MSE Research Project Database

Tailoring aircraft surface textures to minimise drag

Project Leader: Daniel Chung
Staff: Nicholas Hutchins
Student: Sebastian Endrikat
Collaborators: Ricardo Garcia-Mayoral (University of Cambridge) Dale Pullin (California Institute of Technology)
Primary Contact: Daniel Chung (
Keywords: computational fluid dynamics; drag reduction; turbulence
Disciplines: Mechanical Engineering
Domains: Optimisation of resources and infrastructure

Turbulent skin friction drag, occurring whenever a fluid such as air or water flows over a surface at high speeds, dictates the energy expenditure of many important engineering systems. For example, over 50% of the drag on a commercial aircraft is due to skin friction. This means that a large proportion of the fuel expended and emissions produced in this case are directly attributable to skin friction drag.
Riblets, a microscale surface texture modelled after shark skin, are an emergent technology designed to reduce the skin friction drag of aircraft. Efforts to optimise riblets have, to date, been stymied by the prohibitive cost and long turnaround times of experiments and simulations. The situation is compounded by an incomplete understanding of the underlying flow physics.
Recently, however, researchers at the University of Melbourne and their collaborators have made major breakthroughs in overcoming these obstacles. In particular, a novel simulation method for determining the drag of complex surface topologies with fast turnaround times has been developed and the flow mechanism that currently limits the drag-reducing capacity of riblets has been identified.
This project will build on these breakthroughs to develop, for the first time, a physics-informed virtual rapid prototyping framework that places the problem of riblet optimisation firmly within grasp. The outcomes of this project will be 1) the discovery of new optimised riblet geometries and 2) the advancement of turbulent drag-reduction physics.
Potential PhD students who are interested in the project can email Daniel at with a cover letter, CV and two academic references. The PhD student will have an undergraduate degree in areas related to fluid mechanics such as aeronautical engineering, mechanical engineering, mathematics or physics. The PhD student will have a strong interest in fundamental fluid mechanics.
"The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers." R. W. Hamming

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