The flow physics of helicopter brownout

Catriona Phillips, Hyo Wan Kim, R.E. Brown

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The formation of the dust cloud that is associated with low-level helicopter operations in desert environments has been simulated using the Vorticity Transport Model together with a coupled model to represent the entrainment and subsequent transport of particulate matter through the flow. A simple thin-layer theory, supported by simulations performed using the more physically-representative numerical model, is used to explain the formation of characteristic sheet- and filament-like structures in the dust cloud in terms of the interactions between individual vortical filaments and the ground. In parts of the flow, for instance near the ground vortex that is formed under the leading edge of the rotor when in forward flight, the dust cloud becomes more space-filling than sheet-like in character, and the theory suggests that this is a result of the dust distribution having been processed by multiple vortices over a significant period of time. The distribution of the regions on the ground plane from which significant entrainment of dust into the flow takes place is shown to be influenced strongly by the unstable nature of the vortical structures within the flow. It is suggested that the effect of this vortical instability, when integrated over the timescales that are characteristic of the formation of the dust cloud, is to de-sensitize the gross characteristics of the dustcloud to the details of the wake structure at its inception on the rotor blades. This suggests that the formation of the brownout cloud may be relatively insensitive to the detailed design of the blades of the rotors and may thus be influenced only by less subtle characteristics of the helicopter system.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2010
Event66th American Helicopter Society Forum: Rising to New Heights in Vertical Lift Technology - Phoenix, Arizona
Duration: 11 May 201013 May 2010


Conference66th American Helicopter Society Forum: Rising to New Heights in Vertical Lift Technology
CityPhoenix, Arizona


  • vorticity transport model
  • numerical modelling
  • vortical instability
  • brownout dust cloud


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