Phenomena

Flutter and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge

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Sixty years ago yesterday the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge (a.k.a. Galloping Gertie) collapsed as a result of aeroelastic flutter during 42 mph winds. Flutter is a phenomenon in which the fluid dynamics and structural dynamics of a system are closely coupled, in this case resulting in a dramatic failure. The high sustained winds provided an energy source for self-excitation of one of the bridge’s torsional modes; as the bridge contorted, the motion caused additional vortices to be shed from the bridge deck, causing further vibrational forces on the bridge. For an analysis of the bridge’s collapse and its common misrepresentations, see Billah and Scanlan. The bridge’s spectacular collapse prompted reconsideration and redesign of the decks of modern suspension bridges.

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