Wake structure and kinematics in the vortex ring state

G.A. Ahlin, R.E. Brown

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High-resolution computational simulations of the vortical wake of a rotor operating both near to and within the vortex ring state have been conducted using Brown's vorticity transport model. The nonlinear vortex kinematics of the wake is exposed using three-dimensional visualizations of the simulated flow field. To reveal the vortex dynamics that underpin the highly unsteady flow within the vortex ring state, a rotor with just one blade was modeled. This blade was decoupled aerodynamically from the surrounding velocity field so that it acted merely as a source of trailed vorticity. The investigation identified a significant change in the dominant dynamics of the wake as it swapped fromthe tubular form that is characteristic of hover or very lowspeed descent into the toroidal geometry of the vortex ring state. Initial vortex 'pairing' leads to rotation of vortex filaments away from their original attitude. This phenomenon plays an important role in regulating the downwash that the rotor can produce and thus in precipitating the onset of the vortex ring state. The considerable and persistent coherence of the vortical structure of the wake when in the vortex ring state is revealed, despite these disturbances, as are themechanisms that lead to both small-scale and large-scale wake breakdown events. Simulations show the balance between the vortex pairing and short-wave instability modes to be different in the vortex ring state at high descent speed, where the wake lies above the rotor, compared to in the vortex ring state at low descent speed when the wake lies predominantly below the rotor. This yields subtle differences to the kinematics and structure of the wake in the two cases.
Original languageEnglish
Article number032003
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the American Helicopter Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2009


  • vortical wake
  • vortex ring state
  • vorticity transport model
  • vortex kinematics


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