Rotary-wing drone-induced flow - comparison of simulations with lidar measurements

Liqin Jin*, Mauro Ghirardelli, Jakob Mann, Mikael Sjöholm, Stephan Thomas Kral, Joachim Reuder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Ultrasonic anemometers mounted on rotary-wing drones have the potential to provide a cost-efficient alternative to the classical meteorological mast-mounted counterpart for atmospheric boundary layer research. However, the propeller-induced flow may degrade the accuracy of free-stream wind velocity measurements by wind sensors mounted on drones – a fact that needs to be investigated for optimal sensor placement. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations are an alternative to experiments for studying characteristics of the propeller-induced flow but require validation. Therefore, we performed an experiment using three short-range continuous-wave Doppler lidars (light detection and ranging; DTU WindScanners) to measure the complex and turbulent three-dimensional wind field around a hovering drone at low ambient wind speeds. Good agreement is found between experimental results and those obtained using CFD simulations under similar conditions. Both methods conclude that the disturbance zone (defined as a relative deviation from the mean free-stream velocity by more than 1 %) on a horizontal plane located at 1 D (rotor diameter D of 0.71 m) below the drone extends about 2.8 D upstream from the drone center for the horizontal wind velocity and more than 7 D for the vertical wind velocity. By comparing wind velocities along horizontal lines in the upstream direction, we find that the velocity difference between the two methods is ≤ 0.1 m s−1 (less than a 4 % difference relative to the free-stream velocity) in most cases. Both the plane and line scan results validate the reliability of the simulations. Furthermore, simulations of flow patterns in a vertical plane at the ambient speed of 1.3 m s−1 indicate that it is difficult to accurately measure the vertical wind component with less than a 1 % distortion using drone-mounted sonic anemometers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAtmospheric Measurement Techniques
Issue number9
Pages (from-to)2721-2737
Publication statusPublished - 2024


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