Flettner rotor

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The Buckau, the first vehicle to be propelled by a Flettner rotor

A Flettner rotor is a smooth cylinder with disc end plates which is spun along its long axis and, as air passes at right angles across it, the Magnus effect causes an aerodynamic force to be generated in the direction perpendicular to both the long axis and the direction of airflow.[1] Named after German aviation engineer and inventor Anton Flettner.

In a rotor ship the rotors stand vertically and lift is generated at right angles to the wind, to drive the ship forwards.

In a rotor airplane the rotor extends sideways in place of a wing and upwards lift is generated.

The Magnus effect[edit]

The Magnus effect is named after Gustav Magnus, the German physicist who investigated it. It describes the force generated by fluid flow over a rotating body, at right angles to both the direction of flow and the axis of rotation. This force on a rotating cylinder is known as Kutta–Joukowski lift, after Martin Kutta and Nikolai Zhukovsky (or Joukowski), who first analyzed the effect.[2]

The Flettner rotor is just one form of the Magnus rotor, which in general need not be cylindrical.[1]

Marine applications[edit]

Rotor ships[edit]

E-Ship 1 with Flettner rotors mounted

A rotor ship uses one or more Flettner rotors mounted upright. They are rotated by the ship's engines, when they act like sails to propel the ship under wind power. A conventional powered water propeller may or may not be provided for additional operational flexibility.

An early prototype, the Baden Baden (formerly the Buckau) crossed the Atlantic in 1925, but interest was not revived until energy-saving became a major concern in the new millennium. The E-Ship 1 was launched in 2008 and new vessels continue to appear.


A Flettner rotor mounted beneath the waterline of a ship's hull and emerging laterally will act to stabilize the ship in heavy seas. By controlling the direction and speed of rotation, strong lift or downforce can be generated.[3] The largest deployment of the system to date is in the motor yacht Eclipse.[citation needed]

Rotor airplanes[edit]

The Plymouth A-A-2004 on Long Island Sound

Some flying machines have been built which use the Magnus effect to create lift with a rotating cylinder at the front of a wing, allowing flight at lower horizontal speeds.[2] The earliest attempt to use the Magnus effect for a heavier-than-air aircraft was in 1910 by a US member of Congress, Butler Ames of Massachusetts. The next attempt was the Plymouth A-A-2004 in the early 1930s, by three inventors in New York state.[4]


  1. ^ a b Seifert, Jost; "A review of the Magnus effect in aeronautics", Progress in Aerospace Sciences Vol. 55, 2012, pp.17–45.
  2. ^ a b "Lift on rotating cylinders". NASA Glenn Research Center. 2010-11-09. Archived from the original on 2014-01-11. Retrieved 2013-11-07.
  3. ^ "Quantum Rotary Stabilizers". Jun 2, 2009.
  4. ^ Whirling Spools Lift This Plane. Popular Science. Nov 1930. Retrieved 2013-02-22.