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Recent Advances in Downwind Sail Aerodynamics


Abstract and Figures

Over the past two decades, the numerical and experimental progresses made in the field of downwind sail aerodynamics have contributed to a new understanding of their behaviour and improved designs. Contemporary advances include the numerical and experimental evidence of the leading-edge vortex, as well as greater correlation between model and full-scale testing. Nevertheless, much remains to be understood on the aerodynamics of downwind sails and their flow structures. In this paper, a detailed review of the different flow features of downwind sails, including the effect of separation bubbles and leading-edge vortices will be discussed. New experimental measurements of the flow field around a highly cambered thin circular arc geometry, representative of a bi-dimensional section of a spinnaker, will also be presented here for the first time. These results allow to interpret some inconsistent data from past experiments and simulations, and to provide guidance for future model testing and sail design.
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Recent Advances in Downwind Sail Aerodynamics
Jean-Baptiste R. G. Souppez, Warsash School of Maritime Science and Engineering, Solent
University, Southampton, UK.
Abel Arredondo-Galeana, School of Engineering, Institute for Energy Systems, University of
Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.
Ignazio Maria Viola, School of Engineering, Institute for Energy Systems, University of Edinburgh,
Edinburgh, UK (corresponding author,
Over the past two decades, the numerical and experimental progresses made in the field of downwind sail aerodynamics
have contributed to a new understanding of their behaviour and improved designs. Contemporary advances include the
numerical and experimental evidence of the leading-edge vortex, as well as greater correlation between model and full-scale
testing. Nevertheless, much remains to be understood on the aerodynamics of downwind sails and their flow structures. In
this paper, a detailed review of the different flow features of downwind sails, including the effect of separation bubbles and
leading-edge vortices will be discussed. New experimental measurements of the flow field around a highly cambered thin
circular arc geometry, representative of a bi-dimensional section of a spinnaker, will also be presented here for the first time.
These results allow to interpret some inconsistent data from past experiments and simulations, and to provide guidance for
future model testing and sail design.
AoA Angle of Attack
CFD Computational Fluid Dynamics
Cp Pressure Coefficient
DES Detached Eddy Simulation
FEA Finite Element Analysis
FSI Fluid-Structure Interaction
LE Leading Edge
LES Large Eddy Simulation
LEV Leading-Edge Vortex
LSB Laminar-Separation Bubble
NACA National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
PIV Particle Image Velocimetry
RANS Reynolds-Averaged Navier Stokes
Re Reynolds Number
TKE Turbulent Kinetic Energy
VLM Vortex Lattice Method
Sailing has been a central part of History, and has heavily influenced the development of humanity, with evidence of
sailing vessels as early as the 6th millennium BC (Carter, 2006). While sailing downwind has benefited from millennia of
evolution, the very first instance of a highly cambered and dedicated downwind sail, termed spinnaker, did not occur until
1865, as reported by King (1981), and was not popularized until the 1970s and 1980s; primarily thanks to the development
of symmetric spinnakers for the America’s Cup.
Asymmetric spinnakers were then introduced in the 1980s in the 18ft fleet in Sydney, before being popularised on offshore
racing yachts in the 1990s. These new sails were promptly adopted in many significant sailing events; firstly in offshore races
such as the Vendée Globe and the Whitbread 60, and later in the America’s Cup (Fallow, 1996; Richards et al, 2001; Viola
& Flay, 2009). The significant advances made in terms of spinnaker design and analysis during this particular decade can be
related to the greater part that downwind legs took in the 1995 America’s Cup (Fallow, 1996), thus motivating further research
and development.
The 1990s also coincide with a fast increase in accessible computational power, allowing advanced numerical methods to
be used in sail design (Hedges, 1993; Hedges et al, 1996), particularly for downwind sails. Upwind sails, where the flow
remains largely attached, have been successfully analysed using inviscid codes since the 1960s, with the pioneering work of
Milgram (1968) on Vortex Lattice Method (VLM), and later Gentry (1971), to eventually be extensively utilized in America’s
Cup sails development (Gentry, 1988). Conversely, for downwind sails, where the flow is largely separated, the use of
Reynolds-Averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) simulations is necessary (Lasher et al, 2005). The first instances of RANS
occurred in 1996 for downwind sails (Hedges et al, 1996) and 1999 for upwind sails (Miyata & Lee, 1999). The complexity
of downwind sail flow also prompted the development of dedicated experimental facilities, namely twisted flow wind tunnels
(Flay & Vuletich, 1995), the need for which was highlighted a few years before by Flay & Jackson (1992).
One of the benefits of experimental testing is the ease to achieve the effective flying shape of the sail from the moulded
one. In order to achieve the flying shape from numerical simulations, Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is coupled with
Finite Element Analysis (FEA). This approach has led to major advances in the field of Fluid-Structure Interaction (FSI) of
downwind sails (Richter et al, 2003; Renzsch et al, 2008; Durand, et al, 2014; Sacher et al, 2015).
With the continuous growth of computational power (Viola, 2009), leading in 2011 to over a billion cells being used for
yacht sail simulations for the first time (Viola & Ponzini, 2011), and with the wide adoption of asymmetric spinnakers, there
is more than ever a strong incentive to employ numerical methods to further the understanding of downwind sails design.
This has recently enabled the discovery of the Leading-Edge Vortex (LEV). Indeed, the first evidence of the presence of a
stable LEV on a downwind yacht sail was provided numerically in 2014 (Viola et al, 2014), before being confirmed
experimentally three years later (Viola & Arredondo-Galeana, 2017; Arredondo-Galeana & Viola, 2018), prompting new
interpretations of full-scale pressure measurements on downwind sails (Richards & Viola, 2015).
This paper first introduces the background to the LEV, and the numerical and experimental work demonstrating its
presence and impact on sailing performance. Then, the correlation between full-scale experiments, numerical simulations and
model-scale testing are presented, focusing on recent findings and discrepancies. Successively, novel results are introduced
to understand anomalies observed in pressure distributions between various experiments at model-scale. The findings of this
experiment will be discussed, eventually concluding on the recent advances in downwind sail aerodynamics, and suggesting
refined wind tunnel testing practice for future experimental work.
The LEV identified on yacht sails has significant similarities with that on delta wings. Following the work undertaken by
the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) during World War II, and driven by the will to achieve supersonic
planes, a vast amount of research was undertaken on delta wings. The leading-edge separation highlighted in the 1950s
(Marsden et al, 1958; Harvey, 1959) then resulted in the leading-edge vortex theory developed by Hall (1961) and applied
by Earnshaw (1962) in the early 1960s. The LEV on delta wings (pictured in Figure 1a) provides most of the lift at high
angles of attack (AoA). Anecdotally, Bethwaite (1993) anticipated that highly swept back asymmetric spinnakers could
function in a similar fashion as delta wings on high performance dinghies. It was subsequently hypothesised by Viola & Flay
(2012) that an LEV, analogous to that of delta wings, was present at the head of spinnakers on both the leading and trailing
edges, provided that sailing occurs at sufficiently high apparent wind angles.
Vortex lift, such as the lift due to the LEV, was modelled successfully by Polhamus (1966) for slender delta wings through
the suction force analogy. Despite the LEV being inherently tri-dimensional, the contribution of the vortex to the sectional
lift can be modelled as a 2D effect using this analogy, which is based on the leading-edge suction associated with potential-
flow leading-edge singularity. Saffman & Sheffield (1977) further explored theoretically the effect of a trapped, two-
dimensional vortex near the leading edge of a flat plate through inviscid potential flow. They found that at suitable locations
the vortex might remain stationary relative to the flat plate and that the vortex provides a significant lift contribution. At the
leading-edge, however, the vortex was sensitive to flow disturbances and no stable positions were found. Huang & Chow
(1982) expanded the study to circular arcs and Joukowski airfoils and found consistent results.
More recently, a tri-dimensional LEV was found to be the reason for the Hawkmoth (manduca sexta), and more generally
insects, being able to fly thanks to the lift contribution of the LEV. This pioneering work and flow visualization realized in
1996 (Ellington et al, 1996) was validated using Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) in 2005 (Bomphrey et al, 2005). Around
the same time, in 2004, evidence of LEV on bird wings was also provided (Figure 1b, Videler et al, 2004) suggesting lift
enhancement. This seminal work on insect and bird flight led to significant studies of the LEV on oscillating and revolving
wings (Figure 1c, Taira & Colonius, 2009) and has been of paramount importance to understand the different stabilization
mechanisms that allow a vortex to remain stably (‘trapped’) near a wing (Eldredge & Jones, 2019). In the case of spinnakers
(Figure 1d), the LEV has similarities with that of bird wings (Figure 1b) and translating wings (Figure 1c) due to the
comparable sweepback angle and strong interaction with the tip vortex.
Figure 1 - The LEV on different lifting surfaces. (a) The steady LEV of a delta wing (Mitchell et al, 2006); (b) the steady
LEV on a gliding bird’s wing (similar to the periodic LEV on flapping wings) (Videler et al, 2004); (c) the unsteady LEV
of an accelerating plate after having convected 5 chord lengths (Taira & Colonius, 2009); and (d) the intermittently steady
LEV on an asymmetric spinnaker.
Remarkably, the LEV has been identified across a wide range of Reynolds numbers (Re). In laminar flow conditions, it
has been found on auto-rotating seeds (Lentink et al, 2009) and on the wings of insects (Muijres et al, 2008) and small birds
(Lentink et al, 2007). In transitional and turbulent flow conditions, it has been detected on larger bird wings (Hubel & Tropea,
2010), fish fins (Borazjani & Daghooghi, 2013) and delta wings (Gursul et al, 2005, Gursul et al, 2007).
In the examples above, the LEV provides an essential source of lift augmentation. However, the LEV is not always
desirable. In helicopter rotors (Corke et al, 2015) and wind turbines (Larsen et al, 2007) the LEV is a powerful but dangerous
flow feature, since it generates large load oscillations. When the LEV is shed downstream, it leads to a lift overshoot above
the quasi-static maximum lift, as well as an abrupt and dangerous change in the pitching moment.
A key characteristic of the LEV is that it is a feature of the instantaneous flow field, and not of the time-averaged one.
This is relevant to yacht sails, where a distinction can be made between the recirculating flow at the leading edge of upwind
sails, such as jibs and genoas, and that of downwind sails.
Vortices that exists only in the time averaged sense include those on upwind sails, where the leading-edge bubble is similar
to those of flat plates at incidence characterized by Newman & Tse (1992), and those of plates with a blunt leading edge
(Figure 2a and 2b). Another time-averaged vortex is that occurring as a result of a detached boundary layer, giving a region
of recirculating reverse flow (O’Meara & Muller, 1987). This type of bubbles typically occurs on thin foils and reattachment
is due to the laminar-to-turbulent transition of the separated shear layer (Crabtree, 1957); in this case they are called Laminar-
Separation Bubbles (LSB) (Figure 2c). Bubbles and their impact on the flow field and resulting pressure distribution was
extensively discussed by Ward (1963), with the characteristic plateau in the pressure coefficient (Cp) indicating the presence
of a bubble. This will be emphasized in the following sections, when discussing the pressure distribution over asymmetric
Figure 2 Leading-edge bubble and laminar-separation bubble. The vorticity (a) and velocity field (b) of a leading-
edge bubble measured by Stevenson et al. (2016) and the velocity field of a laminar-separation bubble (c) measured by
McAuliffe & Yaras (2010).
On the other hand, spinnakers generate a much more coherent vortex structure that can be identified in the instantaneous
flow field. This vortex is formed by the roll of vorticity at the leading edge, as identified on, and exploited by both biological
flyers and delta wings, with a significant increase in performance. The underlying stabilization mechanisms that allows the
LEV to be more coherent on spinnakers than on upwind sails are still to be fully understood. Arredondo-Galeana (2019)
suggested that the sweep back of the leading edge, and the strong tip vortex, are the main elements that stabilize the LEV on
downwind sails. Finally, it is interesting to note that the interference of the mast on the mainsail results in two counter-rotating
vortices on the windward and leeward side of the mast (Fossati, 2009; Larsson et al, 2013). The vortex lift due to these two
coherent vortices is unlikely to cancel each other, and their net contribution has never been estimated.
The mechanism by which the LEV increases lift is as follow. Let assume that the sail is trimmed at the ideal angle of
attack, i.e. that the flow velocity is tangent to the sail at the leading edge and no LEV occurs. The integral of the vorticity in
the sail boundary layer is equal to the bound circulation, which represents the strength of a vortex inside of the sail (bound
to the sail). The Kutta-Joukowski’s theorem states that the lift is proportional to the bound circulation. If the sail is trimmed
at higher angles of attack, the sharp leading edge leads to flow separation. Without the LEV, the sail would stall and both
circulation and lift would decrease. With the LEV, the loss in bound circulation is accounted for, at least in part, by unbound
circulation which is contained within the LEV. Its circulation contributes to the lift of the sail to a different extent depending
on its position and velocity (Li & Wu, 2018). Hence, the LEV allows to retain some of the circulation that would otherwise
be lost. In some cases, such as in Figure 3, it also enables flow reattachment. In these cases, the LEV is said to be trapped
by the streamlines that keep it attached to the sail. The sum of the bound circulation and the circulation in the trapped vortex
is equal to the circulation that the sail would have if the boundary layer was attached without the presence of the vortex
(DeVoria & Mohseni, 2017).
The use of Detached Eddy Simulation (DES) revealed the presence of an LEV on a model-scale sail. The vortex size was
shown to increase spanwise towards the head of the sail. The visual representation of the numerical evidence of the LEV,
related to the work of Viola et al (2014), is depicted in Figure 3. The LEV can be identified as the region of high vorticity,
whose contour is shows by the isoline of vorticity. Remarkably, the isoline of axial velocity reveals that, inside the core of
the LEV, the flow velocity 𝑢𝑎 along the axis of the vortex (out of the plane of the figure) is even higher than the free stream
velocity 𝑈. This region of very high velocity is associated with a low pressure, with a pressure coefficient Cp ranging from
-2 to -4. The time-averaged streamline shows the reattachment downstream of the LEV.
Figure 3 - The LEV computed on a horizontal section of an asymmetric spinnaker. Unpublished results from the time-
averaged DES simulations of Viola et al. (2014).
The LEV has been identified with a highly time resolved DES (Viola et al, 2014) at lower Reynolds numbers than at full
scale. In the opinion of the authors, despite the continuous growth of the computational resources, it is still not possible to
use more advanced turbulence models such as Large Eddy Simulations (LES). The grid and time resolution required to apply
an LES model is significantly higher to that of DES, and is unachievable even by very large supercomputers. However, some
under-resolved simulations have been performed with some degree of success. LES have been applied to upwind sails and
flat plates (Nava et al, 2018), the latter being based on the low-Reynolds number experimental work of Crompton & Barrett
(2000) that has often been used as a benchmark for low-camber sails (Collie, 2006; Collie et al., 2008). A key advantage of
LES over RANS was originally shown by Sampaio et al (2014) and confirmed by Nava et al (2017) on upwind sails: the
ability to predict the second recirculation bubble typical of long leading-edge bubbles. Modelling correctly this secondary
bubble, which sits between the leading edge and the main bubble core, is critical to accurately predict the direction of the
separated shear layer and thus the reattachment point of the bubble. Therefore, while the use of LES for yacht sails is expected
to significantly improve the accuracy of the solution, the required computational power is still unaffordable.
Model-scale testing of a solid asymmetric spinnaker, identical to that of the previous numerical work (Viola et al, 2014),
was conducted in the current flume at the University of Edinburgh, utilizing PIV to provide flow visualization. This
experiment confirmed the existence of the LEV on the upper half of an asymmetric spinnaker. Vorticity formed at the leading
edge rolls up and it is extracted by axial flow at the top of the sail, providing at least 25% of the total sectional lift. It is
suggested that the overall effect on the whole sail could be significantly more than 10% (Arredondo-Galeana & Viola, 2018).
Due to the forward position of the LEV, an even higher impact on drive force can be speculated.
The LEV was observed to be stable only intermittently (Figure 4a and 4b). When unstable, it was continuously formed
and, once it reached a critical strength, convected downstream (Figure 4c). The aerodynamic forces depend on the position
and velocity of the LEV with respect to the sail. Hence the convection of the LEV could lead to mild load fluctuations.
However, the distance between two convecting LEVs is a fraction of the sail chord, and hence several LEVs are
simultaneously present on the leeward side of the sails (Figure 4c). This mitigates the load fluctuations associated with the
convection of each LEV. Moreover, the mean aerodynamic forces were similar for the stable and unstable mode of the LEV.
Figure 4a shows the experimental time averaged-streamlines of a section of the model spinnaker (Arredondo-Galeana &
Viola, 2018) at 75% of the span from the foot. Figures 4b and 4c show a stable and a shedding LEV respectively, modelled
through a potential flow approach, where the circulation and position of each vortex was informed by the PIV measurements.
This modelling approach informed by the experiments allows the quantification of the contribution of the LEV to the sectional
lift of the spinnaker.
Figure 4 The LEV computed and modelled on a horizontal section of an asymmetric spinnaker. The experimental
time-averaged streamlines (a) measured by Arredondo-Galeana & Viola (2018); the complex potential model of the LEV
when steady (b) and when unsteady (c).
Background on Full-Scale Testing
Despite the earliest report of full-scale testing on yacht sails dating back to 1923 (Marchaj, 1979), the absence of
correlation between the measurements and sail shape has been a major limit in the study of sail aerodynamics. With the
growing interest for numerical modelling, advances in sensors, full-scale testing and the validation of numerical simulations
and model-scale tests, there is a strong demand for full-size benchmark cases.
With the development of dedicated wind tunnels in the 90s, the demand for validation data and benchmarks led to full-
scale measurements to be performed on a 35-footer by Milgram et al (1993). Subsequently, similar experiments were
performed on 33-footers by Masuyama & Fukasawa (1997) and Hochkirch & Brandt (1999) respectively. The former
primarily focused on sail forces for the purpose of velocity prediction, and achieved a good agreement between the
experimental data gathered (on both tacks) and numerical methods such as vortex lattice and RANS CFD, based on the sail
shapes recorded by on-board cameras. This experiment primarily tackled upwind sails and the numerical validation with full-
scale data.
Hansen et al (2003) targeted downwind sails, with a validation focused on comparison between full-size and wind tunnel
data. More recently, load and position sensors were fitted to the spinnaker of a 26-footer (J-80) by Augier et al (2012), this
time with a stronger emphasis on the more realistic unsteady fluid-structure interaction. Indeed, the greater availability of
computer power now allows to run more cost-effective virtual wind tunnel tests with FSI, modelling the changes between the
moulded and flying shape depending on the point of sail, wind speed and trim. An area where more research is certainly
needed is, for example, luff flapping (Viola & Flay, 2009; Deparday, 2016; Aubin et al, 2018).
Full-scale pressure measurements have, in some instances, provided evidence of the presence of the LEV. Viola & Flay
(2011) identified a suction peak at the trailing edge of full-scale downwind sails at high apparent wind angles. It is argued
that this is evidence of delta wing-like vortex formation on the top section of the spinnaker.
Motta et al (2015) also performed full-scale pressure measurement, detecting low pressure peaks convecting chordwise;
a phenomenon assimilated to the shedding of an LEV. This is also the argument brought forward by Richards & Viola (2015):
the inability to sustain an LEV leads to its shedding in the upper sections of asymmetric spinnakers.
On Water, Wind Tunnel and Computational Measurements
Viola & Flay (2011) compared the forces and pressures measured at full-scale on water, at model-scale in the wind tunnel,
and numerically using RANS. This was performed on both upwind and downwind sails, the latter being of primary interest
in this instance. In this study, the drive and side force coefficients were shown to be within 0.5% between the wind tunnel
and numerical models. However, significant differences were observed on the pressure distributions. Due to their free leading
edge, spinnakers tend to be trimmed tighter in full-scale sailing conditions to prevent the luff from collapsing. Conversely, in
the steadier conditions of the wind tunnel, the spinnaker can be eased closer to the flapping point. This is revealed in Figure
5, where the single suction peak for the full-scale spinnaker suggests that it is trimmed too tightly. Conversely, the wind
tunnel and the numerical simulation feature two suction peaks, suggesting a lower angle of attack. Here the sails were trimmed
for the maximum drive force.
It is interesting to observe that the RANS simulations of Viola & Flay (2011) already provided insights into the presence
of a tri-dimensional LEV, but these could not be fully recognised because the simulations were not time-resolved. Hence, the
helicoidal flow pattern in the region of separated flow near the leading edge was interpreted as a feature of the time-averaged
Figure 5 Pressure distributions on the mid-span section of an asymmetric spinnaker, measured at full-scale (FS), in
a wind tunnel (WT) and computed numerically (NUM) by Viola & Flay (2011).
As previously highlighted, when the LEV of downwind sails is unstable, it is shed downstream and convected along the
surface of the sail (Richards & Viola, 2015), ultimately resulting in a similar time-averaged flow field to that of leading-edge
bubbles. A similar phenomenon occurs on upwind fore sails, such as jibs and genoas.
Ota et al (1981) showed that the flow regime of leading-edge separation bubbles can be equally laminar, transitional (i.e.
laminar-to-turbulent transition occurs on the separated shear layer), or turbulent (with either turbulent separation, or transition
immediately downstream of the separation point). The instantaneous vorticity field and the time-averaged velocity field of
leading-edge bubbles can be found in Figures 2a and 2b respectively. The time averaged and instantaneous flow fields of an
LSB, shown in Figure 2c, are similar to those of a leading-edge bubble. Following the separation of the boundary layer due
to an adverse pressure gradient, a laminar to turbulent transition occurs, with a reattachment downstream, thus forming a
laminar-separation bubble. The LSB can be identified thanks to the presence of a plateau in the pressure distribution (Ward,
1963). Increasing the Reynolds number and the background turbulence, the transition and reattachment points move upstream,
hence the length of the bubble decreases (O’Meara & Mueller, 1987). Conversely, increasing the AoA, the separation point
moves downstream and the length of the bubble increases.
In this paper, the term LSB is used differently from several other papers, including those of the very same authors. Here
the LSB is used to identify a separation bubble where the key mechanisms of reattachment are due to the laminar to turbulent
transition. In fact, one of the aims of this paper is to emphasise that the leading-edge bubble of model-scale sails may remain
laminar. Consequently, the reattached boundary layer is laminar. In this case, the sail curvature may lead to separation of the
laminar boundary layer, resulting in two possible outcomes: either an LSB is formed and hence the flow reattaches forming
a turbulent boundary layer; or reattachment does not occur. It will be shown in the following section how these two outcomes
leads to very different pressure distributions and lift forces.
The presence of the leading-edge bubble on yacht sails have been shown on model-scale downwind sails in wind tunnels
(Viola & Flay, 2009), on circular arcs in CFD (Brault, 2013), and on circular arcs in wind tunnel (Flay, et al, 2017). These
results are sometimes contradictory because of misinterpretations of the role of the vortex in generating lift, and in the
assumption that it would have always triggered laminar-to-turbulent transition.
In some of these past experiments, the leading-edge bubble was laminar and the boundary layer downstream of the
reattachment was also laminar. As noted by Flay et al (2017), this observation is supported by evidence of a LSB farther
downstream along the chord. For example, Martin (2015), Flay et al (2017) and Nava et al (2017) have shown a clear LSB
towards the rear of a circular arc, especially for a low AoA (lesser than the ideal one), and low Reynolds number. The sudden
change occurring below and above a specific critical Reynolds number was discussed by Flay et al (2017).
For greater Reynolds numbers, the flow behaviour is closer to that of a streamlined profile. In these conditions, transitions
occurs upstream of trailing edge separation, either within the leading-edge bubble or between the reattachment point and the
LSB. Consequently, the boundary layer remains attached longer, decreasing both the wake and the drag, while the improved
suction region results in higher lift, as is the case, for instance, of Nava et al. (2016). The LSB is also observed at angles of
attack below the ideal one, where there is no leading-edge bubble.
These discrepancies motivated further work to be undertaken on a circular arc, which has the same camber of a typical
spinnaker. It will be shown in the next section that a laminar leading-edge separation bubble may indeed occur on model
scale sails, resulting in an unrealistic laminar trailing-edge separation. Importantly, the next section will describe the
conditions at which model-scale sails must be tested to prevent this effect.
The use of a highly cambered (over 20% camber) thin circular arc with a sharp leading edge has been used extensively in
recent years to further the understanding of the flow field past downwind sails. Indeed, the circular arc represents a typical
cross section through a modern asymmetric spinnaker. The geometry was originally employed by Velychko (2014) in wind
tunnel tests, followed by numerical work (Brault, 2013) and by water tunnel experiments (Lebret, 2013; Lombardi, 2014;
Martin, 2015; Thomas, 2015; Couvrant, 2015). These research works, together with other wind tunnel tests on the same
geometry, are reported by Flay et al (2016).
From these results, it was unclear which was the minimum AoA at which the leading-edge bubble occurs (i.e. the ideal
angle of attack), and if the appearance of the bubble resulted in a lift increase or decrease. It was also unclear if, and where,
laminar-to-turbulent transition occurred and its effect on the lift.
To investigate, a carbon fibre circular arc was built, with a chord of 200 mm and a camber of 22.32% (as per the literature).
Pre-preg was employed to achieve the thinnest possible geometry, more representative of the thin membrane than spinnakers
are. The final thickness of the tested arc was 1.8 mm.
The force measurements were recorded at 1000 Hz for 6 seconds using potentiometers, at speeds equivalent to Re found
in the literature, namely 53k, 68k, 150k and 220k. This allowed to validate the accuracy of the forces measured against
Velychko (2014) and demonstrated an abrupt increase in lift and decrease in drag at a critical AoA for a given Re. Additional
work on flow visualization was then carried out using PIV on the same geometry, in order to provide a physical explanation
to the abrupt change in lift coefficient. Transition was detected by quantifying the Turbulent Kinetic Energy (TKE) from one
hundred pairs of PIV flow fields.
The experiments reveal that, at low Re, the leading-edge bubble is laminar! This demonstrates that at model scale there
might be a non-realistic laminar boundary layer, which is more prone to separation than the turbulent boundary layer at full
scale. These experiments showed there is an AoA at which the reattached, laminar, boundary layer turns into turbulent before
trailing edge separation occurs. The authors called this angle the critical AoA. In order to correctly scale the point where
trailing-edge separation occurs on a scaled model, tests must be performed at an AoA higher than this angle. This angle
decreases with the Re.
Figure 6a shows a sub critical AoA, where trailing-edge separation is laminar and transition occurs in the separated shear
layer. Conversely, Figure 6b shows a super-critical AoA, where transition occurs in the boundary layer and trailing-edge
separation is turbulent. The turbulent boundary layer is more resilient to separation and, hence, trailing edge separation occurs
further downstream.
Figure 6 Flow measurements over a circular arc. Contours of turbulent kinetic energy and position of the separation
point over a circular arc at Re = 68k and at: a) sub-critical AoA and b) super-critical AoA.
In order to investigate the effect of the leading-edge bubble on the lift force, the minimum AoA at which the bubble occurs
is investigated. Figure 7 highlights the position of the stagnation point near the leading edge (LE) of the arc for different AoA.
This figure clearly reveals that 11 degrees (deg) is the ideal AoA for the tested circular arc: the leading-edge bubble must
occur at 11 deg and cannot occur at 10 deg.
Figure 7 - Location of the stagnation point at the leading edge of a circular arc for different AoAs.
Wind tunnel tests of flexible sails are performed only at AoA higher than the ideal AoA. Hence, the Re at which the critical
AoA is 11 deg was searched for. The authors called this Reynolds number the ‘critical Re’. If a circular arc is tested at the
critical Re or higher, there is no risk of laminar trailing-edge separation. It was ascertained that, for the tested model, the
critical Re is 144k (±2k). It must be remarked that the critical Re and the critical AoA depend on the specific geometry.
Finally, by combining the existing literature data and devised experiments, a schematic diagram of how the lift coefficient
varies with the AoA was produced, as depicted in Figure 8. A low lift coefficient curve corresponds to subcritical AoA and
Re. Past a Re of 218k, the flow will be turbulent for any AoA. However, for each lower Re, there is a critical AoA, where the
lift abruptly increases due to the transition in the boundary layer.
Figure 8 Schematic diagram of the lift curve and critical AoAs for different Re.
The recent research findings inherent to the highly cambered thin circular arc with sharp leading edge yielded four
significant results. Firstly, there are pairs of critical AoA and critical Re that define when the laminar to turbulent transition
occurs upstream of the trailing-edge separation point, resulting in higher lift and lower drag. On the other hand, for the critical
Re 220k, this occurs for any AoA. At the critical Re = 68k, the critical AoA is between 14 deg and 15 deg, which is
consistent with previous work (Lombardi, 2014).
The leading-edge bubble is not correlated with the discontinuous lift jump, which instead is due to the transition in the
boundary layer. For example, Martin (2015) speculated that the growth of the leading-edge bubble was causing the jump in
lift. However, the present work shows that this is not the case, and the previous conclusion drawn were a coincidence of the
tested Re.
Thirdly, the ideal AoA for the circular arc, previously defined as 8 deg by Martin (2015) based on the peak in lift coefficient
has been shown to be erroneous. Indeed, PIV revealed that the stagnation point was located on the leading edge at an AoA of
11 deg This is consistent with the PIV measurements of Thomas (2015).
Lastly, the present results show that, for this model, the critical Re = 144k (±2k) is associated with a critical AoA that
coincides with the ideal AoA, 11 deg. Let assume, in first approximation, that this is the critical Re of the ideal AoA also for
a model-scale sails. For Re higher than 144k (±2k), transition would occur upstream of trailing-edge separation, as on a full-
scale sail.
These results suggest that, for a highly cambered model-scale sail, Re should be much higher than 144k (±2k) so that the
model flow field is as per the full-size. It should be reminded that this limiting Re is likely to strongly depend on the sail
curvature, and probably on the twist, the background turbulence and surface roughness. For example, the tests by Bot et al
(2014) on a rigid model-scale sail suggest that Re = 230k was insufficient for their model. In fact, reviewing their sail pressure
distributions in light of these findings, the presence of the LSB can clearly be identified (Figure 9). Bot et al (2014) tested at
an average chord-based Re of 230k. This represents an example of a test where too low a Re was employed, with the critical
AoA occurring after the ideal AoA.
Similarly, circular arcs at low Re have showcased an LSB, the evidence of which was provided either numerically with
the average velocity field (Brault, 2013), or experimentally with pressure taps (Flay et al, 2017). The latter also reported both
an AoA and Re dependency. Conversely, no evidence of an LSB can be found in the literature for full size spinnakers,
including the experiments reported by Viola and Flay (2011), Motta et al (2014) and Deparday et al (2017).
Figure 9 - Pressure coefficient along the mid-section of a spinnaker at different AoA (Bot et al, 2014).
In the last decade, significant progress has been made on the understanding of the aerodynamics of sails, and particularly
on flow at the leading edge and laminar-to-turbulent transition in the boundary layer. The leading-edge vortex was first shown
to be present on spinnakers in 2014 numerically and confirmed experimentally in 2017. Nonetheless, more research is needed
to confirm that the LEV actually exists in a coherent structure at full-scale and in a realistic unsteady flow condition, which
are the sail types and apparent wind angles at which it occurs, and how it can be exploited by design.
The last decade also saw significant advances in the correlation between the surface pressure distributions measured in
wind tunnel, computed numerically or measured on full-scale sails. This now leads to a better understanding of the flow
features affecting the design and testing of asymmetric spinnakers. Anomalies in some pressure distributions measured at
model scale prompted further work to be conducted on highly cambered thin circular arcs resembling a 2D section of an
asymmetric spinnaker. In this paper, some new key results of this model are presented. These experiments demonstrated that
several wind tunnel tests were performed at too low Reynolds numbers. At the low Reynolds numbers, the leading-edge
bubble is laminar, and hence the reattached boundary layer is laminar, and trailing edge separation might occur upstream of
where a turbulent boundary layer would have separated. Transition was shown to be governed by the combination of a critical
Reynolds number and a critical AoA. The analysis of previous work in light of these new results suggests that model-scale
tests should conservatively be tested at Re > 230k.
These results further supported recent findings on the importance of the leading-edge vortex in lift generation. Indeed,
noting the recent experimental evidence suggesting that 25% of the sectional lift can be provided by the LEV, it is envisaged
that future work will see a stronger emphasis on how to promote a sustainable leading-edge vortex by design. Moreover, the
leading-edge vortex being located at the luff of the sail, the relative increase in driving force will be substantially higher than
the increase in lift. Hence, downwind sail design, and more precisely modern asymmetric spinnakers, can be tremendously
refined by fully exploiting the effect of the LEV as part of the sail design process.
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... Since 2006, highly cambered circular arcs have been extensively studied [12,13,14,31,32,33,34,35]. Sharp transitions in lift forces were identified and related to variations in flow patterns, as summarized by Bot [13,36] while additional correlation between forces and flow fields were provided by Souppez et al. [14,37]. ...
... With the acquired knowledge of the ideal angle of attack (11° for / = 22.32% at = 68,200) and corresponding critical Reynolds (144,000 +/-2,000), it is possible to recommend experimental model testing conditions so that the full-scale flow, clearly turbulent, can be replicated in a wind tunnel for instance. Indeed, as highlighted by Souppez et al. [37], evidence of laminar separation bubbles, identified thanks to a characteristic plateau in the pressure distribution, can be found in the literature, revealing inappropriate test conditions. Furthermore, the interesting case of Bot et al. [53] provides a striking example of a rigid model scale test undertaken at too low a Reynolds number in certain conditions. ...
Conference Paper
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The spinnaker is the most powerful and one of the most used sails both in racing and cruising - yet its complex aerodynamics governed by flow separation is still not fully understood. While the flow around a spinnaker is unsteady and highly tridimensional, locally the governing fluid mechanics may be represented by the quasi-steady bidimensional flow around a cambered circular arc with a sharp leading edge. The spinnaker is typically trimmed such that the stagnation point is at the leading edge with the sail streamline separating on the suction side and reattaching within the first 10% of the chord length, forming a leading-edge separation bubble (LESB). This flow feature sets the beginning of the boundary layer, whose separation further downstream is paramount for the global aerodynamic forces on the sail. This study investigates the effect of the LESB on the boundary layer regime and downstream flow separation through particle image velocimetry on a circular arc. The existence of the combination of a critical Reynolds number and a critical angle of attack to trigger turbulent separation is demonstrated. A turbulent LESB followed by a laminar boundary layer is observed in sub-critical regime. Conversely, in a post-critical condition, a turbulent LESB ensued by a turbulent boundary layer is detected, the latter continuing all the way to trailing-edge separation. This behaviour ultimately yields a sharp lift increase and drag reduction. These findings reveal the critical effect of the leading-edge vortical structures on the global flow field and forces experienced by cambered wings with leading-edge separation, including high performance spinnakers. It is envisaged that these results will contribute to improve the design and performance of downwind yacht sails.
... One of the representatives of wind turbines for low wind speeds are wind turbines with sail blades; the threshold speed for starting the installation is 3 m/s. In the last two decades, numerical and experimental advances in the aerodynamics of sails have contributed to a new understanding of their behavioural patterns and improved design [1]. ...
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For more than a hundred years, wind turbines have been used to convert the potential of wind energy into electricity. In recent years, a trend has emerged in the form of a sharp increase in fossil fuel prices, as a result of which the development and production of wind turbines has greatly increased. The market for wind turbines is broad; however, in general, many of them are designed for relatively high wind speeds, typically from 10 to 15 m/s at low power. Central Asia is known for lower wind speeds, so the commercial wind turbines do not meet the energy demand. Against this background, the current topic is the development and research of wind turbines and their functional elements for low wind speeds, among whose representatives is the sail. The authors of the paper numerically studied the aerodynamic coefficients of the sail blade, determining the patterns of three-dimensional air flow around it and the pressure distribution field. The sail blade was modeled using the computer program ANSYS FLUENT based on the Reynolds-averaged (RANS) Navier-Stokes equations. The inflow velocity varied from 3 to 15 m/s. Comparative analyzes of the theoretical and experimental results are given. The patterns of changes in aerodynamic parameters determined by the authors could contribute to the understanding of the complex aerodynamic patterns of a turbulent flow around the blades.
... The experimental data was provided bySouppez et al. (2019b) and measured in the towing tank of Solent University at Re = 150k. The experiments were designed to measure the blockage effect on a finite aspect ratio circular arc at angles of attack of 15 • and 20 • . ...
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A leading-edge vortex (LEV) can be a robust lift generation mechanism on both the wings of natural fliers and delta wings. A spinnaker-type of sail is a thin wing that promotes the formation of LEVs due to a sharp leading edge. Recent numerical simulations (Viola et al., 2014) have demonstrated that this type of sail can prevent LEV shedding and instead, keeps it trapped near the leading edge. In such cases, the LEV could enhance lift generation (Saffman and Sheffield, 1977; Huang and Chow, 1982), and so there is a need to investigate the existence of the LEV and its role for sails. To study the LEV in the context of sails, a rigid model scale spinnaker was tested in water at low Reynolds numbers and uniform flow. It was found that the flow separates at the leading edge, followed by turbulent reattachment, forming an LEV. For finite periods the LEV breaks down into weaker LEVs that are shed downstream; otherwise, the LEV remains coherent at the leading edge. On the lower half of the sail, the LEV has negligible diameter, and trailing edge separation occurs after the first quarter of the chord. To understand whether there is a benefit from having the LEV trapped near the leading edge, as opposed to being shed downstream into smaller LEVs, the local circulation was measured and its value utilised in a complex potential model. The model maps a circular arc into a rotating cylinder and assumes the Kutta condition, to provide a bound circulation value that is a function of the position and circulation of each LEV (Pitt Ford and Babinsky, 2013; Nabawy and Crowther, 2017). It is found that when the LEV is trapped near the leading edge, the LEV provides a marginally higher lift than when it breaks down and sheds. Surprisingly, with the conservative assumption of the Kutta condition, the LEV contributes between 10% to 20% to the sail’s sectional lift. In actual sailing conditions, the spinnaker experiences a twisted onset flow, that could not be replicated in the water flume, such that the angle of attack varies along the span of the sail. To explore this effect three spinnaker models were made, where the original sail was twisted from top to bottom by different angles. PIV and force measurements were compared. It was observed that a low twist sail allows the LEVs to remain close to the body of the sail, whereas a high twist sail causes them to drift away and generates counter vorticity on the surface of the sail. This viscous effect results in a marginal reduction in lift, but significant reduction of induced drag. The results presented in this PhD thesis aim to provide an improved understanding of the aerodynamics of downwind sails, where vortex flow is a dominant feature. The existence of trapped and shedding LEVs is demonstrated and an attempt is made to model LEVs through a complex potential model in order to assess their contribution to the sectional lift of the sail. Finally, the effect of twist is evaluated with regard to the aerodynamics of sails.
... Lastly, as all VPPs, the presented one should be considered qualitatively, allowing to compare the performance of various boats, rather than quantitatively. Indeed, although similar results between VPPs and sea trials can be achieved (Souppez, 2014), there is now evidence to suggest the force coefficients employed as part of VPP models and originating from wind tunnel tests could be flawed (Souppez et al., 2019) Nevertheless, this illustrates the crucial importance of the qualitative VPP at early design stages. Having reached an optimal geometry for each configuration, the performance of the three vessels could be compared again, yielding very interesting results. ...
Conference Paper
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Hydrofoil-assisted racing monohulls have undergone significant development phases in the past decade, yet very little scientific data has reached the public domain: an increasingly critical issue as the superyacht industry is now looking at the implementation of foils onto leisure vessels. Consequently, three contemporary configurations, namely a Dynamic Stability System, a Dali-Moustache and a Chistera have been towing tank tested to present the first complete characterisation of the hydrodynamic efficiency, quantification of the added dynamic stability and eventually the resulting impact on sailing performance. Furthermore, the considerations inherent to the design and installation of hydrofoils onto superyachts will be detailed. Building on extensive experimental work, this paper provides a comprehensive assessment of current design options with both technical and practical guidelines and recommendations to improve performance. DOI: 10.3940/rina.smy.2019.05
Fins, wings, blades and sails can generate lift and drag in both attached and separated flow conditions. However, the common understanding of the lift generation mechanism holds only for attached flow conditions. In fact, when massive flow separation occurs, the underlying assumptions of thin airfoil theory and lifting line theory are violated and the concept of bound circulation cannot be applied. Therefore, there is a need to develop an intuitive understanding of the force generation mechanism that does not rely on these assumptions. This paper aims to address this issue by proposing a paradigm based on established concepts in theoretical fluid mechanics, and impulse theory in particular. The force generation can be intuitively associated with the vorticity field, which can be gathered with computational fluid dynamics or particle image velocimetry. This paradigm reconciles key known results about wing aerodynamics, and provides designers of lifting surfaces a measurable objective to optimise the shape in separated flow conditions. It will hopefully underpin both a deeper understanding of how lift and drag are generated, and the development of low order models in different fields of application.
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While sailing offwind, the trimmer typically adjusts the downwind sail “on the verge of luff- ing”, occasionally letting the luff of the sail flap. Due to the unsteadiness of the spinnaker itself, main- taining the luff on the verge of luffing requires continual adjustments. The propulsive force generated by the offwind sail depends on this trimming and is highly fluctuating. During a flapping sequence, the aerodynamic load can fluctuate by 50% of the average load. On a J/80 class yacht, we simultane- ously measured time-resolved pressures on the spinnaker, aerodynamic loads, boat data and wind data. Significant spatio-temporal patterns were detected in the pressure distribution. In this paper we present averages and main fluctuations of pressure distributions and of load coefficients for dif- ferent apparent wind angles as well as a refined analysis of pressure fluctuations, using the Proper Orthogonal Decomposition (POD) method. POD shows that pressure fluctuations due to luffing of the spinnaker can be well represented by only one proper mode related to a unique spatial pressure pattern and a dynamic behavior evolving with the Apparent Wind Angles. The time evolution of this proper mode is highly correlated with load fluctuations. Moreover, POD can be employed to filter the measured pressures more efficiently than basic filters. The reconstruction using the first few modes makes it possible to restrict the flapping analysis to the most energetic part of the signal and remove insignificant variations and noises. This might be helpful for comparison with other measurements and numerical simulations.
Conference Paper
Sail forces were measured in a full-scale sailing boat with the use of a sail force dynamometer. This apparatus consisted of an aluminum frame fixed to the hull by way of several load cells. The sailing boat was modified so that the dynamometer frame could be installed inside the hull. The mast, stays, winches, and other sailing rig were fixed on the frame so as to transmit all the forces acting on sail to the frame. By transforming the measured forces, the lift force, drag force, thrust, side force, or the center of effort of the sail force could be obtained. The sailing conditions of the boat, such as the boat speed, heel angle, wind speed, wind angle, and so on, were also measured. Sail shapes of the boat in the up-wind condition were also measured with the use of CCD cameras installed in the boat. The sail shape images taken by the cameras were transformed to bit-map files, and then processed by an SSA-2D, a sail shape analyzing software. With the use of this software, sail shape parameters were obtained. The relationship between the measured sail forces and the sail shape parameters is discussed in this paper. Moreover, the measured sail shapes were used as the input data for the numerical calculations. Numerical calculations were performed to estimate the sail forces of the boat. In the calculations, two sails, a mainsail and a jib , were modeled in the form of a vortex lattice. The vortex lattice method was adopted as the numerical calculation method. Step by step calculations were conducted up to attaining the steady state of the sail in steady wind. Calculated sail forces were compared with the measured forces, and the validity of the numerical method was studied.
Conference Paper
At the Institute of Naval Architecture, Marine and Ocean Engineering (ISM), Technical University of Berlin, a research project was initiated investigating prediction methods for hydrodynamic forces acting on sailing yachts. For a 33ft. sailing yacht model tests with various keel designs and RANSE calculations have been carried out. In order to verify both, a full scale sail-force­dynamometer was built which enables to record the resulting hydrodynamic forces in a seaway without scaling parameters. In addition, separate six and five component balances have been designed for measuring the forces acting on keel and rudder for the model tests as well as on the full scale boat. The design and construction of the full scale measuring device is presented. Along with some sample measurements a general calibration procedure for inclined multicomponent balances is proposed. A short review of the model tests and RANSE-calculations complement the presentation.
Conference Paper
In recent years computational fluid dynamics (CFD) has demonstrated the ability to predict sail and appendage forces under upwind conditions or at angles of attack conducive to attached flow. Few sail or yacht designers would be without this tool, at least to check or confirm performance estimates made with other methods. More advanced codes (RANS) solve the full Navier-Stokes equations, thus including viscous effects and placing relatively less importance to fully attached flow. Due to the large proportion of downwind sailing, where the sails might operate in separated airflow, it is useful to evaluate the performance of sails as used off wind despite the added uncertainty resulting from the elasticity of the light material that must be used to allow the sails to fill properly at the low relative wind speeds. While downwind sail forces have been often tested in wind tunnels, CFD codes are now sufficiently advanced to predict such forces with confidence similar to that achieved in prediction of upwind forces. This paper presents a new method of linking a CFD code with a Finite Element Analysis (FEA) computer program, for evaluating the sail shapes and proper trim for known sail materials and fiber orientation. A VPP (Velocity Prediction Program) is used to predict leeway, heel, and boat speed for a given true wind angle and wind speed. Then the CFD code computes the airflow around the sails for the given onset flow conditions and provides the pressure distribution on the sails as needed for the FEA program. This is done in full scale considering the boundary layer above the water. This process of updating the pressure for the FEA program from the CFD code is repeated several times until optimal trim and sail shapes can be obtained for best sailing performance, e.g., the maximum driving force. Thus, this method can be considered a "Virtual Wind Tunnel" (VWT).
The leading-edge vortex (LEV) is known to produce transient high lift in a wide variety of circumstances. The underlying physics of LEV formation, growth, and shedding are explored for a set of canonical wing motions including wing translation, rotation, and pitching. A review of the literature reveals that, while there are many similarities in the LEV physics of these motions, the resulting force histories can be dramatically different. In two-dimensional motions (translation and pitch), the LEV sheds soon after its formation; lift drops as the LEV moves away from the wing. Wing rotation, in contrast, incites a spanwise flow that, through Coriolis tilting, balances the streamwise vorticity fluxes to produce an LEV that remains attached to much of the wing and thus sustains high lift. The state of the art of vortex-based modeling to capture both the flow field and corresponding forces of these motions is reviewed, including closure conditions at the leading edge and approaches for data-driven strategies.
In a previous paper, an inviscid vortex force map approach was developed for the normal force of a flat plate at arbitrarily high angle of attack and leading/trailing edge force-producing critical regions were identified. In this paper, this vortex force map approach is extended to viscous flows and general airfoils, for both lift and drag forces due to vortices. The vortex force factors for the vortex force map are obtained here by using Howe’s integral force formula. A decomposed form of the force formula, ensuring vortices far away from the body have negligible effect on the force, is also derived. Using Joukowsky and NACA0012 airfoils for illustration, it is found that the vortex force map for general airfoils is similar to that of a flat plate, meaning that force-producing critical regions similar to those of a flat plate also exist for more general airfoils and for viscous flow. The vortex force approach is validated against NACA0012 at several angles of attack and Reynolds numbers, by using computational fluid dynamics.