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Department and Staff News

2016-07-29
ME Scholar predicts evolution of aviation design by a physics law

Prof. Adrian Bejan, Visiting Chair Professor of Engineering Science at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has recently conducted a joint study about the evolution of helicopters predicted from the "Constructal Law".

Putting biological design and evolution within the realm of physics, the “Constructal Law” is about everything: animate, inanimate, and human and machine species. It captures the natural phenomenon of the natural occurrence and evolution of flow configurations. “Constructal Law” can predict and correlate the evolution of all animate and inanimate flow systems. Airplanes do not evolve by themselves, but they evolve as a duo, with the humans who design and use them. We all evolve as the “human and machine species”.

Working with a research team at the Department of Mechanical Engineering comprising Prof. Wen Chihyung, Associate Head; Prof. Sylvie Lorente, Visiting Chair Professor of Engineering; and a master student Mr R Chen, the finding has shown that the evolution of helicopters is predictable from the “Constructal Law” of design and evolution in nature, including the speed, engine size, fuel load, range, and aspect ratios (wing span vs fuselage length, wing and fuselage profiles).

The “Constructal Law” further explained the evolution of airplanes from propellers to jets, in the same way as animal evolution with the increase in speed and efficiency, from swimming to running, and finally, flying. It is found that there are very sharp correlations between dimensions, performance and body size during the evolution of helicopter technology. Engine efficiency increased with engine size. Also, the size of engines and propellers increased with the size of helicopters. The engine mass was roughly one-third of the fuel load mass, and the propeller radius was roughly the same as the length of the helicopter. Simply speaking, helicopters evolved as a universal phenomenon of flow system evolution.

“This study opens up a new domain where the ‘Constructal Law’ manifests itself as the evolution of vehicle technology. Based on the law, we can anticipate the hovering designs of helicopters and even the emerging unmanned aerial vehicles.” Prof. Bejan expressed his view on the development of aviation in future. “The future of aviation advancement will be characterised by new plane models of all sizes and will follow the theory of ‘efficiency evolution’ in its development. The new models will continue to emerge in many sizes, a few large and many small ones.”

These findings are centrally important in aerospace science, engineering and evolutionary design etc. Interdisciplinary research and fundamental research are keys to enhancing the scientific visibility and international reputation of the University.

Prof. Bejan will continue to explore the predictive powers of evolutionary design under “Constructal Law” in order to fast forward the improvements in technologies. The related academic information was published in Prof. Bejan’s new book titled The Physics of Life: The Evolution of Everything.