Journal of Fluid Mechanics

The structure and development of a wing-tip vortex

William J.  Devenport a1, Michael C.  Rife a1, Stergios I.  Liapis a1 and Gordon J.  Follin a1
a1 Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA

Article author query
devenport wj   [Google Scholar] 
rife mc   [Google Scholar] 
liapis si   [Google Scholar] 
follin gj   [Google Scholar] 


Experiments have been performed on the tip vortex trailing from a rectangular NACA 0012 half-wing. Preliminary studies showed the vortex to be insensitive to the introduction of a probe and subject only to small wandering motions. Meaningful velocity measurements could therefore be made using hot-wire probes.

Detailed analysis of the effects of wandering was performed to properly reveal the flow structure in the core region and to give confidence in measurements made outside the core. A theory has been developed to correct mean-velocity profiles for the effects of wandering and to provide complete quantitative estimates of its amplitude and contributions to Reynolds stress fields. Spectral decomposition was found to be the most effective method of separating these contributions from velocity fluctuations due to turbulence.

Outside the core the flow structure is dominated by the remainder of the wing wake which winds into an ever-increasing spiral. There is no large region of axisymmetric turbulence surrounding the core and little sign of turbulence generated by the rotational motion of the vortex. Turbulence stress levels vary along the wake spiral in response to the varying rates of strain imposed by the vortex. Despite this complexity, the shape of the wake spiral and its turbulent structure reach an approximately self-similar form.

On moving from the spiral wake to the core the overall level of velocity fluctuations greatly increases, but none of this increase is directly produced by turbulence. Velocity spectra measured at the vortex centre scale in a manner that implies that the core is laminar and that velocity fluctuations here are a consequence of inactive motion produced as the core is buffeted by turbulence in the surrounding spiral wake. Mean-velocity profiles through the core show evidence of a two-layered structure that dies away with distance downstream.

(Published Online April 26 2006)
(Received March 10 1995)
(Revised November 1 1995)