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Drag And Its Classifications

Shivaji Batta
27/05/2017 0 0


Drag is the enemy of flight and its cost. One group of those forces is aerodynamic forces that split into two forces: Lift force or lift, and Drag force or drag. A pre-requisite to aircraft performance analysis is the ability to calculate the aircraft drag at various flight conditions. One of the jobs of a performance engineer is to determine drag force produced by an aircraft at different altitudes, speeds and configurations. This is not an easy task, since; this force is a function of several parameters including aircraft configuration and components. As it was discussed in chapter 2, the drag is a function of aircraft speed, wing area, air density, and its configuration. Each aircraft is designed with a unique configuration, thus, aircraft performance analysis must take into account this configuration. The configuration effect of aircraft drag is represented through the drag coefficient (CD), plus a reference area that relates to the aircraft.

An aircraft is a complicated three-dimensional vehicle, but for simplicity in calculation, we assume that the drag is a function a two-dimensional area and we call it the reference area. This area could be any area including tail area, wing area and fuselage cross sectional area (i.e., fuselage cross section), fuselage surface area, and even aircraft top-view area. No matter what area is selected, the drag force must be the same. This unique drag comes from the fact that the drag coefficient is a function of the reference area. Therefore, if we select a small reference area, the drag coefficient shall be large, but if we choose a large reference area, the drag coefficient shall be small. In an air vehicle with a small wing area (e.g., high-speed missile), the fuselage cross-sectional area (normal to the flow) is often considered as the reference area. However, in an aircraft with a large wing, the top-view of wing; plan form area (in fact gross wing area) is often assumed to be the reference area.


The drag coefficient (CD) is a non-dimensional parameter, but it takes into account every aerodynamic configuration aspect of the aircraft including large components as wing, tail, fuselage engine, and landing gear; and small elements such as rivets and antenna. This coefficient has two main parts (as will be explained in the next section). The first part is referred to as lift-related drag coefficient or induced drag coefficient (CDi) and the second part is called zero-lift drag coefficient (CDo). The calculation of the first one is not very hard, but it takes a long time and energy to determine the second part. In large transport aircraft, this task is done by a group of engineers up to twenty engineers for a time period of up to six months. For this reason, a large portion of this chapter is devoted to the calculation of CDo. This calculation is not only time consuming, but also is very sensitive, since it influences every aspect of aircraft performance.

One of the occasions in which the drag is considered a beneficial factor and is effectively used is in parachute. A parachute is a device employed to considerably slow the motion of an object/vehicle through an atmosphere (e.g., Earth or Mars) by increasing drag. Parachutes are used with a variety of loads, including people, food, equipment, and space capsules. Drogue chutes are used to sometimes provide horizontal deceleration of a vehicle (e.g., space shuttle after a touchdown). The parachute is utilized by paratroopers to extremely reduce the terminal speed for a safe landing.

One of the primary functions of aerodynamicists and aircraft designers is to reduce this coefficient. Aircraft designers are very sensitive about this coefficient, because any change in the external configuration of aircraft will change this coefficient and finally aircraft direct operating cost. As a performance engineer, you must be able to estimate the CDo of any aircraft just by looking at its three-view with an accuracy of about 30%. As you spend more time for calculation, this estimation will be more accurate, but will never be exact, unless you use an aircraft model in a wind tunnel or flight test measurements with real aircraft model. The method presented in this chapter is about 90% accurate for subsonic aircraft and 85% for supersonic aircraft.

Drag Classification

Drag force is the summation of all forces that resist against aircraft motion. The calculation of the drag of a complete aircraft is a difficult and challenging task, even for the simplest configurations. We will consider the separate sources of drag that contribute to the total drag of an aircraft. The variation of drag force as a function of airspeed looks like a graph of parabola. This indicates that the drag initially reduces with airspeed, and then increases as the airspeed increases. It demonstrates that there are some parameters that will decrease drag as the velocity increases; and there are some other parameters that will increase drag as the velocity increases. This observation shows us a nice direction for drag classification. Although the drag and the drag coefficient can be expressed in a number of ways, for reasons of simplicity and clarity, the parabolic drag polar will be used in all main analyses. Different references and textbooks use different terminology, so it may confuse students and engineers. In this section, a list of definitions of various types of drag is presented, and then a classification of all of these drag forces is described.

Induced Drag:

The drag that results from the generation of a trailing vortex system downstream of a lifting surface with a finite aspect ratio. In another word, this type of drag is induced by the lift force.

Parasite Drag:

The total drag of an airplane minus the induced drag. Thus, it is the drag not directly associated with the production of lift. The parasite drag is composed of drag of various aerodynamic components; the definitions of which follow.

Skin Friction Drag:

The drag on a body resulting from viscous shearing stresses (i.e., friction) over its contact surface (i.e., skin). The drag of a very streamlined shape such as a thin, flat plate is frequently expressed in terms of a skin friction drag. This drag is a function of Reynolds number. There are mainly two cases where the flow in the boundary layer is entirely laminar or entirely turbulent over the plate. The Reynolds number is based on the total length of the object in the direction of the velocity. In a usual application, the boundary layer is normally laminar near the leading edge of the object undergoing transition to a turbulent layer at some distance back along the surface.

A laminar boundary layer begins to develop at the leading edge and its thickness grows in downstream. At some distance from the leading edge the laminar boundary becomes unstable and is unable to suppress disturbances imposed on it by surface roughness or fluctuations in the free stream. In a distance the boundary layer usually undergoes a transition to a turbulent boundary layer. The layer suddenly increases in thickness and is characterized by a mean velocity profile on which a random fluctuating velocity component is superimposed. The distance, from the leading edge of the object to the transition point can be calculated from the transition Reynolds number. Skin friction factor is independent of surface roughness in laminar flow, but is a strong function of surface roughness in turbulent flow due to boundary layer.

Form Drag (sometimes called Pressure Drag):

The drag on a body resulting from the integrated effect of the static pressure acting normal to its surface resolved in the drag direction. Unlike the skin friction drag that results from viscous shearing forces tangential to a body’s surface, form drag results from the distribution of pressure normal to the body’s surface. In an extreme case of a flat plate normal to the flow, the drag is totally the result of an imbalance in the pressure distribution. As with skin friction drag, form drag is generally dependent on Reynolds number. Form drag is based on the projected frontal area. As a body begins to move through the air, the vorticity in the boundary layer is shed from the upper and lower surfaces to form two vortices of opposite rotation. A number of symmetrical shapes having drag values at low speed are illustrated in Table 3.1. The drag coefficient values in this table are based on the frontal area. In this table, the flow is coming from left to the right.

Interference Drag:

The increment in drag resulting from bringing two bodies in proximity to each other. For example, the total drag of a wing-fuselage combination will usually be greater than the sum of the wing drag and fuselage drag independent of each other.

Trim Drag:

The increment in drag resulting from the (tail) aerodynamic forces required to trim the aircraft about its center of gravity. Trim drag usually is a form of induced and form drag on the horizontal tail.

Profile Drag:

Usually taken to mean the total of the skin friction drag and form drag for a two-dimensional airfoil section.

Cooling Drag:

The drag resulting from the momentum lost by the air that passes through the power plant installation for the purpose of cooling the engine.

Wave Drag:

This drag; limited to supersonic flow; is a form of induced drag resulting from non-canceling static pressure components to either side of a shock wave acting on the surface of the body from which the wave is emanating.


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