Separating Flow

Flow separation occurs when a fluid is unable to flow smoothly around an object. In the case of the photo above, fog is being used to visualize flow around an airfoil at a large negative angle of attack. The incoming flow stagnates at a point on top of the airfoil, and streamlines on either side of that point split to move around the airfoil. Those on top are accelerated to high velocity, generating smooth, low-pressure flow over the aft section of the upper surface. On the other side of the stagnation point, however, the fog is trying to flow around the curve of the leading edge but the local pressure gradient is increasing, which slows the flow. Ultimately, it separates from the airfoil, creating a large region of recirculating, turbulent flow. When this effect occurs on the upper surface of a wing at a high (positive) angle of attack, it is called stall and causes a dramatic loss in lift.  (Photo credit: Wikimedia/Smart Blade GmbH)

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