University of Notre Dame
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Computational Investigation of Aero-Optical Distortions by Turbulent Boundary Layers and Separated Shear Layers

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posted on 2012-04-20, 00:00 authored by Kan Wang
Aero-optical distortions are detrimental to airborne optical systems. To study distortion mechanisms, compressible large-eddy simulations are performed for a Mach 0.5 turbulent boundary layer and a separated shear layer over a cylindrical turret with and without passive control in the upstream boundary layer. Optical analysis is carried out using ray tracing based on the computed density field and Gladstone-Dale relation.

In the flat-plate boundary layer, the effects of aperture size, Reynolds number, small-scale turbulence, different flow regions and beam elevation angle are examined, and the underlying flow physics is analyzed. Three momentum-thickness Reynolds numbers, Reθ=875, 1770 and 3550, are considered. It is found that the level of optical distortions decreases with increasing Reynolds number within the Reynolds number range considered. The contributions from the viscous sublayer and buffer layer are small, while the wake region plays a dominant role followed by the logarithmic layer. By low-pass filtering the fluctuating density field, it is shown that small-scale turbulence is optically inactive. Consistent with previous experimental findings, the distortion magnitude is dependent on the propagation direction due to anisotropy of the boundary-layer vortical structures. Density correlations and length scales are analyzed to understand the elevation-angle dependence and its relation to turbulence structures. The applicability of Sutton's linking equation to boundary-layer flows is examined, and excellent agreement between linking equation predictions and directly integrated distortions is obtained when the density length scale is appropriately defined.

The second case studied involves a separated shear layer over a cylindrical turret with a flat window, with inflow from a flat-plate boundary layer with and without passive control devices. The flow and optical results show reasonable agreement with experimental data for the baseline case without control. Aperture size effect, frequency spectra of OPD and two-point spatial correlations of OPD are investigated. The similarities and differences of distortion characteristics compared to those induced by turbulent boundary layers are discussed. The distortions by a separated shear layer are much larger in magnitude and spatially less homogeneous than those induced by an attached boundary layer. It is found that pressure fluctuations are significant and play a dominant role in inducing density fluctuations and associated optical distortions in a separated shear layer, in contrast to the dominant role of temperature fluctuations in a turbulent boundary layer. When passive control is applied using a row of thin and tall pins in the upstream boundary layer, the numerical results confirm key experimental findings. The flow above the optical window is characterized by two distinct shear layers, whose combined effect leads to a significant reduction of density fluctuation magnitude in the main shear layer and associated optical distortions compared to the uncontrolled flow with a single strong shear layer.


Date Modified


Research Director(s)

Meng Wang

Committee Members

Flint O. Thomas Meng Wang Thomas C. Corke Eric J. Jumper


  • Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Level

  • Doctoral Dissertation


  • English

Alternate Identifier



University of Notre Dame

Program Name

  • Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

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