The wake structure and thrust performance of a rigid low-aspect-ratio pitching panel

James H.J. Buchholz, Alexander J. Smits

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

195 Scopus citations


Thrust performance and wake structure were investigated for a rigid rectangular panel pitching about its leading edge in a free stream. For ReC = O(104), thrust coefficient was found to depend primarily on Strouhal number St and the aspect ratio of the panel AR. Propulsive efficiency was sensitive to aspect ratio only for AR less than 0.83; however, the magnitude of the peak efficiency of a given panel with variation in Strouhal number varied inversely with the amplitude to span ratio A/S, while the Strouhal number of optimum efficiency increased with increasing A/S. Peak efficiencies between 9% and 21% were measured. Wake structures corresponding to a subset of the thrust measurements were investigated using dye visualization and digital particle image velocimetry. In general, the wakes divided into two oblique jets; however, when operating at or near peak efficiency, the near wake in many cases represented a Kármán vortex street with the signs of the vortices reversed. The three-dimensional structure of the wakes was investigated in detail for AR = 0.54, A/S = 0.31 and ReC = 640. Three distinct wake structures were observed with variation in Strouhal number. For approximately 0.20 < St < 0.25, the main constituent of the wake was a horseshoe vortex shed by the tips and trailing edge of the panel. Streamwise variation in the circulation of the streamwise horseshoe legs was consistent with a spanwise shear layer bridging them. For St > 0.25, a reorganization of some of the spanwise vorticity yielded a bifurcating wake formed by trains of vortex rings connected to the tips of the horseshoes. For St > 0.5, an additional structure formed from a perturbation of the streamwise leg which caused a spanwise expansion. The wake model paradigm established here is robust with variation in Reynolds number and is consistent with structures observed for a wide variety of unsteady flows. Movies are available with the online version of the paper.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)331-365
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - May 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics


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