4wings.com Hovercraft development 47751 Michigan ave., Port Isabel - 78578 - Texas, US Tel.: (956)943 5150


Hovercraft development
47751 Michigan ave. , Port Isabel, TX, 78578
Tel:(956) 943-5150

Duct Myths, Duct Physics
or short 
Duffy duct's

This script is provide free for education purposes with the assumption that the reader is fully aware of the risks involved. The author assumes no responsibility or liability for its use or consequences of its use by others. 

Duct Myths

Widespread disagreement prevails about the properties of ducted fans—or shrouded propellers as they are sometimes called. In general, the term ducted fan is applied to configurations of small disk area, high rpm, and low aspect ratio (long, narrow ducts), while a shrouded propeller has larger diameter, lower disk loading, lower rpm, and a high aspect ratio (short chord) duct. Many varieties of ducts and shrouds are possible, each with its own characteristics, which explains the conflicting opinions and evidence regarding their efficacy. One duct design serves all applications is the biggest misconception.

First, let us dispel a couple of myths: 

Myth 1: A ducted fan is less efficient than a free propeller.

This is a meaningless statement, since it does nothing to compare apples with apples. Whether ducted or free, the basic rule is that a propeller with low disk loading (thrust or power vs. disk area) will be more efficient than one with high disk loading. Small diameter, high disk loading ducted fans are often conceived to allow the use of a high rpm engine running a direct drive propeller. While these highly loaded fans (if properly designed) will be more efficient than a free propeller of the same diameter, they typically won't match the efficiency of a larger free propeller (of much lower disk loading), leading to the myth that ducted fans are “less efficient.” This design approach can be seen in drone's ( UAV's) where the majority is powered by small ( reasonable priced ) engines and propeller while the minority uses big propeller with higher torque engines ( Higher priced components )   and only a few use high rpm ducted fans.

It has been amply demonstrated, both theoretically and empirically, that a ducted fan (shrouded propeller) system, properly designed for a specific operating condition, will always outperform (propulsive) a free propeller of the same diameter (that is, it will produce more thrust for the same power input) at that operating condition. While this fact is always true (at least at subsonic speeds), it neglects the drag of the duct itself, which at high speeds can easily overcome propulsive benefits. 

Myth 2: Ducted fans are efficient only at high speeds (where turbofans operate efficiently).

In fact the opposite is true. As speeds increase, high mass flow becomes easier to attain as a result of the speed itself, making large disk-areas (and ducts) less important or effective. At the same time, however, duct drag rises with the square of the speed. 

Why then do turbofan engines always place the compressor in a duct? For a very different reason: to slow the airflow so that the compressor can operate supersonically even when the aircraft is close to sonic speeds—or even supersonic! The compressor duct of a turbofan engine actually lowers the propulsive efficiency of the compressor (slows the airstream) in order to avoid a transonic drag rise. 

The UDF (unducted fan) seeks to avoid this tradeoff by doing away with the duct altogether and designing the compressor (propeller) with exotic plan forms and airfoils to operate efficiently in the transonic realm. This approach has its own problems, of course, and the ducted, high bypass turbofan is still the most efficient high-speed engine we have. Just this does not apply to us Hovercraft builder.

Myth 3: The duct is dead weight and just increases drag of craft

Just opposite can be the case if the duct is a fix component of your craft and provides strength to the hull as well as skin of the craft. And this is actually not a new approach as seen in the following clip out of our grandfathers time frame : Stipa-Caproni Flying Barrel (take-off footage only)
Which evolved over the next 8 years into : Italian 1940 Caproni Campini N.1 jet plane

If you compare the two clips you can see that the duct shape changed drastically ...but lets get out of the past and join the current where the following  ESTOL concept makes quite some sense for a small size Hovercraft where the duct is integrated into the craft structure

In a first aspect everybody sees the duct as a attached unit to the aft end of the Hovercraft craft - the engine located in front of it and the duct producing high drag at the low craft speed.

If you try to rethink this aspect you will get to a design as the  Donar  where the duct is a part of the craft and ad's not only a high amount of safety in aspect of blade failure but as well aerodynamic streamline appearance and strength to the craft. Or as we use in the  Alpha-II  the duct is integrated in the lower hull of the craft, provides the positive aspect of a self draining cockpit, reduced noise because of it's high length of more than 6' to the internal skin of the craft. A perfect location to integrate  the control surfaces to make this craft better maneuverable without aft reverse thrust buckets - and a aerodynamic efficient thrust force.

If you take the same design approach to Drone's ( UAV's ) than the additional weight of the duct will be compensated by less carbon fiber components  for your electronics as flight controller and ESC's or as seen in the following clip a compact and robust Drone

Duct Physics Without Numbers

We begin by looking at a ducted fan operating statically (zero free-stream velocity or airspeed).

According to this simplified approach, for a ducted fan system operating statically, net pressures on the duct inner surface will contribute to thrust if the inlet area is larger than the outlet area (called positive camber). In reality, it has been shown that even a zero-camber duct can contribute to thrust, due to the complex 3 dimensional flow around and through the duct. 
For a given propeller there is an ideal duct shape (bell mouth) which will optimize the duct’s contribution to static thrust. The magnitude of this contribution from the duct can be significant; a theoretical result (from Theodorsen’s Theory of Propellers) states that the thrust of a ducted fan with an ideal bell mouth will be equally divided between pressures on the rotor and pressures on the duct! 

 A further important factor is "diffuser ratio", being the ratio of exit_area/disk_area. Theoretically, static thrust increases with diffuser ratio: as the induced airflow is slowed by the expanding duct aft of the propeller disk, pressures increase on the inner  duct wall, thus contributing to thrust. In practice, diffuser ratio is strictly limited by the requirement to avoid separation.  In summary, ducted fans can produce more thrust than a free propeller of the same diameter for the following reasons: 

  • The duct extends the reach of the propulsion system radially to work on a larger mass of air (by analogy,  “non-planar” propulsion system) and thus the system takes on the characteristics of a free propeller of larger diameter. 
  • If clearances between the propeller tips and duct wall are kept small compared to tip chord, the presence of the duct wall will maintain pressures on the blade towards the tip, improving blade L/D. 

 Since the total thrust of a ducted fan/shrouded propeller is the sum of pressures on the propeller and pressures on the duct, to  increase thrust one increases the net propulsive pressures on the duct and/or on the propeller. To increase net pressures on the propeller for a given power input, one increases the blade L/D by keeping tip clearances small. To increase net pressure  on the duct, one optimizes the duct geometry for a specific airspeed. 

In the shoe box
 The ducted propeller for STOL airplanes
 Shrouded propeller
 Differentially Elevons for Hovercraft

Perforated Ducted Propellers

Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) Ducted Fan Propulsion
Cool link - a must read if this topic interest you :  http://www89.pair.com/techinfo/MassFlow/massflow.htm Marks page on Ducted Fan and Shrouded Propeller - get his book - it's worth every penny.

Hope you enjoy the script 
Michael    4wings.com

update -01- 2015

Related external links

AirMule - Stratos


Ducted Fan UAV

Hummingbird UAS

Extreme Access System for Entry (EASE)

The Case For Ducted Fan presentation with calculations