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Wing efficiency

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As previously mentioned, the goal with boost gliders and rocket gliders is to achieve the

longest flight possible, which means achieving the longest glide possible. If the design

approach not to simply boost a low efficiency glider as high as possible, it will be

necessary to design a glider with as efficient a glide as possible. We think of this in terms

of sink rate, defined as the rate at which a glider descends in still air in which not other

forces, such as thermals are acting. Sink rate is measured in feet per second or meters per

second.

In Appendix A, a mathematical method for determining sink rate and its derivation is

presented. The formulae for sink rate is:

sink rate = sqrt (2*W / (S * r) ) * (Cd / Cl**3/2)

In this formula, W is the mass of the glider, S is the area of the wing, r (rho) is the air

density, Cd is the drag coefficient and Cl is the lift coefficient. W/S is also the wing

loading expressed in ounces per square inch or grams per square centimeter. Cl**3/2/Cd

is a form of the wing efficiency factor, and is an indicator of the maximum lift that can be

developed for a minimum of drag. It is important to the performance of any aircraft,

including gliders, because the drag produced by the wing or induced drag is the vast

majority of the drag found on the aircraft. The efficiency factor can be used to compare

the efficiency of greatly differing types of wings. In the formulae for sink rate, the Cl is

raised to the 1.5 power, thus resulting in a ratio of Cl**3/2 / Cd. This ratio can also be

used as an efficiency factor; in fact, it is often referred to as the "Power Factor" [4], and

will be referred to as such in this report. The basic efficient factor Cl/Cd will simply be

called the Efficiency Factor.

So, we can use the sink rate formula to derive the wing efficiency or power factor of a

given wing by knowing the wing loading of the glider and the sink rate it exhibits. As

mentioned in the Introduction, we will use this wing efficiency factor to compare models

with wings with different airfoils. If we test a number of gliders at the same time, the air

density will be a constant, and so will make no difference.

Does the Reynolds number of a wing factor in to the efficiency of the wing? Absolutely.

By looking at a couple of examples, we will find that the efficiency factor for large

sailplanes is very different from that of a model sailplane.

The June/July 2000 issue of Quit Flight International, a British magazine of model

sailplanes and gliders describes the old Schweizer SGS 2-32, a two person full sized

sailplane. It has an area of 180 square feet and a flying weight of 1340 pounds or a wing

loading of 7.44 pounds per square foot. Its minimum sink rate is 2.4 feet per second at 52

miles per hour. If we use a standard sea level air density of 0.0023769 lbs sec**2/ft**4,

we can then calculate the wing power factor as described above to be about 33 for this

sailplane with a Reynolds number of more than 1 million. This for a sailplane that was

considered an efficient trainer, rather than a high performance contest ship.

In the April/May issue of QFI, a high performance contest glider called Scar is described.

It has a wing loading of 11.8 ounces per square foot, and a sink rate of approximately 1.5

feet per second. This results in a power factor of 16.6 for a model sailplane with a

Reynolds number of about 150,000.

A typical A engine boost glider weighs about 1/2 ounces with an area of 40 square inches

or a wing loading of 1.8 ounces per square foot. A sink rate of 2 feet per second would be

considered good, resulting in a wing power factor or efficiency factor of about 4.86 for a

glider having a Reynolds number of about 20,000. Even a sink rate of only 1 foot per

second would result in an efficiency factor of less than 10.

We can assume that each glider of very different size is developed to produce the best

glide possible. As the gliders get smaller and smaller, the wing loadings also get much

smaller, and the sink rates should also get lower, but as we have seen, they do not because

the wing efficiency or power factor goes down considerably. This is also true of exact

scale model sailplanes. So, data from actual gliders again tells us that the Reynolds

number has a big impact on wing efficiencies.

We can also see the fall off in airfoil efficiency in Figure 1. Figure 1 is a plot of Cl and

Cd data taken for a typical airfoil. These types of plots with Cl versus Cd are used to

design aircraft in various flight regimes.

In this plot, lift coefficient, Cl is on the left hand, vertical scale, while the drag

coefficient, Cd is on the horizontal scale. The multiple curves are for the lift to drag plots

at various Reynolds numbers. The left most and upper most curve is for a Reynolds

number of 120,000, while the curve at the lower right is for a Reynolds number of

21,000. This plot is for an airfoil typically used in model aircraft, and was developed for

the a wing that had a turbulator. A turbulator is usually (in models) a piece if string of

narrow tape attached to the wing parallel to the leading edge, just behind the leading

edge. It serves to cause the wing's boundary layer to become turbulent, thereby increasing

the efficiency of the airfoil.

Figure 1

In this plot we can see that the efficiency of the wing is much higher at the higher

Reynolds numbers. For example, at a Reynolds number of 150,000, the minimum drag

coefficient is .02 at a point where the lift coefficient is 0.6, resulting in an efficiency

defined by Cl / Cd of 30. At a Reynolds number of 21,000 (typical of boost gliders), the

minimum drag coefficient is .06 when the lift coefficient is 0.2, resulting in an efficiency

factor of 3.33. Note that for the purposes of this R&D, I have computed the Power Factor,

which is Cl**3/2 / Cd. At the minimum drag point for this airfoil in the curve for a

Reynolds number of 21,000, the Power Factor would only be 1.5, and that would be just

for the wing! If we take into account the drag for the whole glider, as we must for the

simple experiments in this project, the Power factor would be even lower.

The maximum Efficiency Factor for a wing (only) with this airfoil would be about 6, and

the Power Factor about 4.2. These maximum factors would occur in only a very narrow

operational range for a glider using this airfoil. That is, the angle of attack would change

just a little, and the efficiency of the wing would drop (along with the glider).

So, we see that typical airfoils used for large models and full size aircraft do not seem to

have very high efficiencies at the Reynolds numbers typical of boost gliders and rocket

gliders. Therefore, we cannot assume that the types of airfoils used in full size sailplanes

or even model sailplanes are the best types to use with any size

Research Methodology

The research methodology for this R&D project involves the use of three gliders about

the size used for typical A engine boost glide competition. Each glider has a wing with a

different airfoil. The gliders will be tossed by hand in straight and level flight, and timed

from a measured height to determine the sink rate for each glider. Each glider will be

tossed a number of times to eliminate any error caused by erratic tosses.

All expenses to perform this project are under $10.

All three gliders used for this project are very similar in design. All have similar wing

spans and wing planforms. All have similar size horizontal and vertical tail surfaces and

the same angle of incidence between the wing and horizontal tail surface. All have the

same distance between the wing and horizontal surface, so that the moment arm should

be the same. All have similar masses, and the slight differences can be taken into account

using the formula for sink rate.

The specific data for the three gliders are as follows:

Table 1

Glider ID

Glider A

thick wing

Glider B

curved plate

Glider C

flat plate

Glider Specifications

(inches)

(inches)

(inches**2)

Mass

(ounces)

14.0

0.25

34.04

14.8

0.25

39.80

15.0

0.0625

40.45

All gliders have a root chord of 3 inches, and a distance from the trailing edge of the

wing to the leading edge of the stabilizer of 4.5 inches. The incidence angle on each is 1.5

degrees. All are made of balsa, while the thick wing glider is built of balsa ribs and spars

with tissue covering that has been lightly finished with clear dope. The think wing glider

also has a spruce body rather than a balsa body. The thick wing glider has a horizontal

stabilizer of about 8 square inches, while the other two have stabilizers of about 9.6

square inches. All have vertical stabilizers of about 2.5 square inches.

The major difference between the three gliders is the airfoil. As shown in Figure 2, the

three airfoils differ greatly. The first airfoil, the "thick" airfoil is used for the wing of

Glider A. It has a flat bottom, a rounded leading edge and a thickness of 0.25 inches or

8.33%. The second airfoil, the "curved plate" airfoil is made of 1/32 inch balsa curved to

mimic the upper surface of the thick airfoil. The bottom surface is concave, because that

surface is the bottom of the balsa sheet used to create the upper surface. The curvature is

created using a small number of balsa ribs. The total thickness of the curved plate airfoil

is 0.25 inches, and the leading and trailing edges have been sanded. The third airfoil is a

flat piece of 1/16 inch balsa gently rounded at the leading and trailing edges.

Figure 2

Figure 3 contains two pictures of the three gliders. From the left in both photos, the first

glider is the thick airfoil glider with multicolored wing identified as Glider A. The second

glider is Glider B with the curved plate airfoil, and the third glider is Glider C with the

flat plate airfoil.

The method for testing the gliders is to hand toss them in an open area and measure their

flight duration from a measured height above the ground, thereby determining their sink

rate. The ideal area for tests would be a large gymnasium or similar space, but none was

available for these tests, and so the tests were performed outdoors. In order to decrease

any effects from doing the tests outdoors, a large flat area in a park was selected, and tests

were performed in the early morning hours when the ground is relatively cool and will

not contribute any type of thermal activity. In addition, the tests were performed when the

air was as still as possible.

In the first step, the gliders are trimmed for straight and level flight and to achieve

maximum flight times. After working with the gliders to insure reasonable trim, the

throwing height is measured. Each glider is hand tossed a number of times to get

consistent results. Each toss is timed for total flight duration. The gliders are tossed

forward from shoulder height in a level throw that will immediately impart glide velocity

to the glider without adding any altitude to the glider's position.

Because the best trim for each glider is unknown, even after initial trimming is performed

for each glider, the nose weight of each glider is reduce by a small fraction of a gram a

number of times during the tests. At no time was the nose weight of any of the gliders

reduced to the point that a stall would result.

Each toss is documented with comments that indicate if the toss was inconsistent or out

of level ("bad toss") or if any slight wind seemed to affect the glider's flight

("environmental factor"). The duration of the glide is noted in the log for each flight.

The tests were performed on a "cool" morning from 8 am to 9:30 am when the ambient

air temperature was about 80 degrees F. The wind speed was virtually zero. The altitude

of the park where these tests were performed is about 5700 feet.

The first tests were performed using a ladder that allowed a launch height of 84 inches.

After a few tests of each glider were performed, it was determined that this height was

insufficient to provide glides of sufficient duration such that the slight errors in timing

could be absorbed. A location allowing a launch height of 134 inches was then used.

Greater height would have been nice, but was unavailable.

Appendix C contains a table of all individual flights for the tests. for the purposes of

calculating the efficiencies of the wings, the best three flights of each glider not affected

by bad tosses or wind are being averaged in the summary table below.

Glider ID

Glider A

thick wing

Glider B

curved plate

Glider C

flat plate

Best Flt #1 Best Flt #2 Best Flt #3 Average Sink Rate

(seconds) (seconds) (seconds) (seconds) (ft/sec)

4.0

3.7

3.7

3.8

2.94

8.0

9.0

7.8

8.266

1.35

5.5

6.0

5.0

5.5

2.03

The sink rate equation can be slightly rearranged to identify the wing loading W/S:

sink rate = sqrt ( (W / S) * (2/ rho) ) * (Cd / Cl**3/2),

and using the average sink rate, determine the wing efficiency know as the power factor:

Cl**3/2 / Cd = sqrt ( (W / S) * (2/ rho) ) / average sink rate

Using a standard air density table [5], the air density at the test altitude is approximately

0.0019868 lb sec2 /ft4. The average sink rate and wing loading are used to calculate the

Power Factors as shown in the next table.

Glider ID

Glider A

thick wing

Glider B

curved plate

Glider C

flat plate

Sink rate

Wing Loading

Wing Power Factor

(ft/sec)

(oz/ft**2)

2.94

2.05

3.86

1.35

1.37

6.88

2.03

1.36

4.56

From this table, we see that the Power Factors calculated from the experimental data

indicate the more conventional wing with the "thick" airfoil is the least efficient of the

three. The flat plate airfoil is more efficient than the thick airfoil for gliders having a

Reynolds number around 20,000. The curved plate airfoil is significantly more efficient

than the thick airfoil. These results are discussed in the next section.

Conclusions

This R&D effort illustrates that for the size and type of glider used in the experiments, a

typical "thick" airfoiled wing with a flat bottom surface is probably not the most efficient.

The flat plate airfoil operates just as efficiently, and is easier to build. This, in part, helps

explain the good durations that simple boost gliders like the "Deltie" achieve.

This does not mean that the thick airfoil used in this R&D project is the most efficient

that can be used. A thinner wing section may be more efficient or minute differences in

the airfoil shape may improve efficiency considerably, but building such precise shapes in

small wings becomes very difficult.

The curved flat plate wing used in Glider B is almost twice as efficient as the glider with

the thick wing, as expressed by the Power Factor. The curved plate airfoil or a highly

"undercambered" thin wing as described in Appendix B, seems to be the the most

efficient for these small gliders. Gliders using this type of airfoil may be made even more

efficient by changing the maximum thickness of the wing or by experimenting with the

incidence angle between wing and horizontal tail surface.

There is a drawback to using these types of airfoils. The very thin sheeting used for

Glider B's curved plate airfoil (1/32 inch balsa) will not stand up to the rigors of a rocket

powered boost. I have tried a number of times with very inconsistent results. Other

building techniques are available, but have yet to be used extensively, and may effect

airfoil efficiency.

In addition, it should be noted that the curved plate wings may develop much higher drag

than the other airfoils during the high speed boost. This could limit the boost altitude and

therefore the total duration enough to negate any benefits of these airfoils.

Certainly, the results of this R&D project are encouraging, and warrant a "Phase 2" R&D

project of some type. Future experiments will include wings of different thicknesses,

gliders with different incidence angles, and curved plate airfoils of a construction that can

stand up to rocket powered boosts. This may lead to boost gliders and rocket gliders that

can attain significantly improved durations

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