Aerodynamic drag

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In aerodynamics, aerodynamic drag is the fluid drag force that acts on any moving solid body in the direction of the fluid freestream flow.[1] From the body's perspective (near-field approach), the drag comes from forces due to pressure distributions over the body surface, symbolized D_{pr}, and forces due to skin friction, which is a result of viscosity, denoted D_{f}. Alternatively, calculated from the flowfield perspective (far-field approach), the drag force comes from three natural phenomena: shock waves, vortex sheet, and viscosity.


The pressure distribution over the body surface exerts normal forces which, summed and projected into the freestream direction, represent the drag force due to pressure D_{pr}. The nature of these normal forces combines shock wave effects, vortex system generation effects and wake viscous mechanisms all together.

When the viscosity effect over the pressure distribution is considered separately, the remaining drag force is called pressure (or form) drag. In the absence of viscosity, the pressure forces on the vehicle cancel each other and, hence, the drag is zero. Pressure drag is the dominant component in the case of vehicles with regions of separated flow, in which the pressure recovery is fairly ineffective.

The friction drag force, which is a tangential force on the aircraft surface, depends substantially on boundary layer configuration and viscosity. The calculated friction drag D_f utilizes the x-projection of the viscous stress tensor evaluated on each discretized body surface.

The sum of friction drag and pressure (form) drag is called viscous drag. This drag component takes into account the influence of viscosity. In a thermodynamic perspective, viscous effects represent irreversible phenomena and, therefore, they create entropy. The calculated viscous drag D_v use entropy changes to accurately predict the drag force.

When the airplane produces lift, another drag component comes in. Induced drag, symbolized D_i, comes about due to a modification on the pressure distribution due to the trailing vortex system that accompanies the lift production. Induced drag tends to be the most important component for airplanes during take-off or landing flight. Other drag component, namely wave drag, D_w, comes about from shock waves in transonic and supersonic flight speeds. The shock waves induce changes in the boundary layer and pressure distribution over the body surface.


The idea that a moving body passing through air or another fluid encounters resistance had been known since the time of Aristotle. Louis Charles Breguet's paper of 1922 began efforts to reduce drag by streamlining.[2] Breguet went on to put his ideas into practice by designing several record-breaking aircraft in 1920s and 1930s. Ludwig Prandtl's boundary layer theory in the 1920s provided the impetus to minimise skin friction. A further major call for streamlining was made by Sir Melvill Jones who provided the theoretical concepts to demonstrate emphatically the importance of streamlining in aircraft design.[3] [4][5] In 1929 his paper ‘The Streamline Airplane’ presented to the Royal Aeronautical Society was seminal. He proposed an ideal aircraft that would have minimal drag which led to the concepts of a 'clean' monoplane and retractable undercarriage. The aspect of Jones’s paper that most shocked the designers of the time was his plot of the horse power required versus velocity, for an actual and an ideal plane. By looking at a data point for a given aircraft and extrapolating it horizontally to the ideal curve, the velocity gain for the same power can be seen. When Jones finished his presentation, a member of the audience described the results as being of the same level of importance as the Carnot cycle in thermodynamics.[2][3]

See also


  1. Anderson, John D. Jr., Introduction to Flight
  2. 2.0 2.1 Anderson, John David (1929). A History of Aerodynamics: And Its Impact On Flying Machines. University of Cambridge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 "University of Cambridge Engineering Department". Retrieved 28 Jan 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Sir Morien Morgan, Sir Arnold Hall (November 1977). Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society Bennett Melvill Jones. 28 January 1887 -- 31 October 1975. Vol. 23. The Royal Society. pp. 252–282.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Mair, W.A. (1976). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Anderson, John D. Jr. (2000); Introduction to Flight, Fourth Edition, McGraw Hill Higher Education, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. 8th ed. 2015, ISBN 978-0078027673.