Skip to main content

On the role and challenges of CFD in the aerospace industry

  • P. R. Spalart (a1) and V. Venkatakrishnan (a1) (a2)

This article examines the increasingly crucial role played by Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) in the analysis, design, certification, and support of aerospace products. The status of CFD is described, and we identify opportunities for CFD to have a more substantial impact. The challenges facing CFD are also discussed, primarily in terms of numerical solution, computing power, and physical modelling. We believe the community must find a balance between enthusiasm and rigor. Besides becoming faster and more affordable by exploiting higher computing power, CFD needs to become more reliable, more reproducible across users, and better understood and integrated with other disciplines and engineering processes. Uncertainty quantification is universally considered as a major goal, but will be slow to take hold. The prospects are good for steady problems with Reynolds-Averaged Navier-Stokes (RANS) turbulence modelling to be solved accurately and without user intervention within a decade – even for very complex geometries, provided technologies, such as solution adaptation are matured for large three-dimensional problems. On the other hand, current projections for supercomputers show a future rate of growth only half of the rate enjoyed from the 1990s to 2013; true exaflop performance is not close. This will delay pure Large-Eddy Simulation (LES) for aerospace applications with their high Reynolds numbers, but hybrid RANS-LES approaches have great potential. Our expectations for a breakthrough in turbulence, whether within traditional modelling or LES, are low and as a result off-design flow physics including separation will continue to pose a substantial challenge, as will laminar-turbulent transition. We also advocate for much improved user interfaces, providing instant access to rich numerical and physical information as well as warnings over solution quality, and thus naturally training the user.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      On the role and challenges of CFD in the aerospace industry
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      On the role and challenges of CFD in the aerospace industry
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      On the role and challenges of CFD in the aerospace industry
      Available formats
Hide All
1.Johnson, F.T., Tinoco, E.T. and Yu, N.J.Thirty years of development and application of CFD at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Seattle, USA, Comput Fluids, December 2005, 34, (110), pp 1115-1151.
2.Abbas-Bayoumi, A. and Becker, K. An industrial view on numerical simulation for aircraft aerodynamic design, J Math Indy, 2011, pp 1-10.
3.Strawn, R., Nygaard, T., Bhagwat, M., Dimanlig, A., Ormiston, H.S.R. and Potsdam, M.Integrated computational fluid and structural dynamics analyses for comprehensive rotorcraft analysis, AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conference and Exhibit, 2007, 10.2514/6.2007-6575.
4.Dumas, L.CFD-based Aerodynamic Optimization for Automotive Aerodynamics, Optimization and Computational Fluid Dynamics, Thevenin, D. and Janiga, G. (Eds), 2008, Springer, pp 191-215.
5.Islam, M., Decker, F., Villers, E.D., Jackson, A., Gines, J., Gitt-Gehrke, T.G.A. and Font, J.C.I. Application of Detached-Eddy Simulation for Automotive Aerodynamics Development, 2009, SAE Int, paper 2009-01-0333.
6.Sanderse, B., van der Pijl, S. and Koren, B.Review of computational fluid dynamics for wind turbine wake aerodynamics, Wind Energy, 2011, 14, (17), pp 799-819.
7.Bertram, V.Practical Ship Hydrodynamics, 2nd ed, 2011. Butterworth-Heinemann.
8.Slotnick, J., Clark, R., Friedman, D., Yadlin, Y., Yeh, D., Carr, J., Czech, M. and Bieniawski, S. Computational aerodynamic analysis of the formation flight for aerodynamic benefit program, 2014, AIAA-2014-1458, 52nd Aerospace Sciences Meeting, 2014.
9.Spalart, P.R. and Bogue, D.R.The role of CFD in aerodynamics – off design, Aero J, 2003, 107, pp 323-330.
10.Slotnick, J., Khodadoust, A., Alonso, J., Darmofal, D., Gropp, W. and Laurie, D. CFD Vision 2030 Study: A path to Revolutionary Computational Aerosciences, January 2014, Technical ReportNASA/CR-2014-218178.
11.Le Doux, S.T., Vassberg, J.C., Young, D.P., Fugal, S., Kamenetskiy, D.S., Huffman, W.P. and Melvin, R.G.Study based on the AIAA aerodynamic design optimization discussion group test cases, AIAA J, 2015, 53, (17), pp 1910-1935.
12.Melvin, R.G., Huffman, W., Young, D., Johnson, F., Hilmes, C. and Bieterman, M.B.Recent progress in aerodynamic optimization, Int J Numer Methods Fluids, 1999, 30, (12), pp 205-216.
13.Vassberg, J.C., Tinoco, E.N., Mani, M., Zickuhr, T., Levy, D.W., Brodersen, O.P., Eisfel, B., Crippa, S., Wahls, R.A., Morrison, J.H., Mavriplis, D.J. and Murayama, M.Summary of the fourth AIAA computational fluid dynamics drag prediction workshop, J Aircraft, 2014, 51, (14), pp 1070-1089.
14.Rumsey, C.L. and Slotnick, J.P. Overview and summary of the second AIAA high lift prediction workshop (Invited), 2014, AIAA SciTech, 52nd Aerospace Sciences Meeting, National Harbor, MD.
15.Spalart, P. and Wetzel, D.Rudimentary landing gear results at the 2012 BANC-II airframe noise workshop, Int J Aeroacoust, 2015, 14, (11–2), pp 193-216.
16.Anderson, B., Shur, M., Spalart, P., Strelets, M. and Travin, A. Reduction of aerodynamic noise in a flight deck by use of vortex generators, 2005, AIAA-2005-426.
17.Allmaras, S.R., Bussoletti, J.E., Hilmes, C.L., Johnson, T., Melvin, R.G., Tinoco, E.N., Venkatakrishnan, V., Wigton, L.B. and Young, D.P.Algorithm issues and challenges associated with the development of robust CFD codes, Variational Analysis and Aerospace Engineering, Buttazzo, G. and Frediani, A. (Eds), 2009, Springer, pp 1-20.
18.Johnson, F.T., Kamenetskiy, D.S., Melvin, R.G., Venkatakrishnan, V., Wigton, L.B., Young, D.P., Allmaras, S.R., Bussoletti, J.E. and Hilmes, C.L.Observations regarding algorithms required for robust CFD codes, Math Model Nat Pheno, 2011, 6, (103), pp 2-27.
19.Mavriplis, D.J.Results from the 3rd drag prediction workshop using the NSU3D unstructured mesh, J Aircraft, 2008, 45, (13), pp 750-761.
20.Diskin, B., Thomas, J.L., Rumsey, C.L. and Schwoppe, A. Grid convergence for turbulent flows, 2015, AIAA-2015-1746, SciTech-2015.
21.Bieterman, M.B., Bussoletti, J.E., Hilmes, C.L., Johnson, F.T., Melvin, R.G. and Young, D.P.An adaptive grid method for analysis of 3D aircraft configurations, Comput Methods Appl Mech Eng, 1992, 101, pp 225-249.
22.Aftosmis, M.J. and Nemec, M. Cart3d simulations for the first AIAA sonic boom prediction workshop, January 2014, AIAA 2014-0558.
23.Fidkowski, K. and Darmofal, D.Review of output-based error estimation and mesh adaptation in computational fluid dynamics, AIAA J, 2011, 49, (14), pp 673-694.
24.Kamenetskiy, D.S., Bussoletti, J.E., Hilmes, C.L., Venkatakrishnan, V., Wigton, L.B. and Johnson, F.T.Numerical evidence of multiple solutions for the Reynolds-averaged Navier–Stokes equations, AIAA J, 2014, 52, (18), pp 1686-1698.
25.Spalart, P.Philosophies and fallacies in turbulence modelling, Prog Aerosp Sci, 2015, 74, pp 1-15.
26.Farrell, P., Birkisson, A. and Funke, S.W.Deflation techniques for finding distinct solutions of nonlinear partial differential equations, SIAM J Sci Comput, 2015, 37, (4), pp A2026-A2045.
27.Witherden, F.D., Vermeire, B.C. and Vincent, P.E.Heterogeneous computing on mixed unstructured grids with PyFR, Comput Fluids, 2015, 120, pp 173-186.
28.Spalart, P., Strategies for turbulence modelling and simulations, Int J Heat Fluid Flow, 2000, 21, pp 252-263.
29.Smith, C., Beratlis, N., Balaras, E., Squires, K. and Tsunoda, M.Numerical investigation of the flow over a golf ball in the subcritical and supercritical regimes, Int J Heat Fluid Flow, 2010, 31, (13), pp 262-273.
30.Rumsey, C.L., Smith, B. and Huang, G., (online).
31.Spalart, P., Jou, W.-H., Strelets, M. and Allmaras, S.R.Comments on the feasibility of LES for wings, and on a hybrid RANS/LES approach, First AFOSR International Conference on DNS/LES, Advances in DNS/LES, Liu, C. and Liu, Z. Z. (Eds), 1997, Greyden Press, Columbus, OH.
32.Schuster, D.M., Chwalowski, P., Heeg, J. and Weismann, C. Summary of data and findings from the first aeroelastic prediction workshop, July 2012, ICCFD7.
33.Ronch, A.D., Vallespin, D., Ghoreyshi, M. and Badcock, K.J.Evaluation of dynamic derivatives using computational fluid dynamics, AIAA J, 2011, 50, (12), pp 470-484.
34.Bidwell, C. Icing Analysis of the ANSA S3 Icing Aircraft Using LEWICE3D Version 2, 2007, SAR Technical Paper 2007-01-3324.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Aeronautical Journal
  • ISSN: 0001-9240
  • EISSN: 2059-6464
  • URL: /core/journals/aeronautical-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed