Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 October 1999
In this paper we consider the causal response of the inviscid shear-layer flow over an elastic surface to excitation by a time-harmonic line force. In the case of uniform flow, Brazier-Smith & Scott (1984) and Crighton & Oswell (1991) have analysed the long-time limit of the response. They find that the system is absolutely unstable for sufficiently high flow speeds, and that at lower speeds there exist certain anomalous neutral modes with group velocity directed towards the driver (in contradiction of the usual radiation condition of out-going disturbances). Our aim in this paper is to repeat their analysis for more realistic shear profiles, and in particular to determine whether or not the uniform-flow results can be regained in the limit in which the shear-layer thickness on a length scale based on the fluid loading, denoted ε, becomes small. For a simple broken-line linear shear profile we find that the results are qualitatively similar to those for uniform flow. However, for the more realistic Blasius profile very significant differences arise, essentially due to the presence of the critical layer. In particular, we find that as ε → 0 the minimum flow speed required for absolute instability is pushed to considerably higher values than was found for uniform flow, leading us to conclude that the uniform-flow problem is an unattainable singular limit of our more general problem. In contrast, we find that the uniform-flow anomalous modes (written as exp (ikx − iωt), say) do persist for non-zero shear over a wide range of ε, although now becoming non-neutral. Unlike the case of uniform flow, however, the k-loci of these modes can now change direction more than once as the imaginary part of ω is increased, and we describe the connection between this behaviour and local properties of the dispersion function. Finally, in order to investigate whether or not these anomalous modes might be realizable at a finite time after the driver is switched on, we evaluate the double Fourier inversion integrals for the unsteady flow numerically. We find that the anomalous mode is indeed present at finite time, once initial transients have propagated away, not only for impulsive start-up but also when the forcing amplitude is allowed to grow slowly from a small value at some initial instant. This behaviour has significant implications for the application of standard radiation conditions in wave problems with mean flow.