CFD in Aerospace America’s 2019 Year in Review

aiaa-aero-amer-cover-2019-yirSomething was happening early in 2020 that distracted me from writing my usual article about CFD in AIAA’s annual Year in Review issue of Aerospace America. What was it? Having trouble remembering. Hmm… Oh, right – that pandemic thing.

Regardless, 2020 has been such a dumpster fire that maybe looking back at the halcyon days of 2019 will be a relaxing tonic.  All images included in this article are from unless otherwise noted.

Adaptive Structures TC

Their article didn’t explicitly mention CFD but did discuss wind tunnel testing of “morphing missiles”, something that would be great for a multidisciplinary CFD study. [And a great name for a rock band.] And mentioning it allows me to include this cool image. (more)


A morphing missile adjusts its shape to provide aerodynamic benefits.

Design Engineering TC

Another example of aspirational CFD applications is Airbus’ “Bird of Prey” design of a next generation, sustainable, “green” aircraft. I’m certain Airbus ran CFD on this design, but wouldn’t you like to also? (more)


Airbus’ Bird of Prey concept.

Multidisciplinary Design Optimization TC

NASA’s OpenMDAO V2.8 was applied to the design optimization problem of boundary layer ingestion for NASA’s STARC-ABL aircraft.

The University of Michigan MDO Lab released MACH-Aero for performing aerodynamic shape optimization with either the ADflow or OpenFOAM CFD solvers. (more)


CFD solution and overset grid for NASA’s STARC-ABL aircraft.

Non-Deterministic Approaches TC

Given that the CFD Vision 2030 calls for uncertainty quantification, it’s of interest that the Certification by Analysis Community of Practice will be considering, among other things, model verification and validation methods along with UQ. (more)

Applied Aerodynamics TC

Scheduled for late 2020, NASA’s tests of hovering helicopters in the National Full Scale Aerodynamics Complex at Ames will provide data necessary for benchmarking numerical simulation of hover. (more)

Fluid Dynamics TC

Purdue University researchers observed hypersonic boundary layer transition on a 2.5 degree straight cone – a first. [We could’ve used this back on the NASP X-30.]

High fidelity simulations (CFD) and experiments on an axisymmetric body at supersonic conditions showed results that differ greatly from the same flow on flat surfaces.

AFRL researchers applied LES to the onset of stall for a pitching airfoil and revealed that a transitioning, separated, nonequilibrium boundary layer interacts with locally supersonic flow.

Researchers at Los Alamos applied machine learning to turbulence modeling resulting in a high-fidelity model that requires order of magnitude lower computational cost. (more)


A monumental “first ever” – Purdue researchers observed hypersonic boundary layer transition.

Ground Testing TC

Notably, JAXA improved their new bird strike test apparatus which uses “precisely calibrated gelatin balls” instead of bird carcasses. [The bird impact facility (aka chicken gun) is always a high point when I take interns on a tour of Lockheed Martin.] (more)

Meshing, Visualization, and Computational Environments TC

Exascale meshing, as called for in the CFD Vision 2030, was the subject of a test case at the most recent Geometry and Mesh Generation Workshop and resulted in meshes of up to 13 billion elements.

Intelligent Light developed Spectre-UQ and applied it to simulation results.

The Air Force’s CAPS program (Computational Aircraft Prototype Synthesis), on which MIT and Syracuse U. are primary developers, is now being applied to multi-fidelity, multi-disciplinary aircraft design.

New versions of the CREATE program’s Kestrel CFD solver and Capstone mesher were released.

Generation of high-order curved meshes to support high-order CFD solvers remains a very active area of research with advances by Mississippi State U., Pointwise, and Capstone. High-order CFD results visualization and post-processing are also being advanced by Intelligent Light.

Mesh adaptation is also actively being pursued with Pointwise working on geometry-mesh associativity for surface mesh adaptation and INRIA demonstrated anisotropic adaptation for turbomachinery including periodicity. (more)


CFD simulation of a U.S. Navy F/A-18E SuperHornet.

Computer Systems TC

The DoE’s Summit supercomputer (fastest on the Top500 list in 2019) was used to run a FUN3D CFD simulation with 6.5 billion mesh cells and 200,000 time steps in only four days while using only a fraction of Summit’s available processors. (more)

Inlets, Nozzles, and Propulsion Systems Integration TC

Boom Supersonic’s shortened development cycle for the XB-1’s inlet was credited in part due to “judicious use of well-understood computational tools and methods” plus the use of cloud computing to have flexible access to greater CPU availability as needed. The vehicle’s ejector nozzle saw the application of high-fidelity CFD models of the secondary flow path. (more)

CFD Vision 2030 IC

Development of high-order flow solvers in one instance (eddy) showed comparable accuracy at 10x the performance for a turbomachinery application. Research continues in the area of h-p refinement.

Toward the goal of efficiently utilization of high performance computing, NASA’s Launch Ascent and Vehicle Aerodynamics team refactored their software to support newer HPC architectures and in the process was able to produced the most detailed turbulence-resolving simulations yet achieved.

In order to better support certification by analysis efforts, NASA announced a new technical challenge to “develop and demonstrate computational efficient eddy-resolving modeling tools that predict maximum lift for transport aircraft.” (more)


NASA performed a scale-resolving simulation of an Orion abort scenario.

So What about 2020?

The annual Aerospace America Year in Review issue is the only issue of the magazine that I save and I have virtually all of them going back to 1980 when I joined AIAA as a freshman undergrad. When you read the entire 2019 Year in Review issue, you’ll likely be impressed as I always am of the breadth and depth of research and advancement going on in our chosen field.

My recommendation? Join AIAA. It’s where aerospace gets done. Student or professional, it will benefit you. Be active, participate. Attend a conference. Join one of these committees and contribute to the profession.

I’ll leave it to you to find which committee reported the following.

“The consequence of the experimental violations of quantum inequality was that nature does not impose any truly significant constraint on technologically producing and accessing negative vacuum energy density; this result implied that there should be no roadblock to artificially producing a warp drive or a traversable wormhole to achieve faster-than-light propulsion for interstellar flight.”

Your reading may find some CFD that I missed, so post a comment here to let me know. The online issue can be found at

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