VPM, eVTOL, CFD, unsteady aerodynamics, wake mixing, multirotor, electric aircraft, vertical takeoff, Julia, open source, vortex particle method, large-eddy simulation, LES, rVPM, hover, airborne wind, AWE, propellers, interactional aerodynamics


The ability to accurately and rapidly assess unsteady interactional aerodynamics is a shortcoming and bottleneck in the design of various next-generation aerospace systems: from electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft to airborne wind energy (AWE) and wind farms. In this study, we present a meshless CFD framework based on the reformulated vortex particle method (rVPM) for the analysis of complex interactional aerodynamics. The rVPM is a large eddy simulation (LES) solving the Navier-Stokes equations in their vorticity form. It uses a meshless Lagrangian scheme, which not only avoids the hurdles of mesh generation, but it also conserves the vortical structure of wakes over long distances with minimal numerical dissipation, while being 100x faster than conventional mesh-based LES. Wings and rotating blades are introduced in the computational domain through actuator line and actuator surface models. Simulations are coupled with an aeroacoustics solver to predict tonal and broadband noise radiated by rotors. The framework, called FLOWUnsteady, is hereby released as an open-source code and extensively validated. Validation studies published in previous work by the authors are summarized, showcasing rotors across operating conditions with a rotor in hover, propellers, a wind turbine, and two side-by-side rotors in hover. Validation of rotor-wing interactions is presented simulating a tailplane with tip-mounted propellers and a blown wing with propellers mounted mid-span. The capabilities of the framework are showcased through the simulation of a tiltwing eVTOL vehicle and an AWE wind-harvesting aircraft, featuring rotors with variable RPM, variable pitch, tilting of wings and rotors, non-trivial flight paths, and complex aerodynamic interactions.

Original Publication Citation

Alvarez, E. J., Mehr, J., and Ning, A., “FLOWUnsteady: An Interactional Aerodynamics Solver for Multirotor Aircraft and Wind Energy,” AIAA Aviation Forum, Chicago, IL, Jun. 2022.

Document Type

Conference Paper

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Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology


Mechanical Engineering

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor