Frisbee Physics, Part 2

Yesterday we discussed some of the basic mechanics of a frisbee in flight. Although frisbees do generate lift similarly to a wing, they do have some unique features. You’ve probably noticed, for example, that the top surface of a frisbee has several raised concentric rings. These are not simply decoration! Instead the rings disrupt airflow at the surface of the frisbee. This actually creates a narrow region of separated flow, visible in region B on the left oil-flow image. Airflow reattaches to the frisbee in the image after the second black arc, and the boundary layer along region C remains turbulent and attached for the remaining length of the frisbee. Keeping the boundary layer attached over the top surface ensures low pressure so that the disk has plenty of lift and remains aerodynamically stable in flight. A smooth frisbee would be much harder to throw accurately because its flight would be very sensitive to angle of attack and likely to stall. (Image credits: J. Potts and W. Crowther; recommended papers by: V. Morrison and R. Lorentz)

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