The growing interest in commercial, industrial, and unmanned air travel demands reliable, efficient and cost-effective aircraft design strategies more than ever. Strategies to contemplate new ideas for our continuously evolving expectations of aircraft. In addition to conventional air travel and freight, the new generation of aircraft is widely used for unmanned reconnaissance, surveillance, environmental sensing, and data relay. Hence, they need to be suited for high-altitude and long-endurance (HALE) flights. Due to the high aspect-ratio of the wings, such aircraft usually have very flexible structures, and they can experience large deflections [1
]. The large deflections will introduce considerable geometric nonlinearity to structural equations. As a result, a linear aeroelastic analysis can no longer provide an accurate and reliable model of the aircraft’s flight characteristics. In fact, studies show that the structural dynamics of a flying wing aircraft is highly affected by the structural geometrical nonlinearities [1
To investigate the dependency of the aeroelastic behavior of high-aspect-ratio flying wings on the geometric nonlinearities, Patil and Hodges coupled a nonlinear beam theory with a nonplanar aerodynamic theory to characterize the physical origins of nonlinearities and assess their relative importance [1
]. They created a curved wing by applying a distributed load on a flexible straight wing to get a displacement equal to 25% of the span at the tip of the wing, and showed that there is a significant decrease in flutter speed (almost 50%) with increasing the wing load (in other words increasing the geometric nonlinearity). Figure 1
shows the changes in flutter speed and frequency for a flying wing (for model data see [1
], Table 1).
“Flutter” is the name commonly given to Hopf bifurcations of an aeroelastic system. The mathematical definition of a Hopf bifurcation indicates a critical point, where a system loses stability and a periodic solution appears. In terms of eigenvalue analysis, the appearance of two complex conjugate eigenvalues of the linearized system indicates the emergence of instability. Limit cycle oscillations (LCO) are another type of aeroelastic instability where the amplitude of oscillations remains bounded and requires time domain analysis. In theoretical studies, both LCO, as well as flutter, may occur in a Fluid-Structure Interaction (FSI) system, and LCO may occur below (as well as above) the flutter speed if the model is given a sufficiently large disturbance [3
]. For an aircraft, all aeroelastic instabilities can be catastrophic and lead to the sudden destruction of the vehicle. Computing and measuring the flow velocity at which flutter, LCO, or divergence occurs is a key goal of an aeroelastic investigation. The flight envelope highly depends on flutter speed, therefore it is important to consider nonlinear effects even at early design stages [1
During the flight, structural configuration of a flying wing becomes considerably different from its original undeformed shape. Therefore, flight dynamic theories developed based on rigid body approximation of the undeformed structure could not result in accurate aeroelastic models.
Considering the nonlinear effects, different numerical tools for aeroelastic and control analysis of flexible aircraft were developed. Researchers at MIT developed an aeroselastic code (ASWING) to investigate nonlinear static and dynamic responses. ASWING combines an aerodynamic model which uses lifting line with circulation and trialing vorticity with nonlinear, nonuniform beam model [4
]. Patil and Hodges developed a flight dynamic theory for highly flexible flying wings. This theory is a powerful tool to obtain trim solution of the complete aircraft, to perform stability analysis, and for nonlinear simulations [2
]. The developed theory was used to analyze a typical flying wing aircraft (for model data see [2
], Table 1), with and without payload.
The results reveals a significant difference between the flight dynamic characteristics obtained with rigid aircraft assumption, and the ones obtained considering the deformed aircraft configuration. For instance, comparing symmetric flight dynamics of the aircraft with rigid and flexible structure shows that phugoid modes of the two structures become considerably different as the payload increases, and the phugoid mode becomes unstable for the flexible structure which could lead to catastrophic consequences [5
The flutter instability of a flying wing aircraft could contain rigid-body degrees of freedom, and such instability is commonly referred as body-freedom flutter. The wing constitutive properties such as bending and torsional stiffness could highly affect body-freedom flutter, but when the effect of such parameters is investigated, the changes in the stiffness values are rarely related to physical changes in the actual wing structure. Richards et al. presented a trade study on body-freedom flutter and investigated the effect of fuselage mass, and structural geometry such as skin or flange thickness (which consequently effects bending and torsional stiffness). They choose a configuration similar to Horten flying-wing aircraft (for model data see [7
], Tables 1 and 2), then altered the wing section, fuselage mass, location of center of gravity and pitching inertia. NATASHA was used to calculate the nonlinear equilibrium trim state, perform eigenvalue analysis, and then verify the results with a nonlinear time-accurate study [7
The obtained results show that among fuselage characteristics, mass contributes the most to changes in flutter speed. Figure 2
shows how increase in fuselage mass increases the flutter speed. Richards et al. also investigated the structural geometry, and showed that between skin and flange thickness, the latter is more effective in increasing the flutter speed (Figure 3
On one hand, the aeroelastic analysis of the aircraft requires advanced aeroelastic theories to model the system behavior sufficiently accurate. On the other hand, design theories are required to understand, analyze, and predict the appropriate choice of geometry with allometric rules that unite the design of a wide range of aircraft.
Studies based on Constructal Law show that the evolution of airplane is not by chance and follows a certain rule. It was shown that their main components (fuselage, wings, engine) follow a certain size proportionality, regardless of the overall size of the aircraft [8
]. The “constructal theory of design” [10
] is used to analytically investigate the size effect of the airplane components. Reference [8
] shows that engine mass is proportional to the body size, body size is proportional to fuel weight, and range of flight corresponds to body size. Furthermore, the constructal theory reveals that the scales provided for the human-made aircraft are analogous to animal organs and the whole animal [8
]. For instance, the organs that constitute the motor system of the animal (muscles, heart, lung) are the counterparts of the engine of the aircraft. In biology, it is well known that the muscle mass, the heart mass, and the lung volume are empirically proportional to the animal body mass [10
The presented review focuses on the engine as one of the key organs of the aircraft. Rather than investigating the changes in the external air flow due to engine geometry and location, the numerical studies here mainly deal with the structural effects of the engine placement, and explore the changes in the stress flow through the structure. In this paper design with the constructal theory is introduced, a brief introduction of the theory behind NATASHA (Nonlinear Aeroelastic Trim And Stability of Hale Aircraft) is presented, and its applications in modern aircraft design are explored. Engine placement, as one of the key aspects of aircraft design, is investigated in detail, and it is presented that proper engine placement could suppress the aeroelastic instabilities and postpone the flutter. The importance of including nonlinearities in design is discussed, and it is shown that the geometric nonlinearity could highly affect critical flutter speed and eventually the flight envelope.
4. Results and Discussion
In a flying wing configuration, the engine is one of the key sources of structural and inertial loads. Consequently, its location could highly affect flutter characteristics of the aircraft. The topic was extensively explored by Mardanpour et al. [3
], they studied the effect of engine placement on flutter behavior of a flying wing similar to Horten IV (for model data see [21
], Tables 1–3). Each engine was modeled as a rigid body with a mass, an inertia matrix, a value of angular momentum, and a thrust vector represented as a follower force. Figure 7
a shows the schematic view of the flying wing with two engines. Engine location is measured along the wing span, and the results show that the maximum and minimum flutter speeds occur for engine placement at 60% of the span and wing tip, respectively. Figure 7
b shows the contour of flutter when engine is placed at 65% of the span, but free to move on
plane. In this case, placing the engine forward of the elastic axis results in higher flutter speeds [21
Similar analysis for an aircraft with multiple engines (Figure 8
a) shows that when the first engine is located at 50%–70% of the span and second engine is at 80%, maximum flutter speed will be obtained [28
]. Figure 8
b shows the normalized flutter speed contour for different engine locations on
Different combinations of engine placement were evaluated for different flight conditions. For instance, it was shown if first and second engines are respectively placed at 10% span and 50 to 70% span, it would be easier to trim the aircraft when the outboard engine fails [28
a,b show the schematic view of a single wing and normalized flutter speed contours for different engine locations. Stability analysis with and without gravity, both show that engine placement at 60% to 80% span forward of the elastic axis increase the flutter speed more than three times of the base model (clean wing without engine and gravity effects, for model data, see [3
], Tables 1 and 2). It should be noted analysis without considering the effect of gravity, was not capable of predicting the drop of flutter speed at 35 to 55% span.
Taking one step further than stability analysis, the dynamic response of a high-aspect-ratio wing accompanying a lightweight engine (JetCat SP5) was investigated, with and without considering the effect of gravity [3
]. It was assumed that the engine is working at cruise condition, it can be moved along the span, and it has an adjustable offset from the elastic axis.
The engine was placed at 25%, 50%, 75% span, and at the tip of the wing. The offset from the elastic axis was measured using polar coordinates with
, where r
is the radial offset from the elastic axis, normalized by chord, and
presents the angle between r
axis. Rectangular pulse and ramp fuel profiles were used to describe the transient behavior of the engine, and dynamic response was calculated using NATASHA, where a second-order, central-difference, time marching algorithm was applied [3
]. Results showed for certain engine placements, even though the airspeed is below flutter, the wing could undergo LCO due to impulse, Figure 10
. For instance, a wing with engine placed at
, and air speed below critical flutter speed experiences stable LCO when affected by rectangular pulse (Figure 11
Furthermore, Mardanpour et al. studied the effects of engine placement on nonlinear aeroelastic gust response of a very flexible high-aspect-ratio wing, Figure 9
a. They moved the engine location along the wing span, and exposed each configuration to an unsteady gust load, and solved system dynamics in the time domain. Comparison of the time domain results for the effects of the gust excitation and the frequency domain results for flutter speed indicate that the engine placement in the regions with maximum flutter speed has the potential to suppress the instabilities due to gust. For instance, gust acting on a wing with engine placement at 25% and 50% span without any offset will lead to limit cycle oscillations, Figure 12
a,b. Conversly, engine placement at 75% span with offset forward of the elastic axis could suppress the oscillations to the gust load, Figure 12
The flexible structure of HALE aircraft, subjected to aerodynamic loads or jet thrust, can undergo large deformations and consequently form configurations considerably different from the undeformed aircraft. The direction of loads, such as engine thrust, depends on the geometry of the structure, and it changes as the structure deforms. Therefore, engine thrust could be categorized as a follower force. Follower forces are non-conservative forces which could induce instability on flexible aeroelastic systems.
Fazelzadeh et al. studied the effect of lateral concentrated follower force acting on a high-aspect-ratio beam [30
], and their results showed a continuous decrease in flutter speed with the increase in the follower force. Mardanpour et al. employed the geometrically exact and fully intrinsic beam theory to investigate the effect of distributed follower forces. Their study considered all possible spatial distributions of the follower forces, and NATASHA was used to obtain the Hopf bifurcation point and behavior of the eigenvalues at pre- and post-instability [32
]. Taking advantage of the capabilities of the nonlinear composite beam theory, they also explored the possibility of suppressing structure instability by applying a pretwist on the beam, Figure 13
shows the normalized real part of the eigenvalues vs. normalized distributed follower forces for a model high-aspect ratio beam (for model data see [32
], Table 2), and it could be observed that an increase in beam’s pre-twist could postpone flutter. In this figure, beam’s normalized pre-twist is presented with
is the ratio between torsional and out-of-plane bending flexibility,
shows the ratio of out-of-plane and in-plane bending flexibility.
are the angles between follower force and
, and follower force and
, respectively. Critical follower force values for different
were also calculated, and results showed a considerable sudden increase in critical force values, for normalizing pre-twist values about 3 (which means that the beam’s tip experiences an approximately 180-degree rotation), Figure 15
The time domain response of the beam to a follower force excitation was investigated [32
]. The obtained results indicate that as the pre-twist increases, the amplitude of the oscillation and the velocity of the beam tip are also affected significantly. The beam experiencing a follower force with magnitude smaller than its critical value undergoes oscillations with small amplitude. However, when the follower force reaches its critical value, the beam experiences large oscillations from a small excitation, and the magnitude of the oscillations of a beam with pre-twist is less than that of a beam without pre-twist. For example, Figure 16
shows how the amplitude of beam tip oscillations could be reduced by increasing the beam pre-twist [32
Furthermore, a high-aspect-ratio beam under a partially distributed follower force, Figure 13
b. They showed that as the partially distributed force moves toward the tip of them the critical follower force decrease. Furthermore, the value of the critical force is highly affected by the ratio between in-plane bending and torsional stiffness [32
5. Concluding Remarks and Future Works
Studying the effects of engine placement on frequency and time domain responses of a very flexible aero-structure reveals that when the engine is located at 50–70% span, the structure tends to flutter at a higher speed, see Table 1
]. It is noteworthy that the natural vibration modes of a clear wing (without engine) shows that the same area along the wing span (50–70%) corresponds to the minimum kinetic energy zone [14
]. Kinetic energy is at its minimum, where the potential energy (i.e., the strain energy) reaches its maximum. In other words, placing the engines at locations where the natural modes of structure experience the largest strains (and consequently the largest stresses) leads to a better
aeroelastic performance, and extends the safe flight envelope.
To fully understand how engine placement affects the aircraft performance, the physics governing the response of the structure needs to be explored. Constructal theory, as a physics based theory of design, states that the better design occurs when greater and greater access is provided to the currents that flow through the system [33
For a flexible body under tension or compression through out its volume, internal flow of stress appears, and the structure deforms to accommodate better flow of stress. Constructal theory explains that similar to any flow system, flow strangulation is not desired [33
]. Engine placement at locations where maximum stress appears leads to a configuration with less stress strangulation and smoother flow of stress, hence the better design emerges. This avenue worth further and more detailed investigation to obtain the stress flow fields through the structure (p. 409 in References [11
Reviewing aircraft design through constructal theory reveals very important scaling laws, and it proves that the evolution of airplanes and helicopters follow the same physics as the evolution of flyers, runners, and swimmers, which is governed by the Constructal Law. These scaling laws provide a powerful tool to understand the physics behind different designs, and provides insight to scale up/down a certain design.
Flutter analysis of the flying-wing-aircraft presented in [7
], shows the dependency of the maximum safe flight speed to the total body size. This data compared with the findings of Bejan [8
] regarding the dependency of flight speed and body mass, shows an expected correspondence. Figure 17
shows the characteristic speed of all the bodies that fly, run and swim, and it could be seen that the particular flying-wing aircraft mentioned in [7
] follows the same allometric rules as other fliers.
To reach to a better design, in addition to the guidelines of the constructal law, a structural theory, which takes into account effects of the geometric nonlinearities is crucial. The presented studies, and results, indicate that the flight dynamic characteristics of the deformed aircraft are completely different as compared to a rigid aircraft, and due to geometric nonlinearities, the employed trim solution should take into account the large deformations due to static aeroelastic forces. It should be noted that linear stability analysis could only estimate the response of the system to small disturbances, and it does not provide an accurate model for system response to large excitation.