Three-dimensional organisation of primary and secondary crossflow instability

Jacopo Serpieri*, Marios Kotsonis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
56 Downloads (Pure)


An experimental investigation of primary and secondary crossflow instability developing in the boundary layer of a 45° swept wing at a chord Reynolds number of 2.17 × 106 is presented. Linear stability theory is applied for preliminary estimation of the flow stability while surface flow visualisation using fluorescent oil is employed to inspect the topological features of the transition region. Hot-wire anemometry is extensively used for the investigation of the developing boundary layer and identification of the statistical and spectral characteristics of the instability modes. Primary stationary, as well as unsteady type-I (z-mode), type-II (y-mode) and type-III modes are detected and quantified. Finally, three-component, three-dimensional measurements of the transitional boundary layer are performed using tomographic particle image velocimetry. This research presents the first application of an optical experimental technique for this type of flow. Among the optical techniques, tomographic velocimetry represents, to date, the most advanced approach allowing the investigation of spatially correlated flow structures in three-dimensional fields. Proper orthogonal decomposition (POD) analysis of the captured flow fields is applied to this goal. The first POD mode features a newly reported structure related to low-frequency oscillatory motion of the stationary vortices along the spanwise direction. The cause of this phenomenon is only conjectured. Its effect on transition is considered negligible but, given the related high energy level, it needs to be accounted for in experimental investigations. Secondary instability mechanisms are captured as well. The type-III mode corresponds to low-frequency primary travelling crossflow waves interacting with the stationary ones. It appears in the inner upwelling region of the stationary crossflow vortices and is characterised by elongated structures approximately aligned with the axis of the stationary waves. The type-I secondary instability consists instead of significantly inclined structures located at the outer upwelling region of the stationary vortices. The much narrower wavelength and higher advection velocity of these structures correlate with the higher-frequency content of this mode. The results of the investigation of both primary and secondary instability from the exploited techniques agree with and complement each other and are in line with existing literature. Finally, they present the first experimental observation of the secondary instability structures under natural flow conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)200-245
Number of pages46
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2016


  • Boundary layer stability
  • boundary layer structure


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