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May The Aerodynamic Force be With You!

Siemens Visionary Siemens Visionary
Siemens Visionary

As the old saying goes, in order to run, first you must walk. Whilst this may sound like the advice of a wizened old Jedi Master (although that might be something more like “to run, walk first you must!”) the idea must still hold true that in order to jump into hyperspace, first you have to fly. Prior to the release of the Force Awakens* this got me thinking, given how much time is spent flying around in any given planet’s atmosphere – could the Millennium Falcon, arguably the most iconic spaceship of all time, actually fly? Given how easy it is to predict aerodynamic performance with STAR-CCM+, and how quickly the surface wrapper can be applied to complex shapes, I felt it would be fun to try and find out.

 

It may not look very aerodynamic at first, however given the ratio of its cross sectional area to its length, the Falcon already has a basic aerodynamic shape. If you sketch it in 2D it's already approaching a “symmetric” aerofoil shape. Symmetric aerofoils are useful, however when they have no angle of incidence to the oncoming airflow they produce next to no lift, given this I decided to give it a modest 2° nose-up pitch at 600 km/h. It wasn’t until I analysed the aerodynamic forces “live” within the simulation that I could see that it may actually fly.

 

Perhaps not a piece of junk after all?

 

Quite how that lift is generated owes itself to one of the most iconic aircraft of all time, the Concorde. The wings of the Concorde were “Delta Wings”, producing strong vortices from its sharp, angled leading edge that allowed it to fly at both very low and very high speeds. To my surprise I could see that from the animation of the vorticity (Q criterion in the animation provided) is that there are 4 strong vortices formed at the very front of the wedge shaped structures at the front of the ship. So depending on the actual amount of cargo it was carrying (and also the density of the atmosphere and gravity), as long as Lift is greater than or equal to Weight then it would indeed fly! Drag is of concern though, but if you can jump into hyperspace thrust is clearly not an issue, but with all the turbulent flow over the ship this would generate considerable noise.

 

What once seems like science fiction gradually over time becomes fact. So whilst I would not recommend anyone start building one tomorrow, it would stand to reason that at least if you won a considerable amount of money and decided “to heck with it I want to quit my job and become an intergalactic smuggler” at least in the right circumstances it would fly in level flight, as for a working hyperdrive I can’t help with that. Armed with this knowledge you could then  go and destroy any type of planet sized space station you wanted to. And with Simcenter STAR-CCM+® you might be able to make that Kessel run just that little bit faster….

 

*We are now up to episode 8 and I thought a "re-run" was neccesary, as re-runs and Star Wars go hand in hand... some may say re-runs and CFD also go hand in hand