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Ground Effect (Part Two)

in Aerodynamics

Ground effect also alters the thrust required versus velocity. Since induced drag predominates at low speeds, the reduction of induced drag due to ground effect will cause the most significant reduction of thrust required (parasite plus induced drag) at low speeds.

The reduction in induced flow due to ground effect causes a significant reduction in induced drag but causes no direct effect on parasite drag. As a result of the reduction in induced drag, the thrust required at low speeds will be reduced. Due to the change in upwash, downwash, and wingtip vortices, there may be a change in position (installation) error of the airspeed system, associated with ground effect. In the majority of cases, ground effect will cause an increase in the local pressure at the static source and produce a lower indication of airspeed and altitude. Thus, an aircraft may be airborne at an indicated airspeed less than that normally required.

In order for ground effect to be of significant magnitude, the wing must be quite close to the ground. One of the direct results of ground effect is the variation of induced drag with wing height above the ground at a constant CL. When the wing is at a height equal to its span, the reduction in induced drag is only 1.4 percent. However, when the wing is at a height equal to one-fourth its span, the reduction in induced drag is 23.5 percent and, when the wing is at a height equal to one-tenth its span, the reduction in induced drag is 47.6 percent. Thus, a large reduction in induced drag will take place only when the wing is very close to the ground. Because of this variation, ground effect is most usually recognized during the liftoff for takeoff or just prior to touchdown when landing.

During the takeoff phase of flight, ground effect produces some important relationships. An aircraft leaving ground effect after takeoff encounters just the reverse of an aircraft entering ground effect during landing; i.e., the aircraft leaving ground effect will:

  • Require an increase in AOA to maintain the same CL.
  • Experience an increase in induced drag and thrust required.
  • Experience a decrease in stability and a nose-up change in moment.
  • Experience a reduction in static source pressure and increase in indicated airspeed.

Ground effect must be considered during takeoffs and landings. For example, if a pilot fails to understand the relationship between the aircraft and ground effect during takeoff, a hazardous situation is possible because the recommended takeoff speed may not be achieved. Due to the reduced drag in ground effect, the aircraft may seem capable of takeoff well below the recommended speed. As the aircraft rises out of ground effect with a deficiency of speed, the greater induced drag may result in marginal initial climb performance. In extreme conditions, such as high gross weight, high density altitude, and high temperature, a deficiency of airspeed during takeoff may permit the aircraft to become airborne but be incapable of sustaining flight out of ground effect. In this case, the aircraft may become airborne initially with a deficiency of speed, and then settle back to the runway.

A pilot should not attempt to force an aircraft to become airborne with a deficiency of speed. The manufacturer’s recommended takeoff speed is necessary to provide adequate initial climb performance. It is also important that a definite climb be established before a pilot retracts the landing gear or flaps. Never retract the landing gear or flaps prior to establishing a positive rate of climb, and only after achieving a safe altitude.

If, during the landing phase of flight, the aircraft is brought into ground effect with a constant AOA, the aircraft experiences an increase in CL and a reduction in the thrust required, and a “floating” effect may occur. Because of the reduced drag and power-off deceleration in ground effect, any excess speed at the point of flare may incur a considerable “float” distance. As the aircraft nears the point of touchdown, ground effect is most realized at altitudes less than the wingspan. During the final phases of the approach as the aircraft nears the ground, a reduced power setting is necessary or the reduced thrust required would allow the aircraft to climb above the desired glidepath (GP).

51UFncHi9pL._SX390_BO1,204,203,200_Learn more about airplane aerodynamics with the Illustrated Guide to Aerodynamics. This unique introductory guide, which sold more than 20,000 copies in its first edition, proves that the principles of flight can be easy to understand, even fascinating, to pilots and technicians who want to know how and why an aircraft behaves as it does.


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