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Fluid dynamics dimensional analysis take-home experiment using paper airplanes

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Aerospace Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.610.1 - 23.610.15



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Paper Authors


Michael John Hargather New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Michael J. Hargather is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at New Mexico Tech. Dr. Hargather joined New Mexico Tech in January 2012. He is active in teaching and research particularly in the thermal-fluid sciences with applications to energetic materials. Dr. Hargather's research expertise is in optical flow instrumentation, experimental explosive characterization, computational simulation of explosions, blast testing of materials, and schlieren image velocimetry. He earned his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 2008.

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Shannon Hussan

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Timothy W Jacomb-Hood The Pennsylvania State University

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Zachary Francis Penn State University

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Carly Seneca

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Martha Quinlin

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Raveen Fernando

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Fluid dynamic dimensional analysis take-home experiment using paper airplanesA dimensional analysis take-home experiment was developed for use in undergraduate fluiddynamics courses. The experiment presented here requires students to construct and fly paperairplanes and then perform multiple dimensional analysis approaches on the collected flight datato obtain appropriate dimensional scaling. The data recorded include time of flight and flightdistance, which are then used to calculate average velocities for each airplane. The airplanesthemselves are measured to obtain characteristic lengths, including average chord length,wingspan, and wing area. The students plot the measured data using different characteristiclengths and velocities and conventional non-dimensional numbers to obtain functionalrelationships and scaling between the different planes. Multiple common paper airplanes designsare used, including using the same geometry plane constructed from a full- and half-sheet ofpaper. A simple glider made from an index card and a paperclip is also used. The measuredexperimental data is supplemented with aerodynamic performance data for commercial aircraft,commercial gliders, birds, and insects. The activity highlights the importance of scaling anddemonstrates how flight characteristics are similar across a wide range of flying objects. Theplotting of data with different length scales helps students to learn that scaling requires theidentification of the most important characteristic scales in a problem. This take-homeexperiment was used as a homework assignment in a fluid dynamics course for juniorundergraduate students at New Mexico Tech in 2012. The homework assignment included awritten introduction to scaling, an outline of how to perform the experiments, and a guidedapproach to developing the necessary scaling relationships. Students completed a survey afterperforming the experiment which showed an increased understanding of the importance andprocess of dimensional scaling.

Hargather, M. J., & Hussan, S., & Jacomb-Hood, T. W., & Francis, Z., & Seneca, C., & Quinlin, M., & Fernando, R. (2013, June), Fluid dynamics dimensional analysis take-home experiment using paper airplanes Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19624

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