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Plotting an Airfoil

Goal:

To understand how the geometry of aeronautical airfoils affects performance.

Discussion topics: Design criteria, chord, chord length, parts of an airfoil, positive camber, negative
camber, lift, drag, AOA, geometry, graphs, percentages, center of lift, NACA
numbering, standard airfoil charts. With each level of activity certain constraints
should be kept constant such as using the same width paper for grades 7-8, the
same chord height or length for grades 9-10, and the same chord height or length
with holes along the same axis for grades 11-12.
Explanation:

Because the top surface of the airfoil is curved, the air travels a greater distance at
a faster rate over the top than over the bottom of the airfoil. This causes a
difference in pressure between the top and bottom of the airfoil. There is more
pressure on the bottom of the wing than on the top, and the wing is pushed
upward.
To plot a standard airfoil by % of chord (Figure 6.4), use coordinates to describe
the shape of the object. Airfoils in cross-section drawn on a flat plane have
coordinates which are given in two columns, x and y. An airfoil is described by
single points and each point is defined by a pair of x-y coordinates. The airfoil is
made up of from 50 to 100 coordinate pairs. Most tables of offsets seem to use
increments of 1, 2.5, 5, 7.5, 10%, starting at the leading edge. Then the increments
increase to 5, and 10% through mid-chord, and revert to smaller increments at the
trailing edge.
1) Using a piece of graph paper draw an x and y-axis.

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2) Divide the axis with subdivisions of 10 units. Mark the divisions on the x-axis
and label the 0, 10, up to 100. The y-axis is shorter and is labeled from 0 to
20. Extend the y-axis below the x-axis and label the divisions with negative yvalues (-10, -20). Add arrowheads to the ends of the axes indicating their
positive directions.

Figure 6. 1: Airfoil cross-section by percentage of chord. 1

3) Plot the points in the order in which they are tabulated. Locate the xcoordinate, measuring from the origin to the right and drawing a vertical line
that crosses the x-axis at that coordinate. Use the y-coordinate to find the
location of the point along the y-axis for both the upper surface and the lower
surface and draw a horizontal line that crosses the vertical line. Repeat the
same procedure for all the coordinate pairs.
4) Connect the dots with a smooth line, that is the outline of the airfoil.2
Airfoil data is available in texts and on the web. Two resources used for
this project are Theory of Wing Sections by Abbott and Doehoff3 and the

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Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) UIUC


Applied Aerodynamics Group airfoil coordinates database website4.

Grade 7-8 Plotting an Airfoil


Objective:

The student will be able to fold a paper airfoil using construction paper. Make
predictions of the airfoil behavior in airflow. Mount it in the wind tunnel.
Measure lift and drag, and compare performance of their airfoil with other
students as well as with their own predictions.

Material:

Construction paper cut to the 3 x 8 width and scotch tape.

Procedure:

Fold the paper in half (along the 8 length) and tape the top edge to the bottom at
the back edge or a short distance from the back edge. Be sure to have some curve
in the top surface. Mount the model in the wind tunnel. Measure lift and drag at 0,
+2, +5 degrees AOA and compare results with other students as well as with
predictions made prior to tunnel testing.

Grade 9-10 Plotting an Airfoil


Objective:

The student will be able to plot a standard airfoil by % of chord. Cut a template
from cardboard and shape construction paper to conform to the template. Make
predictions of the airfoil behavior. Mount it in the wind tunnel. Measure lift and
drag and compare performance to other student results as well as with predictions
made prior to testing.

Material:

Construction paper, cut to same width, thin cardboard, graph paper, scotch tape,
and data of standard airfoils with same chord length.

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Procedure:

Using graph paper, plot a standard airfoil by % of chord. Trace template onto
cardboard making 4 identical section, drawing tabs in four locations around the
airfoil. Cut the pieces out of the cardboard, being sure to leave the tabs intact.
Fold the tabs over. Lay the construction paper flat, wrapping it around the section.
Tape the tabs in place. Repeat procedure with other three sections. Mount the
model in the wind tunnel. Measure lift and drag at 0, +2, +5 degrees AOA and
compare results with other students as well as with predictions made prior to
testing.

Grade 11-12 Plotting an Airfoil


Objective:

The student will be able to plot a standard airfoil by % of chord. Cut a template
from cardboard. Create a foam shape. Drill 5 holes and attach hoses. Mount the
airfoil in the wind tunnel. Measure lift and drag and measure pressure differential
using colored water manometer. Reduce data in order to plot flow points at which
changes occur based on change in AOA and air speed.

Material:

Data of standard airfoils, graph paper, cardboard, foam blocks, drill, hoses,
colored water manometer.

Procedure:

Using graph paper, plot a standard airfoil by % of chord. Trace template onto
cardboard. Cut section out of cardboard, leaving a hole in the cardboard. Cut and
shape foam to match pattern, sliding through hole in cardboard to check shape.
Drill 5 holes in model, placing hoses in flush with upper surface. Make
predictions of airfoil behavior in airflow. Mount the model in the wind tunnel
threading hoses out hole in bottom of wind tunnel test section. Attach hoses to the

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colored water manometer. Measure lift and drag and record observations of
manometer for 0, +2, +5 degrees AOA. Compare results with other students as
well as with predictions made prior to testing.
1

The Civil Aeronautics Administration and the American Council on Education Demonstrations and Laboratory
Experiences in the Science of Aeronautics, 1st ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1945) 20.
2
Martin Hepperle, How do I plot airfoils from coordinates?, http://beadec1.ea.bs.dlr.de/Airfoils/ 1998.
3
Ira H. Abbott and Albert E. Von Doenhoff, Theory of Wing Sections (New York: Dover 1959) 311-447.
4
UIUC website, http://www.uiuc.edu/ph/www/m-selig/ads/coord_database.html.

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