Pressure coefficient

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The pressure coefficient is a dimensionless number which describes the relative pressures throughout a flow field in fluid dynamics. The pressure coefficient is used in aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. Every point in a fluid flow field has its own unique pressure coefficient, C_p.

In many situations in aerodynamics and hydrodynamics, the pressure coefficient at a point near a body is independent of body size. Consequently an engineering model can be tested in a wind tunnel or water tunnel, pressure coefficients can be determined at critical locations around the model, and these pressure coefficients can be used with confidence to predict the fluid pressure at those critical locations around a full-size aircraft or boat.

Incompressible flow[edit]

Main article: Incompressible flow

The pressure coefficient is a parameter for studying the flow of incompressible fluids such as water, and also the low-speed flow of compressible fluids such as air. The relationship between the dimensionless coefficient and the dimensional numbers is [1] [2]

C_p = {p - p_\infty \over \frac{1}{2} \rho_\infty V_{\infty}^2 }


p is the pressure at the point at which pressure coefficient is being evaluated
p_\infty is the pressure in the freestream (i.e. remote from any disturbance)
\rho_\infty is the freestream fluid density (Air at sea level and 15 °C is 1.225 kg/m^3)
V_\infty is the freestream velocity of the fluid, or the velocity of the body through the fluid

Using Bernoulli's Equation, the pressure coefficient can be further simplified for incompressible, lossless, and steady flow:[3]

C_p ={1 - \bigg(\frac{V}{V_{\infty}} \bigg)^2}

where V is the velocity of the fluid at the point at which pressure coefficient is being evaluated.

This relationship is also valid for the flow of compressible fluids where variations in speed and pressure are sufficiently small that variations in fluid density can be ignored. This is a reasonable assumption when the Mach Number is less than about 0.3.

  • C_p of zero indicates the pressure is the same as the free stream pressure.
  • C_p of one indicates the pressure is stagnation pressure and the point is a stagnation point.
  • C_p of minus one is significant in the design of gliders because this indicates a perfect location for a "Total energy" port for supply of signal pressure to the Variometer, a special Vertical Speed Indicator which reacts to vertical movements of the atmosphere but does not react to vertical maneuvering of the glider.

In the fluid flow field around a body there will be points having positive pressure coefficients up to one, and negative pressure coefficients including coefficients less than minus one, but nowhere will the coefficient exceed plus one because the highest pressure that can be achieved is the stagnation pressure.

Compressible flow[edit]

Main article: Compressible flow

In the flow of compressible fluids such as air, and particularly the high-speed flow of compressible fluids, {\rho v^2}/2 (the dynamic pressure) is no longer an accurate measure of the difference between stagnation pressure and static pressure. Also, the familiar relationship that stagnation pressure is equal to total pressure does not always hold true. (It is always true in isentropic flow but the presence of shock waves can cause the flow to depart from isentropic.) As a result, pressure coefficients can be greater than one in compressible flow.[4]

  • C_p greater than one indicates the freestream flow is compressible.

Pressure distribution[edit]

An airfoil at a given angle of attack will have what is called a pressure distribution. This pressure distribution is simply the pressure at all points around an airfoil. Typically, graphs of these distributions are drawn so that negative numbers are higher on the graph, as the C_p for the upper surface of the airfoil will usually be farther below zero and will hence be the top line on the graph.

C_l and C_p relationship[edit]

The coefficient of lift for a two-dimensional airfoil section with strictly horizontal surfaces can be calculated from the coefficient of pressure distribution by integration, or calculating the area between the lines on the distribution. This expression is not suitable for direct numeric integration using the panel method of lift approximation, as it does not take into account the direction of pressure-induced lift.



C_{p_l} is pressure coefficient on the lower surface
C_{p_u} is pressure coefficient on the upper surface
x_{LE} is the leading edge location
x_{TE} is the trailing edge location

When the lower surface C_p is higher (more negative) on the distribution it counts as a negative area as this will be producing down force rather than lift.

See also[edit]


  • Clancy, L.J. (1975) Aerodynamics, Pitman Publishing Limited, London. ISBN 0-273-01120-0
  • Abbott, I.H. and Von Doenhoff, A.E. (1959) Theory of Wing Sections, Dover Publications, Inc. New York, Standard Book No. 486-60586-8
  • Anderson, John D (2001) Fundamentals of Aerodynamic 3rd Edition, McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-237335-0
  1. ^ Clancy, L.J., Aerodynamics, section 3.6
  2. ^ Abbott and Von Doenhoff, Theory of Wing Sections, equation 2.24
  3. ^ Anderson, John D. Fundamentals of Aerodynamics. 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2007. 219.
  4. ^