American Football Aerodynamics

Like many sports balls, the American football’s shape and construction make a big difference in its aerodynamics. Unlike the international football (soccer ball), which undergoes significant redesigns every few years thanks to the World Cup, the American football has been largely unchanged for decades. The images above come from a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation of a spiraling football in flight. Although the surface is lightly dimpled, the largest impact on aerodynamics comes from the laces and the air valve (just visible in the upper right image). Both of these features protrude into the flow and add energy and turbulence to the boundary layer. By doing so, they help keep flow attached along the football longer, which helps it fly farther and more predictably. For more, check out the video of the CFD simulation. (Image credits: CD-adapco; via

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