Sunday, December 20, 2009

Laminar Flow

This is a close-up of the package under the White Knight One as seen at this year's Edwards AFB open house. Apparently it is some sort of laminar flow experiment. Laminar flow is, simply put, the smooth flow of air over a surface, usually a wing. The smoother and more continuous the flow the more drag is reduced and the greater the lift produced by that surface, creating greater flight efficiencies and so forth.
As you can see, laminar surfaces have interesting shapes. The whole process of aeroscience research is to eek the most performance out of the functional designs, sometimes with different goals getting in each others way. For instance, the most efficient low observable design may not be the most aerodynamically efficient design. The operational purpose of the airplane ultimately dictates a distilled balance of these competing criteria.
Of course, real-world necessities have a way of intruding on theory. It always amuses me to see how much sweat goes into creating the most efficient wing shape only to have ungainly pylons with even less streamline ordnance hung off of every available hardpoint despoiling the whole effort. Even stealth vehicles with internally carried weapons face this challenge with antenna, pitot tubes, navigational aids and other paraphenalia important to modern flight.
Nevertheless, continuous process improvement (to use an industry buzz-word) is an on-going goal, hence the shape under WK1. Incidentally, I can't help put in a plug for our shop - we did the logo markings for the experiment. They came out pretty nice.

As a side note, I added Chad's photo of me surrounded by some of our models as my official blog photo. While there is a company policy that says we shouldn't broadcast our affliation with Northrop Grumman (the better to counter espionage, etc), I figured that having my face published with such a direct link makes it ridiculous to deny the fact. So why not acknowledge what is already known? Besides, Chad did a nice job and I really like the picture - one of the few times I've actually been happy with an image of myself.

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