We consider the instability of two vortex pairs in a counter-rotating configuration. Such configurations model vortex wakes observed behind aircraft with inboard vortices produced at the inboard flap edges and at the tips of the horizontal tail. The instability potential is characterized by an optimal perturbation analysis. This extends the analysis of Fabre & Jacquin (2000) which was restricted to particular stationary configurations, and that of Crouch (1997) which considered co-rotating configurations. A complete mapping of the optimal perturbations is presented. The optimal perturbations grow faster than the Crow (1970) instability. However, they correspond to short-wavelength perturbations mainly affecting the weaker inboard vortices. A possible strategy which consists of forcing a long wavelength is then investigated. Application of both the optimal and the long-wave optimal perturbations to reduction of vortex wake danger is discussed.
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