Ansell joins $9.9 million NASA project to improve airfoil design


Phil Ansell
Phil Ansell
Aerospace Engineering at Illinois experimentalist Phil Ansell has joined a $9.9 million multi-university effort to produce more aerodynamically capable aircraft.

Ansell’s work will be part of a larger effort of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to reshape aviation by improving aircraft flight dynamics, communications, speed, and propulsion. Advancements are expected to alter the look, cost effectiveness, safety, and reliability of aviation.

James Coder, Assistant Professor of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, leads the project. Ansell and Coder were colleagues as undergraduates at Pennsylvania State University. In addition to the Universities of Tennessee and Illinois, researchers from Texas A&M University, Penn State University, Old Dominion University, the University of Wyoming, and two aviation companies – the Boeing Corporation and Airfoils, Inc. – also are involved in the project.

Ansell, an assistant professor, said the basic design methodology of airfoils for commercial transport aircraft has not changed significantly since NASA studied the concepts in the 1960s and 1970s.

“What we’re trying to do is demonstrate a new class of airfoils that can provide natural laminar flow, which provides low drag during cruise applications,” Ansell said. “Our contributions to this goal are to provide an experimental characterization of the airfoil performance as well as develop a high lift configuration. The aircraft operate low and slow during takeoff and landing phases, during which time we want to take the airfoil and generate as much lift as we possibly can.

Graphics from Phil Ansell's airfoil research
Graphics from Phil Ansell's airfoil research
“There are limits to how much one can push an airfoil to obtain lift,” he continued. “If you try to push the airfoil too hard and generate too much lift, there’s a layer of air right at the surface that reverses direction, and you end up losing lift and may even lose control of the aircraft. That’s what happens when stall occurs.”

To negate this, the research team proposes equipping the airfoils with fluidic oscillators that inject air into the flow around the airfoil when this high-lift condition is required. “A jet of air (from the oscillators) that slides back and forth across a slot can energize the flow and increase its momentum in the streamwise direction,” Ansell maintains. “This allows us to push the flow harder, and achieve higher lift for these low-speed applications.”

The expected result of additional lift would allow aircraft to come in safely at lower speeds and allow the low-drag design to be used during cruise.

Ansell’s part of the project will be $790,000 over a five-year period.