Wingtip Vortices

in Physics

Wingtip vortices are caused by the air beneath the wing, which is at the higher pressure, flowing over the wingtip and up toward the top of the wing. The end result is a spiral or vortex that trails behind the wingtip anytime lift is being produced. This vortex is also referred to as wake turbulence, and is a significant factor in determining how closely one airplane can follow behind another on approach to land. The wake turbulence of a large airplane can cause a smaller airplane, if it is following too closely, to be thrown out of control. Vortices from the wing and from the horizontal stabilizer are quite visible on the MD-11 shown in Figure 3-59.

Figure 3-59. Wing and horizontal stabilizer vortices on an MD-11.

Figure 3-59. Wing and horizontal stabilizer vortices on an MD-11.

Upwash and downwash refer to the effect an airfoil has on the free airstream. Upwash is the deflection of the oncoming airstream, causing it to flow up and over the wing. Downwash is the downward deflection of the airstream after it has passed over the wing and is leaving the trailing edge. This downward deflection is what creates the action and reaction described under lift and Newton’s third law.

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