Aerodynamic Centers of Arbitrary Airfoils Below Stall
Journal of Aircraft
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc.
The aerodynamic center of an airfoil is commonly estimated to lie at the quarter-chord. This traditional estimate is based on thin airfoil theory, which neglects aerodynamic and geometric nonlinearities. Even below stall, these nonlinearities can have a significant effect on the location of the aerodynamic center. Here, a method is presented for accurately predicting the aerodynamic center of any airfoil from known lift, drag, and pitching-moment data as a function of angle of attack. The method accounts for aerodynamic and geometric nonlinearities, and it does not include small-angle, small-camber, and thin-airfoil approximations. It is shown that the aerodynamic center of an airfoil with arbitrary amounts of thickness and camber in an inviscid flow is a single, deterministic point, independent of angle of attack, and lies at the quarter-chord only in the limit as the airfoil thickness and camber approach zero. Furthermore, it is shown that, once viscous effects are included, the aerodynamic center is not a single point but is a function of angle of attack. Differences between this general solution and that predicted by the thin airfoil theory can be on the order of 3%, which is significant when predicting flutter speeds. Additionally, the results have implications for predicting the neutral point of a complete aircraft.
Hunsaker, D. F., Pope, O. D., Taylor, J. D., and Hodson, J., “Aerodynamic Centers of Arbitrary Airfoils Below Stall,” Journal of Aircraft, Vol. 56, No. 6, November, 2019.