A Caltech Library Service

Dynamics and Scaling of Self-Excited Passive Vortex Generators for Underwater Propulsion


Whittlesey, Robert Wells (2013) Dynamics and Scaling of Self-Excited Passive Vortex Generators for Underwater Propulsion. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/SC4M-8896.


A series of experiments was conducted on the use of a device to passively generate vortex rings, henceforth a passive vortex generator (PVG). The device is intended as a means of propulsion for underwater vehicles, as the use of vortex rings has been shown to decrease the fuel consumption of a vehicle by up to 40% Ruiz (2010).

The PVG was constructed out of a collapsible tube encased in a rigid, airtight box. By adjusting the pressure within the airtight box while fluid was flowing through the tube, it was possible to create a pulsed jet with vortex rings via self-excited oscillations of the collapsible tube.

A study of PVG integration into an existing autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) system was conducted. A small AUV was used to retrofit a PVG with limited alterations to the original vehicle. The PVG-integrated AUV was used for self-propelled testing to measure the hydrodynamic (Froude) efficiency of the system. The results show that the PVG-integrated AUV had a 22% increase in the Froude efficiency using a pulsed jet over a steady jet. The maximum increase in the Froude efficiency was realized when the formation time of the pulsed jet, a nondimensional time to characterize vortex ring formation, was coincident with vortex ring pinch-off. This is consistent with previous studies that indicate that the maximization of efficiency for a pulsed jet vehicle is realized when the formation of vortex rings maximizes the vortex ring energy and size.

The other study was a parameter study of the physical dimensions of a PVG. This study was conducted to determine the effect of the tube diameter and length on the oscillation characteristics such as the frequency. By changing the tube diameter and length by factors of 3, the frequency of self-excited oscillations was found to scale as f~D_0^{-1/2} L_0^0, where D_0 is the tube diameter and L_0 the tube length. The mechanism of operation is suggested to rely on traveling waves between the tube throat and the end of the tube. A model based on this mechanism yields oscillation frequencies that are within the range observed by the experiment.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:vortex rings; self-propelled vehicles; vortex-enhanced propulsion; fluid mechanics; optimization; collapsible tubes
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Aeronautics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Dabiri, John O.
Thesis Committee:
  • Shepherd, Joseph E. (chair)
  • McKeon, Beverley J.
  • Gharib, Morteza
  • Dabiri, John O.
Defense Date:14 March 2013
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Office of Naval ResearchN000140810918
Office of Naval ResearchN000141010137
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:05282013-114822808
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:7757
Deposited By: Robert Whittlesey
Deposited On:14 May 2014 15:40
Last Modified:26 Oct 2023 23:12

Thesis Files

PDF - Final Version
See Usage Policy.


Repository Staff Only: item control page