we find that the viscosity
now appears in the non-dimensional force, but not the density. The resulting viscous scaling is
= f (Re) (1)
V l

The drag coefficient obtained from both scalings is shown in Fig. 2. Both of these are perfectly
valid non-dimensionalization of the drag force. In aeronautics, we use the inertial scaling because...

Figure 2: Drag coefficient as a function of Reynolds number for inertial and viscous scaling. Based on
experimental data (from Schlichting) for Red > 0.10; extrapolated to lower Reynolds numbers using Stokes
solution (from D.A. Caughey).