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I am studying aerospace engineering at college and I am wondering why the centre of pressure moves forward when the aircraft changes from transonic flight to supersonic flight?

Also, is centre of pressure the same as centre of drag? I can't find anything on centre of drag but I've found loads on centre of pressure.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm certain the question of why CP moves has been answered somewhere but I can't find what question it's on. My Google-fu is off today. There's some info on this answer and this one. I've never heard anyone use the phrase "center of drag" before. I guess there would be one, but it wouldn't be the same as CP. The induced drag probably acts at the same point, but I'll let somebody that knows what they're talking about answer that. Peter Kämpf will prob be along before too long :) $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Jan 4 '17 at 19:14
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The center of pressure does not move forward when transitioning into supersonic flight, but back. Let me compare the pressure distribution around a sub- and a supersonic airfoil, and the reason should be obvious:

First subsonic flow, showing an Eppler 502 at a moderate angle of attack (3°): Pressure distribution over an E502 at 3°

And here is a rhombic airfoil in supersonic flow, copied from this answer: Rhombic airfoil in supersonic flow at an angle

While the pressure difference between upper and lower side is highest near the leading edge in subsonic flow and tapers off the more you move backward, the pressure difference between both sides is constant over chord in case of the supersonic airfoil. An uncambered rhombic airfoil is the simplest case: The pressure jumps up when the air passes through a shock and jumps down when it passes trough an expansion fan. In between, pressure is constant because the local inclination of the surface does not change.

As a consequence, the center of pressure is near the quarter point in subsonic flow and at mid-chord in supersonic flow (when tip effects are neglected).

Even in transsonic flight, when the local supersonic flow delays the pressure rise, the center of pressure starts to move back. This is the reason for the pitch-down experienced when accelerating above the critical Mach number which is called Mach tuck.

OK, now I forgot to mention the center of drag so far. It is of minor importance because the drag force is so much smaller than the lift force. The concept is the same: Sum up all drag contributions and find the point where a discrete force applied in the direction of drag has the same effect. While the center of pressure just sums up all pressure (and includes the portions which contribute to drag), the center of drag mixes both shear and pressure effects and looks at the fraction which acts in flow direction.

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When transitioning from transonic to supersonic flight, the Center of Pressure (C.P.) actually moves rearward.

As the airfoil moves through the air and enters transonic speeds, shockwaves starts to form; which causes an increase in pressure on the shockwave region. This increase in pressure contributes to where the center of pressure (C.P.) concentrates.

Now as the airfoil goes faster (towards supersonic), it'll leave the shockwave behind, thus, moving the C.P. towards the rear.

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The Centre of Pressure is the point at which the lift acts on the wings of an aircraft (think about it as putting pressure on the wings to move it up)

The Centre of Gravity is the opposite, it is the point at which gravity acts on the body of an aircraft pulling it down. If you have a nose-heavy aircraft, then your Centre of Pressure is behind your Centre of Gravity (pushing the nose down and the tail up)

I have not heard of the Centre of Drag, but don't just assume that it's the Centre of Pressure as the Centre of Pressure relates to lift, not drag.

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  • $\begingroup$ The center of pressure is not the same as the lift vector. There is a component pointing toward the tail caused by drag. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jan 4 '17 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ You defined the terms, but you didn't answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 5 '17 at 19:42

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