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A turbulator is a device for improving the flow of air over a wing.

When air flows over the wing of an aircraft, there is a layer of air called the boundary layer between the wing's surface and where the air is undisturbed. Depending on the profile of the wing, the air will often flow smoothly in a thin boundary layer across much of the wing's surface. The boundary layer will be laminar near the leading edge and will become turbulent a certain distance from the leading edge depending on surface roughness and Reynolds Number (speed). However there comes a point, the separation point, in which the boundary layer breaks away from the surface of the wing due to the magnitude of the negative pressure gradient. Beneath the separated layer, bubbles of stagnant air form, creating additional drag because of the lower pressure in the wake behind the separation point.

These bubbles can be reduced or even eliminated by shaping the airfoil to move the separation point downstream or by adding a device, a turbulator that trips the boundary layer into turbulence. The turbulent boundary layer contains more energy, so will delay separation until a greater magnitude of negative pressure gradient is reached, effectively moving the separation point further aft on the airfoil and possibly eliminating separation completely. A consequence of the turbulent boundary layer is increased skin friction relative to a laminar boundary layer, but this is very small compared to the increase in drag associated with separation.

In gliders the turbulator is often a thin zig-zag strip that is placed on the underside of the wing and sometimes on the fin. The DG 300 glider used small holes in the wing surface to blow air into the boundary layer, but there is a risk that these holes will become blocked by polish, dirt and moisture.

For the aircraft with low Reynolds numbers (i.e. where minimizing turbulence and drag is a major concern) such as gliders, the small increase in drag from the turbulator at higher speeds is minor compared with the larger improvements at best glide speed, at which the glider can fly the furthest for a given height.

See also

  • Vortex generator
  • aerodynamics
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Turbulator". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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