Drag crisis

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In fluid dynamics, drag crisis is a phenomenon in which drag coefficient drops off suddenly as Reynolds number increases. This has been well studied for round bodies like spheres and cylinders. The drag coefficient of a sphere will change rapidly from about 0.5 to 0.2 at a Reynolds number in the range of 300000. This corresponds to the point where the flow pattern changes, leaving a narrower turbulent wake. The behavior is highly dependent on small differences in the condition of the surface of the sphere.

The drag crisis was first identified over a century ago by Gustave Eiffel who designed and built the Eiffel Tower, and the Statue of Liberty. Upon his retirement, he built the first wind tunnel in a lab located at the basis of the Eiffel Tower, to investigate wind loads on structures and early aircraft. In a series of test he found that the force loading experienced an abrupt decline at a critical Reynolds number.

This transition is associated with a transition from laminar to turbulent boundary layer flow adjacent to the object in question. In the case of cylindrical structures this transition is associated with a transition from well organized vortex shedding to randomized shedding behavior for super-critical Reynolds numbers, eventually returning to well organized shedding at the post-critical Reynolds number with a return to elevated drag force coefficients.

The super-critical behavior can be described semi-empirically using statistical means or by sophisticated computational fluid dynamics software (CFD) that takes into account the fluid-structure interaction for the given fluid conditions.

The critical Reynolds number is a function of turbulence intensity, upstream velocity profile, and wall-effects (velocity gradients). The semi-empirical descriptions of the drag crisis are often described in terms of a Strouhal bandwidth and the vortex shedding is described by broad-band spectral content.


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[2] Roshko, A. (1961) "Experiments on the flow past a circular cylinder at very high Reynolds number," J. Fluid Mech., 10, pp. 345-356.

[3] Jones,G.W. (1968) "Aerodynamic Forces on Stationary and Oscillating Circular Cylinder at High Reynolds Numbers," ASME Symposium on Unsteady Flow, Fluids Engineering Div. , pp. 1-30.

[4] Jones,G.W., Cincotta, J.J., Walker, R.W. (1969) "Aerodynamic Forces on Stationary and Oscillating Circular Cylinder at High Reynolds Numbers," NASA Report TAR-300, pp. 1-66.

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[6] Schewe, G. (1983) "On the force fluctuations acting on a circular cylinder in crossflow from subcritical up to transcritical Raynolds numbers," J. Fluid Mech., 133, pp.265-285.

[7] Kawamura, T., Nakao, T., Takahashi, M., Hayashi, T., Murayama, K., Gotoh, N., (2003), "Synchronized Vibrations of a Circular Cylinder in Cross Flow at Supercritical Reynolds Numbers", ASME J. Press. Vessel Tech., 125, pp. 97-108, DOI:10.1115/1.1526855.

[8] Zdravkovich, M.M. (1997), Flow Around Circular Cylinders, Vol.I, Oxford Univ. Press. Reprint 2007, p.188.

[9] Zdravkovich, M.M. (2003), Flow Around Circular Cylinders, Vol. II, Oxford Univ. Press. Reprint 2009, p.761.

[10] Bartran, D. (2015) "Support Flexibility and Natural Frequencies of Pipe Mounted Thermowells," ASME J. Press. Vess. Tech., 137, pp.1-6 , DOI:10.1115/1.4028863

[11] Botterill, N. ( 2010) "Fluid structure interaction modelling of cables used in civil engineering structures," PhD dissertation (http://etheses.nottingham.ac.uk/11657/), University of Nottingham.

External links[edit]

  • "Simulating Drag Crisis for a Sphere Using Skin Friction Boundary Conditions" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-24.
  • "Flow past a cylinder: Shear layer instability and drag crisis" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-24.