Journal of Visualization

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 139–150 | Cite as

Airborne visualization of helicopter blade tip vortices

  • André Bauknecht
  • Christoph B. Merz
  • Markus Raffel
Regular Paper


Blade tip vortices and their interaction with the helicopter blades play an important role in the generation of noise on rotorcraft. Full-scale vortex visualization is essential for the understanding of these effects and the validation of sub-scale experiments and numerical simulations. In the present work, the reference-free background-oriented schlieren (BOS) method was used to visualize blade tip vortices of a full-scale BO 105 helicopter in hover and under free flight conditions. A ground-based dual-camera BOS system with an artificial background was applied for the visualization of the helicopter’s main and tail rotor tip vortices during take-off. In a second flight test, a similar dual-camera BOS system was used to visualize the main rotor blade tip vortices of the BO 105 during high speed forward, curve, and accelerating forward flight. The camera system was deployed aboard a microlight airplane flying above the helicopter, with vegetation on the ground serving as natural backgrounds. Different natural and artificial backgrounds were analyzed and compared to assess their suitability for the BOS evaluation. The airborne setup enabled the visualization of vortices up to a maximum vortex age of \(\psi _v=630^\circ\) at distances of up to one rotor diameter behind the rotor plane. Blade-vortex interaction effects and deformations of the vortex system were observed. The visualization results obtained during the inflight measurements show that the reference-free BOS method is highly suitable for the detection of helicopter blade tip vortices during full speed forward and maneuvering flight, therefore removing the restrictions imposed by ground-based measurements.

Graphical abstract


Background-oriented schlieren Helicopter Flight test Blade tip vortex 



The authors would like to thank Gabriel Ertz and Markus Krebs for their support during the flight tests and the pilots Sebastian Soffner and Uwe Göhmann.


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Copyright information

© The Visualization Society of Japan 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Helicopter DepartmentGerman Aerospace Center (DLR), Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow TechnologyGöttingenGermany

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