Fuck Yeah Fluid Dynamics

Celebrating the physics of all that flows. Ask a question, submit a post idea or send an email. You can also follow FYFD on Twitter and Google+. FYFD is written by Nicole Sharp, PhD.

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Aeroelasticity is the study of the interaction of structural and aerodynamic forces on an object, and its most famous example is flutter, which occurs when the aerodynamic forces on an object couple with its natural structural frequencies in such a way that a violent self-excited oscillation builds. What does that mean? Take a look at the video above. This compilation shows examples of flutter on wind tunnel models, road signs, airplanes, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge—one of the most famous examples of all time. When air moves over and around an object, like a stop sign, it exerts forces that cause the structure to twist or vibrate. Those vibrations then alter the airflow around the object, which changes the aerodynamic forces on the object.  If the motion of the object increases the aerodynamic forces which then increase the oscillation, then a potentially destructive flutter cycle has been created. Flutter is very difficult to simulate computationally, so tests are usually performed experimentally to ensure that any vibrations in the system will damp out rather than grow to the point of structural failure like many of the examples in the film.