Circulation Around an Airfoil

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As a followup to yesterday’s question about ways to explain lift on an airfoil, here’s a video that explains where the circulation around the airfoil comes from and why the velocity over the top of the wing is greater than the velocity around the bottom. Kelvin’s theorem says that the circulation within a material contour remains constant for all time for an inviscid fluid. Before the airplane moves, the circulation around the wing is zero because nothing is moving. As shown in the video, as soon as the plane moves forward, a starting vortex is shed off the airfoil. As the plane flies, our material contour must still contain the starting position and thus the starting vortex. However, in order to keep the overall circulation in the contour zero, the airfoil carries a vortex that rotates counter to the starting vortex. This is the mechanism that accelerates the air over the top of the wing and slows the air around the bottom. Now we can apply Bernoulli’s principle and say that the faster moving air over the top of the airfoil has a lower pressure than the slower moving air along the bottom, thus generating an upward force on the airfoil. (submitted by jessecaps)

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