Phenomena

Helicopter Tip Vortices

Airplanes and other fixed-wing aircraft produce wingtip vortices as a result of their finite length. Rotor blades, like those on helicopters, produce the effect as well. Both wings and rotors generate lift by trapping low-pressure air on their top surface and high-pressure air below. At their tips, though, the high-pressure air can sneak around the wing or rotor, creating vortices like the ones visualized above. Here smoke from a wire is entrained by the rotors’ inflow and twisted into a tip vortex. The line of vortices drifts downward due to the rotor’s downwash. (Image credit: M. Giuni et al., source)

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