Numerical and experimental investigation into the aerodynamic benefits of rotorcraft formation flight

Ramon Duivenvoorden*, Mark Voskuijl, Lars Morée, Jan de Vries, Finbar van der Veen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

17 Downloads (Pure)


The use of formation flight to achieve aerodynamic benefit as applied to rotorcraft is, unlike its fixed-wing counterpart, an unproven principle. This document presents a proof-of-concept of rotorcraft formation flight through a numerical research study, supported by results from an independent wind-tunnel experiment. In both cases, two helicopters are placed in an echelon formation aligned on the advancing side of the main rotor, though they do not simulate directly comparable flight conditions. The vertical and lateral alignment is varied in order to observe the achievable reductions in main rotor power required during cruise flight. The wind-tunnel experiment data yields an estimated maximum total power reduction for the secondary aircraft of 24%, while the numerical models yield reductions between 20% and 34% dependent on flight velocity. Both experiments predict a higher potential for aerodynamic benefit than observed for fixed-wing formations, which is contributed to the asymmetric upwash profile in the rotor wake. Optimal lateral alignment of both experimental and numerical results is found to feature overlap of the rotor disk areas due to circular area effects. Experimental data shows an optimal vertical alignment of the secondary rotorcraft below the primary, due to wake displacement. This is not present in the numerical simulations as a result of the applied leader wake modeling.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalAmerican Helicopter Society. Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project
Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


Dive into the research topics of 'Numerical and experimental investigation into the aerodynamic benefits of rotorcraft formation flight'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this