CAD-based Modeling of Advanced Rotary Wing Structures for Integrated 3-D Aeromechanics Analysis

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This dissertation describes the first comprehensive use of integrated 3-D aeromechanics modeling, defined as the coupling of 3-D solid finite element method (FEM) structural dynamics with 3-D computational fluid dynamics (CFD), for the analysis of a real helicopter rotor. The development of this new methodology (a departure from how rotor aeroelastic analysis has been performed for 40 years), its execution on a real rotor, and the fundamental understanding of aeromechanics gained from it, are the key contributions of this dissertation. This work also presents the first CFD/CSD analysis of a tiltrotor in edgewise flight, revealing many of its unique loading mechanisms. The use of 3-D FEM, integrated with a trim solver and aerodynamics modeling, has the potential to enhance the design of advanced rotors by overcoming fundamental limitations of current generation beam-based analysis tools and offering integrated internal dynamic stress and strain predictions for design. Two primary goals drove this research effort: 1) developing a methodology to create 3-D CAD-based brick finite element models of rotors including multibody joints, controls, and aerodynamic interfaces, and 2) refining X3D, the US Army’s next generation rotor structural dynamics solver featuring 3-D FEM within a multibody formulation with integrated aerodynamics, to model a tiltrotor in the edgewise conversion flight regime, which drives critical proprotor structural loads. Prior tiltrotor analysis has primarily focused on hover aerodynamics with rigid blades or forward flight whirl-flutter stability with simplified aerodynamics. The first goal was met with the development of a detailed methodology for generating multibody 3-D structural models, starting from CAD geometry, continuing to higher-order hexahedral finite element meshing, to final assembly of the multibody model by creating joints, assigning material properties, and defining the aerodynamic interface. Several levels of verification and validation were carried out systematically, covering formulation, model accuracy, and accuracy of the physics of the problem and the many complex coupled aeromechanical phenomena that characterize the behavior of a tiltrotor in the conversion corridor. Compatibility of the new structural analysis models with X3D is demonstrated using analytical test cases, including 90° twisted beams and thick composite plates, and a notional bearingless rotor. Prediction of deformations and stresses in composite beams and plates is validated and verified against experimental measurements, theory, and state-of-the-art beam models. The second goal was met through integrated analysis of the Tilt Rotor Aeroacoustic Model (TRAM) proprotor using X3D coupled to Helios¬¬ – the US Army’s next generation CFD framework featuring a high fidelity Reynolds-average Navier-Stokes (RANS) structured/unstructured overset solver – as well as low order aerodynamic models. Although development of CFD was not part of this work, coupling X3D with Helios was, including establishing consistent interface definitions for blade deformations (for CFD mesh motion), aerodynamic interfaces (for loads transfer), and rotor control angles (for trim). It is expected that this method and solver will henceforth be an integral part of the Helios framework, providing an equal fidelity of representation for fluids and structures in the development of future advanced rotor systems. Structural dynamics analysis of the TRAM model show accurate prediction of the lower natural frequencies, demonstrating the ability to model advanced rotors from first principles using 3-D structural dynamics, and a study of how joint properties affect these frequencies reveals how X3D can be used as a detailed design tool. The CFD/CSD analysis reveals accurate prediction of rotor performance and airloads in edgewise flight when compared to wind tunnel test data. Structural blade loads trends are well predicted at low thrust, but a 3/rev component of flap and lag bending moment appearing in test data at high thrust remains a mystery. Efficiently simulating a gimbaled rotor is not trivial; a time-domain method with only a single blade model is proposed and tested. The internal stress in the blade, particularly at its root where the gimbal action has major influence, is carefully examined, revealing complex localized loading patterns.