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Chapter 7.1 Boundary Layers: Introduction 1.


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Chapter 7.1 Boundary Layers: Introduction

1. Historical Background and Boundary Layer Concepts Before Prandtl 1905 Boundary layer theory:

1. Mostly solutions of the linearized Navier Stokes equations for parallel and low Re flows for which balance is for pressure and/or gravity and viscous forces

2. Advanced inviscid flow solutions for bodies of various shapes for which balance is for nonlinear inertia and pressure and/or gravity forces, i.e., potential flows

3. Empirical hydraulics

Potential flow theory was surprisingly accurate for streamlines bodies but suffered from D'Alembert's paradox

In fluid dynamics, d'Alembert's paradox (or the hydrodynamic paradox) is a contradiction reached in 1752 by French mathematician Jean le Rond d'Alembert. D'Alembert proved that – for incompressible and inviscid potential flow – the drag force is zero on a body moving with constant velocity relative to the fluid. Zero drag is in direct contradiction to the observation of substantial drag on bodies moving relative to fluids, such as air and water, especially at high velocities corresponding with high Reynolds numbers. It is a particular example of the reversibility paradox.

Ludwig Prandtl

Ludwig Prandtl was a German fluid dynamicist, physicist and aerospace scientist. He was a pioneer in the development of rigorous systematic mathematical analyses which he used for underlying the science of aerodynamics, which have come to form the basis of the applied science of aeronautical engineering. In the 1920s he developed the mathematical basis for the fundamental principles of subsonic aerodynamics in particular; and in general, up to and including transonic velocities. His studies identified the boundary layer, thin-airfoils, and lifting-line theories. The Prandtl number was named after him.


Consider high Re flow (1) around streamlined/slender body for which viscous effects are confined to a narrow boundary layer near the solid surface/wall or (2) for free shear flows, i.e. jets, wakes and mixing layers for which the vorticity is similarly confined to a narrow region. In both cases Prandtl’s boundary layer theory is applicable.


Boundary Layer Theory Approximations Momentum Scales


𝑥𝑥 +


𝑦𝑦 =







𝑥𝑥𝑥𝑥 +




𝑥𝑥~𝑈𝑈𝐿𝐿2= 𝜈𝜈𝑢𝑢𝑦𝑦𝑦𝑦~𝜈𝜈δ𝑈𝑈2


𝜈𝜈𝐿𝐿𝑈𝑈 or δ𝐿𝐿~√𝑅𝑅𝑅𝑅1 Re~



That is δ is small for large Re. Note ~indicates order of magnitude

Length Scales

Convection: L=Ut

Viscous diffusion: δ~ √𝜈𝜈𝜈𝜈 δ~�

𝜈𝜈𝐿𝐿𝑈𝑈 or δ𝐿𝐿~√𝑅𝑅𝑅𝑅1

Time Scales

Convection: t=L/U

Viscous diffusion:

t =


<< L/U




<< 1

Note: δ~√𝜈𝜈𝜈𝜈 =�



𝑈𝑈δ =


= t


Boundary layer equations are derived from Navier Stokes equations under assumptions:





i.e. variation across the boundary layer are much larger than variation along the boundary layer.

Next consider continuity equation 𝑢𝑢𝑥𝑥 +𝑣𝑣𝑦𝑦 = 0

Since u >> v and 𝜕𝜕

𝜕𝜕𝑥𝑥𝜕𝜕𝑦𝑦𝜕𝜕 both terms are of equal order, which requires 𝑣𝑣~δU



The order of magnitude of the pressure variations for which experimental data shows that the surface pressure is equivalent to the outer inviscid flow pressure which implies of order the inertia forces



𝜕𝜕 − 𝜕𝜕~ ρ𝑈𝑈2

The proper nondimensional variables in the boundary layer are therefore







* 0



Re /

/ /

Re /

Re /

x x L

y y y

L t tU L u u U v v


p p p U UL



δ ρ



= =



= =

= −


Note that δ = �𝜈𝜈𝐿𝐿𝑈𝑈 and that the distance and velocity across the boundary layer are stretched by √𝑅𝑅𝑅𝑅. Transformation of the Navier Stokes equations into nondimensional variables leads to Prandtl’s boundary layer equations, which although retain streamwise convection neglect streamwise diffusion and in addition show that the pressure variation across the boundary layer is also negligible show that it can be determined from the outer potential flow solution and is imposed on the boundary layer.

Lastly the order of magnitude of the wall shear stress is



= µ



= µ U /δ = (µ U/L) √𝑅𝑅𝑅𝑅 𝐶𝐶









Where different solutions have different numerical factors than 2.


In physics and fluid mechanics, a boundary layer is the layer of fluid in the immediate vicinity of a bounding surface where the effects of viscosity are significant. In the Earth's atmosphere, the atmospheric boundary layer is the air layer near the ground affected by diurnal heat, moisture, or momentum transfer to or from the surface. On an aircraft wing the boundary layer is the part of the flow close to the wing, where viscous forces distort the surrounding non-viscous flow.


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