Analysis of Rotor Wake Aerodynamics During Maneuvering Flight Using a Free-Vortex Wake Methodology

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The problem of helicopter rotor wake aerodynamics during maneuvering flight conditions was analyzed using a time-accurate, free-vortex wake methodology. The free-vortex method consists of a Lagrangian representation of the rotor flow field using vortex elements, where the evolution of the flow field is simulated by tracking the free motion of these vortex elements and calculating their induced velocity field. Traditionally, free-vortex methods are inviscid, incompressible models, but in the present approach the viscous effects are incorporated using a viscous splitting method where the viscous and inviscid terms are modeled as successive sub-processes. The rotor aerodynamics and rigid blade flapping dynamics are closely coupled with the wake model and solved for in a consistent manner using the same numerical scheme.

Validations of the methodology with experimental data were performed to study the wake response to perturbations in collective and cyclic pitch inputs. The numerical simulations captured all the essential wake dynamics observed in flow visualization. The predictions of the transient inflow and airloads response were found to be in excellent agreement with the available experimental measurements. It was observed that the rotor wake was extremely sensitive to perturbations in collective and cyclic blade pitch inputs. The characteristic wake response was found to be the bundling of the wake vorticity into a vortex ring structure. The evolution, convection and subsequent breakdown of this bundled ring of tip-vortices was found to be highly nonlinear, and occurs with a temporal lag. The nonlinear induced velocity field associated with unsteady wake evolution can cause considerable fluctuations in the rotor airloads time-history if the bundled tip-vortex structure comes into close proximity to the rotor blades. Furthermore, the interaction of these tip-vortices with the blades results in steep gradients in the rotor airloads across the rotor disk, thereby contributing to impulsive rotor noise.