A Caltech Library Service

Cavity and Wake Flows

Wu, Th. Yao-tsu (1972) Cavity and Wake Flows. Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, 4 . pp. 243-284. ISSN 0066-4189.

See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


The phenomenon of wake formation behind a body moving through a fluid, and the associated resistance of fluids, must have been one of the oldest experiences of man. From an analytical point of view, it is also one of the most difficult problems in fluid mechanics. Rayleigh, in his 1876 paper, observed that "there is no part of hydrodynamics more perplexing to the student than that which treats of the resistance of fluids." This insight of Rayleigh is so penetrating that the march of time has virtually left no mark on its validity even today, and likely still for some time to come. The first major step concerning the resistance of fluids was made over a century ago when Kirchhoff (1869) introduced an idealized inviscid-flow model with free streamlines (or surfaces of discontinuity) and employed (for steady, plane flows) the ingenious conformal-mapping technique that had been invented a short time earlier by Helmholtz (1868) for treating two-dimensional jets formed by free streamlines. This pioneering work offered an alternative to the classical paradox of D’Alembert (or the absence of resistance) and laid the foundation of the free-streamline theory. We appreciate the profound insight of these celebrated works even more when we consider that their basic idea about wakes and jets, based on a construction with surfaces of discontinuity, was formed decades before laminar and turbulent flows were distinguished by Reynolds (1883), and long before the fundamental concepts of boundary-layer theory and flow separation were established by Prandtl (1904a). However, there have been some questions raised in the past, and still today, about the validity of the Kirchhoff flow for the approximate calculation of resistance. Historically there is little doubt that in constructing the flow model Kirchhoff was thinking of the wake in a single-phase fluid, and not at all of the vapor-gas cavity in a liquid; hence the arguments, both for and against the Kirchhoff flow, should be viewed in this light. On this basis, an important observation was made by Sir William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin (see Rayleigh 1876) "that motions involving a surface of separation are unstable" (we infer that instability here includes the viscous effect). Regarding this comment Rayleigh asked "whether the calculations of resistance are materially affected by this circumstance as the pressures experienced must be nearly independent of what happens at some distance in the rear of the obstacle, where the instability would first begin to manifest itself." This discussion undoubtedly widened the original scope, brought the wake analysis closer to reality, and hence should influence the course of further developments. An expanded discussion essentially along these lines was given by Levi-Civita (1907) and was included in the survey by Goldstein (1969). Another point of fundamental importance is whether the Kirchhoff flow is the only correct Euler (or outer) limit of the Navier-Stokes solution to steady flow at high Reynolds numbers. If so, then a second difficulty arises, a consequence of the following argument: We know that the width of the Kirchhoff wake grows parabolically with the downstream distance x, at a rate independent of the (kinematic) viscosity u. If Prandtl’s boundary-layer theory is then applied to smooth out the discontinuity (i.e. the vortex sheet) between the wake and the potential flow, one obtains a laminar shear layer whose thickness grows like (ux/U)^-1/2 in a free stream of velocity U. Hence, for sufficiently small u/U the shear layers do not meet, so that the wake bubble remains infinitely long at a finite Reynolds number, a result not supported by experience. (For more details see Lagerstrom 1964, before p. 106, 131; Kaplun 1967, Part II.) The weaknesses in the above argument appear to lie in the two primary suppositions that, first, the free shear layer enveloping the wake would remain stable indefinitely, and second (perhaps a less serious one), the boundary-layer approximation would be valid along the infinitely long wake boundary. Reattachment of two turbulent shear layers, for instance, is possible since their thickness grows linearly with x. By and large, various criticisms, of the Kirchhoff flow model have led to constructive refinements of the free-streamline theory rather than to a weakening of the foundation of the theory as a valuable idealization. The major development in this direction has been based on the observation that the wake bubble is finite in size at high Reynolds numbers. (The wake bubble, or the near-wake, means, in the ordinary physical sense, the region of closed streamlines behind the body as characterized by a constant or nearly constant pressure.) To facilitate the mathematical analysis of flows with a finite wake bubble, a number of potential-flow models have been introduced to give the near-wake a definite configuration as an approximation to the inviscid outer flow. These theoretical models will be discussed explicitly later. It suffices to note here that all these models, even though artificial to various degrees, are aimed at admitting the near-wake pressure coefficient as a single free parameter of the flow, thus providing a satisfactory solution to the state of motion in the near part of the wake attached to the body. On the whole, their utility is established by their capability of bringing the results of potential theory of inviscid flows into better agreement with experimental measurements in fluids of small viscosity. The cavity flow also has a long, active history. Already in 1754, Euler, in connection with his study of turbines, realized that vapor cavitation may likely occur in a water stream at high speeds. In investigating the cause of the racing of a ship propeller, Reynolds (1873) observed the phenomenon of cavitation at the propeller blades. After the turn of this century, numerous investigations of cavitation and cavity flows were stimulated by studies of ship propellers, turbomachinery, hydrofoils, and other engineering developments. Important concepts in this subject began to appear about fifty years ago. In an extensive study of the cavitation of water turbines, Thoma (1926) introduced the cavitation number (the underpressure coefficient of the vapor phase) as the principal similarity parameter, which has ever since played a central role in small-bubble cavitation as well as in well-developed cavity flows. Applications of free-streamline theory to finite-cavity flows have attracted much mathematical interest and also provided valuable information for engineering purposes. Although the wake interpretation of the flow models used to be standard, experimental verifications generally indicate that the theoretical predictions by these finite-wake models are satisfactory to the same degree for both wake and cavity flows. This fact, however, has not been widely recognized and some confusion still exists. As a possible explanation, it is quite plausible that even for the wake in a single-phase flow, the kinetic energy of the viscous flow within the wake bubble is small, thus keeping the pressure almost unchanged throughout. Although this review gives more emphasis to cavity flows, several basic aspects of cavity and wake flows can be effectively discussed together since they are found to have many important features in common, or in close analogy. This is in spite of relatively minor differences that arise from new physical effects, such as gravity, surface tension, thermodynamics of phase transition, density ratio and viscosity ratio of the two phases, etc., that are intrinsic only to cavity flows. Based on this approach, attempts will be made to give a brief survey of the physical background, a general discussion of the free-streamline theory, some comments on the problems and issues of current interest, and to point out some basic problems yet to be resolved. In view of the vast scope of this subject and the voluminous literature, efforts will not be aimed at completeness, but rather on selective interests. Extensive review of the literature up to the 1960s may be found in recent expositions by Birkhoff & Zarantonello (1957), Gilbarg (1960), Gurevich (1961), Wehausen (1965), Sedov (1966), Wu (1968), Robertson & Wislicenus (1969), and (1961).

Item Type:Article
Additional Information:"Reprinted, with permission, from the Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics, Volume 4 copyright 1972 by Annual Reviews," I take pleasure in expressing my appreciation and gratitude to Dr. Christopher Brennen for valuable and extensive discussions on many topics covered in this survey. Sincere thanks are due from me to the Office of Naval Research, Fluid Dynamics Branch, for its continued support, including that given to the preparation of this article.
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:WUTarfm72
Persistent URL:
Alternative URL:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:319
Deposited By: Theodore Yao-tsu Wu
Deposited On:26 May 2005
Last Modified:26 Dec 2012 08:39

Repository Staff Only: item control page