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MAE 450L Thermal Fluids Laboratory

Pre-Lab for Introduction to Wind Tunnel

This pre-lab provides an overview of external flow and wind tunnels. The information and
equations will be important to know in order to complete the lab.
I. Governing Equations
1. Ideal Gas Law
Air at standard temperature and pressure (STP) conditions, such as those encountered in subsonic flows,
behaves very much like an ideal (or perfect) gas. An ideal gas is one in which the intermolecular forces
are negligible. The ideal gas law is given by

where p is pressure, is density, T is temperature and R is the specific gas constant, for air: R = 1716
ft2/(sec2 oR) = 287 J/(kg K). The equation is valid when the gas is static (not flowing). If the equation
is applied to a moving gas, the static pressure and static temperature must be used.
2. Sutherland's Viscosity Correlation
At standard conditions, air viscosity is essentially a function of temperature and not pressure. The
Sutherland correlation is an empirical relationship between temperature, T, and viscosity, , given by


b = 1.458 x 10-6 kg/(m sec K1/2)

S = 110.4 K
3. Continuity Equation
The continuity equation is simply a statement of conservation of mass applied to a moving fluid. If we
have a channel with nonporous walls, a single inlet, and a single outlet, then continuity tells us the mass
flow rate into the channel will equal that exiting the channel. In one-dimensional equation format,
continuity may be written as

MAE 450L Thermal Fluids Laboratory

where is the fluid density, V is the fluid velocity, A is the cross-sectional area, and the subscripts 1 and
2 designate inflow and outflow, respectively.
For an incompressible flow ( = constant) we can use continuity to relate a change in channel area to a
corresponding change in velocity

Note that Eq. (4) indicates that when the channel area decreases, the velocity increases.
4. Bernoulli's Equation
For a steady, incompressible, inviscid, irrotational fluid flow we can derive a relation between the
total or stagnation pressure, the static pressure, and velocity. This relation is called Bernoulli's equation,
and is given by

This form of the equation assumes that the flow is perpendicular to the local gravitational field. It is also
a suitable approximation when the changes in elevation in the fluid flow are small. The static pressure

(p) is due to random molecular motion of the fluid molecules. The dynamic pressure ( V 2 ) is due to
the directed motion of the fluid. Total, or stagnation pressure (po) is the sum of the static and dynamic
pressure and is the pressure you would sense if the fluid flow was isentropically brought to rest.
Bernoulli's equation can be used to determine the velocity of an incompressible fluid flow. This will be
discussed in the section on pressure probes.
6. Similarity Parameters
The bodies tested in the wind tunnel are generally scale models of a full size prototype. There are
several similarity parameters we will encounter in the following wind tunnel laboratory investigations:
a.) Mach Number: The Mach number represents the ratio of inertia forces to compressibility
forces. It is a measure of the compressibility of the fluid flow. The Mach number is defined as

where V is flow velocity, c is the speed of sound


Here, is the fluid's ratio of specific heats (1.4 for air). A general rule of thumb is that the flow
will be incompressible if M 0.3.

MAE 450L Thermal Fluids Laboratory

b.) Reynolds Number: The Reynolds number is the ratio of inertia forces to viscous forces, and is
defined in Eq. 8. 'Low' Reynolds number flows tend to be dominated by viscosity and thus
exhibit laminar boundary layers, while 'high' Reynolds number flows tend to exhibit turbulent
boundary layers.

where is density, l is distance, V is velocity and is viscosity.

c.) Coefficients: Dimensional analysis (such as Buckingham Pi Theory), stipulates that the flow
fields about two geometrically similar immersed bodies will be similar if they have equivalent
Reynolds numbers and Mach numbers. If similarity holds then the pressures, forces, and
moments about these bodies will be equivalent when expressed in non-dimensional form. These
normalized parameters are called coefficients.
The pressure coefficient is defined as


The pressure coefficient is thus the difference in the local pressure and a reference pressure
divided by the reference dynamic pressure.
A force coefficient is defined as


where Aref is a specified reference area.

II. The Wind Tunnel
A wind tunnel is a ground-based experimental facility which produces a gas flow to simulate natural
flows occurring outside the laboratory. A simple schematic of a typical subsonic (M < 1) wind tunnel is
shown in Figure 1.
In general, the typical subsonic wind tunnel consists of the following components:
A contoured, bell mouth inlet through which air is drawn.
Turbulence screens which reduce the turbulence of the inflow air.
A contoured contraction section.
A constant cross-sectional area test section in which the model is mounted.

MAE 450L Thermal Fluids Laboratory

A diverging area diffuser.

A drive section in which the mechanism for moving the air is mounted.





Figure 1. Wind tunnel schematic.

The UAH wind tunnel is driven by a variable speed axial fan. The air is drawn in at relatively low
velocities through the inlet and turbulence screens. Primary flow acceleration occurs in the contraction
section where the decreasing area causes an increase in velocity of the incompressible flow (see Eq. 4).
The air then passes through the test section and over the model. The UAH tunnel test section is 1 ft x 1 ft
in cross-section and is 2 feet long. At the highest fan speed the tunnel test section velocity can exceed
160 ft/sec (110 miles/hour). In the diffuser, the expanding area decelerates the subsonic flow. The air
then passes through the fan and out through an acoustic diffuser for noise suppression.
III. Instrumentation
There are several types of instruments which will be used in the wind tunnel labs. You will use a
barometer and a thermometer to measure atmospheric pressure and temperature in the lab. The
barometer and the thermometer are on a digital readout mounted near the wind tunnel. The pressure is
in millibars (100 Pa) and temperature reads in degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature should be converted
from Fahrenheit to Kelvin by
( )


In addition, a pressure transducer and a Pitot-static probe will be used. The pressure transducer provides
a means of measuring pressure differentials by converting pressure into an electrical signal. A typical
pressure transducer consists of a diaphragm over a sealed pressurized capsule. The pressure inside the
capsule is known. The diaphragm is exposed to the pressure to be measured and deflects due to the
pressure differential between the inner and outer pressures. This deflection of the diaphragm creates a
voltage which can be correlated to the pressure differential. The relation between the voltage and the
imposed pressure differential is determined by calibration.

MAE 450L Thermal Fluids Laboratory

Figure 2. Schematic of a Pitot-static probe

There are several types of pressure probes used in wind tunnel testing. The simplest of these is a Pitot or
total-head probe. This consists of a single L-shaped tube which is open at one end and attached to a
manometer or transducer at the other end. The tube is aligned such that the opening is normal to the flow
direction. In principle, the air flows into the tube and stagnates at the bend (in reality it stagnates
everywhere in the tube). Thus, the pressure within the tube is the local total or stagnation pressure.
A useful variation of the Pitot probe includes a set of static orifices as shown schematically in Figure 2.
The Pitot probe is surrounded by another annular tube which is closed at the tube nose, but open to the
the air flow at set distances aft of the nose holes. This hole is parallel to the flow direction and thus
senses the static pressure due to random molecular motion. The static pressure tube can be connected to
the other side of the transducer or manometer. This allows the transducer to measure the differential
between the stagnation and static pressures. Using Bernoulli's equation (Eq. 5) the flow velocity can
then be calculated.


MAE 450L Thermal Fluids Laboratory

Investigation of Flat Plate Boundary Layer

In this lab, you will learn about using the wind tunnel as a tool to study the fluid mechanics of bodies
immersed in a flow and will investigate boundary layer flow over a flat plate. The Pre-lab reviews basic
governing equations and principles and provides a description of the wind tunnel and associated data
acquisition instrumentation. You will measure flat plate boundary layer velocity profiles, estimate
boundary layer thicknesses, and compare your results with classic turbulent boundary layer expressions.

The total or stagnation pressure is measured with a Pitot probe mounted to a traversing mechanism. Note
that the tube is flattened so that its spatial resolution is enhanced and you can measure pressure close to
a "point" in the thin boundary layer. The static pressure is measured at a port mounted in the bottom of
the test section ahead of the flat plate. The pressure transducer measures the pressure differential
between the total probe and static port. The local dynamic pressure, q, is the difference in the local total
and static pressures, or

Based on an assumption of incompressible flow, the measured dynamic pressure, Eq. 13, and Eq. 12 can
be used to calculate the local velocity.
The boundary layer investigation will be performed on a thin, flat plate that is mounted in the 1 ft x 1 ft
open circuit wind tunnel. The boundary layer thickness is defined as the locus of points where the
velocity u parallel to the plate reaches 99 percent of the external velocity U. 1 In this lab we will use
Eq. 14 to estimates from an experimental profile by finding the velocity that corresponds to 99% of the
freestream velocity, and using this boundary layer velocity to determine the boundary layer thickness.

The plate has a sharp leading edge to minimize the effects of the stagnation region. This minimization
allows us to assume that the boundary layer starts instantaneously from the leading edge (i.e., boundary
layer thickness = 0 at x = 0). The boundary layer displaces the outer streamlines as can be seen in
Figure 3.

MAE 450L Thermal Fluids Laboratory

Figure 3. Flat Plate Boundary Layer

Experimental Procedure
Only one set of data will be acquired and shared with everyone.
Note: Be very careful not to ram the probe into the plate or the walls of the wind tunnel.
1. Measure the stagnation pressure and temperature in the lab and use them to calculate the air
density and viscosity.
2. With the traversing mechanism, determine and record the X-coordinate of the leading edge of the
flat plate as well as the X-coordinate of the farthest aft location at which the probe can be placed.
3. Turn on the wind tunnel.
4. Place the Pitot probe in the freestream air outside the boundary layer (well above the flat plate)
above the static port. Adjust the tunnel speed control until the pressure differential reads
approximately 0.400 kPa.
5. Locate the probe at X1 = 20 cm behind the leading edge and on the surface of the plate to
measure the second point.*
6. Record the X location, the Y value, and the value of the dynamic pressure for the 2nd point.
7. For the 3rd point, raise the probe 0.25 mm and record the Y-coordinate (relative to the plate
surface) and the dynamic pressure.
8. Raise the probe in steps of 0.25 mm and record the Y-coordinate and the dynamic pressure until
Y = 8 mm.
9. At Y = 8 mm, you can raise the probe in steps of 0.5 mm and record the Y-coordinate and the
dynamic pressure until Y = 12 mm above the plate.

NOTE: Because the probe has a finite thickness, the first point measured is not on the surface. We know from the "noslip" condition, the surface dynamic pressure is zero. Therefore, for your data set, the first point (which you cannot actually
measure) should be Y = 0.0 and q = 0.0. For the second point (the first one that you can actually measure), use a Y value of
one-half the Pitot height at its open end.

MAE 450L Thermal Fluids Laboratory

10. Move the probe back to X2 = 30 cm and repeat steps 6-11 with the same step sizes.

In- Lab Analysis

1. Graph 1: Plot, on a single graph for both X locations, the velocity (u) on the y-axis vs. the
distance from the surface (Y) on the x-axis. Estimate the boundary layer thickness, , at each Xlocation by using Eq. 14.
a. Indicate the estimated boundary layer thicknesses on the plot. Comment on the
comparison between the 2 curves.
2. Graph 2 and 3: On a separate graph for each X-position, plot the non-dimensional experimental
velocity profiles u/U on the y-axis vs. Y/ on the x-axis.
a. On the same plots (with the experimental profile), also plot the equation (Eq. 15) that
approximates a turbulent velocity profile:
( )


b. How do the experimental curves compare to the turbulent velocity profiles?

3. Calculate the local Reynolds Number values, Rex, (Eq. 8) at the two X-locations.
a. What do these values imply about the state of the flow at the two locations?
4. Calculate the smooth-wall turbulent boundary layer thicknesses predicted using Eq. 16:

a. Comment on the comparison between the theoretical (Eq. 16) and the one determined
experimentally (Eq. 14). (If there are surface roughness effects, the boundary layer
thickness will be greater than predicted by Eq. 14).

Lab Deliverables
An Excel file with the following parts:
Worksheet 1: Show the plot of u vs. Y for both X-locations, indicating the boundary layer thickness on
the plot. Using a text box, provide a brief discussion comparing the 2 curves in the same

MAE 450L Thermal Fluids Laboratory

Worksheet 2: Show the plots of non-dimensionalized velocity profile vs. distance and the turbulent
velocity profile approximation. Using a text box, provide a brief discussion comparing
the experimental curves to the turbulent profiles.
Worksheet 3: the Reynolds Number calculations and values and the smooth-wall turbulent boundary
layer thickness calculation from Eq. 16. Using a text box, provide a brief discussion
comparing the theoretical and experimental boundary layer thickness.


White, F. M., Fluid Mechanics, 5th Ed., McGraw-Hill, 2003.

Rae, W. H., Jr., and Pope, A., Low-Speed Wind Tunnel Testing, 2nd Ed., Wiley, 1984.
Anderson, J. A., Introduction to Flight, McGraw Hill, 1978.
Fox, R. W. and McDonald, A. T., Introduction to Fluid Mechanics, 4th Ed., John Wiley &
Sons, 1992.