The horseshoe vortex model is a simplified representation of the vortex system of a wing. In this model the wing vorticity is modelled by a bound vortex of constant circulation, travelling with the wing, and two trailing wingtip vortices, therefore having a shape vaguely reminiscent of a horseshoe. A starting vortex is shed as the wing begins to move through the fluid, which dissipates under the action of viscosity, as do the trailing vortices far behind the aircraft.
The horseshoe vortex model is unrealistic in that it implies a constant circulation (and hence, according to the Kutta–Joukowski theorem, constant lift) at all sections on the wingspan. In a more realistic model, the lifting-line theory, the vortex strength varies along the wingspan, and the loss in vortex strength is shed as a vortex-sheet all along the trailing edge, rather than as a single trail at the wing-tips. Nevertheless, the simpler horseshoe vortex model used with a reduced effective wingspan but same midplane circulation provides an adequate model for the flows induced far from the aircraft.
The term horse-shoe vortex is also used in Wind Engineering to describe the vortex of strong winds that form around the base of a tall building. This effect is amplified by the presence of a low-rise building just upwind. This effect was studied at the UK Building Research Establishment between 1963 and 1973 and the cause of the effect is described in contemporary wind engineering text books.
In hydrodynamics, a form of horseshoe vortex forms around bluff bodies in the flowing water, for instance around bridge piers. They can cause scouring of bed materials from both upstream and downstream of the pier.
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