An unusually low-frequency oscillation in the flow over an airfoil is studied experimentally as well as computationally. Wind-tunnel measurements are carried out with two-dimensional airfoil models in the chord Reynolds number (Rc) range of 0.15 × 105−3.0 × 105. During deep stall, at α [gsim ] 18°, the usual ‘bluff-body shedding’ occurs at a Strouhal number, Sts ≈ 0.2. But at the onset of static stall around α = 15°, a low-frequency periodic oscillation is observed, the corresponding Sts being an order of magnitude lower. The phenomenon apparently takes place only with a transitional state of the separating boundary layer. Thus, on the one hand, it is not readily observed with a smooth airfoil in a clean wind tunnel, while on the other, it is easily removed by appropriate ‘acoustic tripping’. Details of the flow field for a typical case are compared with a case of bluff-body shedding. The flow field is different in many ways from the latter case and does not involve a Kármán Vortex street. The origin of the flow fluctuations traces to the upper surface of the airfoil and is associated with a periodic switching between stalled and unstalled states. The mechanism of the frequency selection remains unresolved, but any connection to blower instabilities, acoustic standing waves or structural resonances has been ruled out.
A similar result has been encountered computationally using a two-dimensional Navier–Stokes code. While with the assumption of laminar flow, wake oscillation akin to the bluff-body shedding has been observed previously, the Sts is found to drop to about 0.03 when a ‘turbulent’ boundary layer is assumed. Details of the flow field and unsteady forces, computed for the same conditions as in the experiment, compare reasonably well with the experimental data.
The phenomenon produces intense flow fluctuations imparting much larger unsteady forces to the airfoil than that experienced in bluff-body shedding, and may represent the primary aerodynamics of stall flutter of blades and wings.