How Big is Skin Friction?

The total drag of a body moving through air (airplane) or water (ship) consists of

• form/pressure drag + skin friction drag.

It is generally believed from experiments dragging a plate through water, that for an airplane and ship skin friction may be 50-70% of total drag. Experiments are performed with (i) untripped/free transition and (ii) tripped/forced transition to a turbulent boundary layer, with (ii) showing a bit bigger drag than (i).

Tripping is done e g by mounting a rib along the upper part of the leading edge of a wing. Its effect of creating a thick turbulent boundary layer is illustrated in the above image.

Computations with DFS Direct Finite Element Simulation with zero skin friction (slip boundary condition on wall) shows drag in close accordance with drag experiments with free transition.

The DFS results thus show total drag as pure form/pressure drag with zero skin friction, in accordance with free transition experiments. This gives evidence that drag with free transition has very little contribution from skin friction, and further that the measured (small) difference between tripped and untripped drag can be used to assess the skin friction, which is forced by tripping and is thus absent without tripping.

Now, a real airplane is not equipped with tripping devices on wings or fuselage since that would increase drag for no use, and DFS with slip shows close correspondence to experiments with free transition.

Altogether, there is strong evidence that skin friction drag for an airplane or ship is an order of magnitude smaller than that commonly used based on experiments from tripping. The results indicate that what is believed to be a thick turbulent boundary layer forced by tripping with substantial skin friction, in fact is absent i reality without tripping and thus that the interaction between fluid and solid acts as slip/small friction (without boundary layer to resolve computationally).

Obviously, if skin friction in reality is less than 10% of total drag, instead of an unreal tripped imagination of 50-70%, the design of an airplane or ship will work from different premises.

DFS with slip makes CFD computable, whereas std CFD with no-slip tripped boundary layers is uncomputable.

Why is then tripping used in experiments if in reality not? This is to make experiments fit with the boundary layer theory of Prandtl as the Father of Modern Fluid Mechanics tracing drag to the presence of a thick turbulent boundary layer. But to fit unreal experiments to theory is opposite to the idea of of real science where theory is fitted to real experiments.

The effect of fitting experiment to theory is that standard CFD is calibrated to a skin friction of 50-70% of total drag, which with the evidence from DFS means that standard CFD underestimates form/pressure drag, and thus gives wrong input to design.

The plot below shows drag coefficients for NACA0012 by Ladson with free and tripped transition. Note the small dependence on Reynolds number for free transition and that difference between tripped and untripped drag is about 0.001 as about 10% of total tripped drag as an estimation of skin friction drag.