Date of Award

Spring 2002

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering

Committee Director

Oktay Baysal

Committee Member

Osama A. Kandil

Committee Member

Drew Landman

Committee Member

John C. Lin


Aerodynamic characteristics of a ground vehicle affect vehicle operation in many ways. Aerodynamic drag, lift and side forces have influence on fuel efficiency, vehicle top speed and acceleration performance. In addition, engine cooling, air conditioning, wind noise, visibility, stability and crosswind sensitivity are some other tasks for vehicle aerodynamics. All of these areas benefit from drag reduction and changing the lift force in favor of the operating conditions. This can be achieved by optimization of external body geometry and flow modification devices. Considering the latter, a thorough understanding of the airflow is a prerequisite.

The present study aims to simulate the external flow field around a ground vehicle using a computational method. The model and the method are selected to be three dimensional and time-dependent. The Reynolds-averaged Navier Stokes equations are solved using a finite volume method. The Renormalization Group (RNG) k-ϵ model was elected for closure of the turbulent quantities. Initially, the aerodynamics of a generic bluff body is studied computationally and experimentally to demonstrate a number of relevant issues including the validation of the computational method. Experimental study was conducted at the Langley Full Scale Wind Tunnel using pressure probes and force measurement equipment. Experiments and computations are conducted on several geometric configurations. Results are compared in an attempt to validate the computational model for ground vehicle aerodynamics.

Then, the external aerodynamics of a heavy truck is simulated using the validated computational fluid dynamics method, and the external flow is presented using computer visualization. Finally, to help the estimation of the error due to two commonly practiced engineering simplifications, a parametric study on the tires and the moving ground effect are conducted on full-scale tractor-trailer configuration. Force and pressure coefficients and velocity distribution around tractor-trailer assembly are computed for each case and the results compared with each other.

Finally, this study demonstrates that it is possible to apply computational fluid dynamics for ground vehicle aerodynamics with substantial detail and fidelity. With the latest developments on computing power, computational fluid dynamics can be applied on real-life transportation problems with reasonable turn-around times, reliability, ease of accessibility and affordability. The next step is deemed to be considering such a computational methodology for analysis within an automated optimization process in improving aerodynamic designs of heavy ground vehicles.