The surface interferometric skin-friction (SISF) measurement system is an instrument for determining the distribution of surface shear stress (skin friction) on a wind-tunnel model. The SISF system utilizes the established oil-film interference method, along with advanced image-data-processing techniques and mathematical models that express the relationship between interferograms and skin friction, to determine the distribution of skin friction over an observed region of the surface of a model during a single wind-tunnel test.

In the oil-film interference method, a wind-tunnel model is coated with a thin film of oil of known viscosity and is illuminated with quasi-monochromatic, collimated light, typically from a mercury lamp. The light reflected from the outer surface of the oil film interferes with the light reflected from the oil-covered surface of the model. In the present version of the oil-film interference method, a camera captures an image of the illuminated model and the image in the camera is modulated by the interference pattern. The interference pattern depends on the oil-thickness distribution on the observed surface, and this distribution can be extracted through analysis of the image acquired by the camera.

The oil-film technique is augmented by a tracer technique for observing the streamline pattern. To make the streamlines visible, small dots of fluorescent-chalk/ oil mixture are placed on the model just before a test. During the test, the chalk particles are embedded in the oil flow and produce chalk streaks that mark the streamlines.

The instantaneous rate of thinning of the oil film at a given position on the surface of the model can be expressed as a function of the instantaneous thickness, the skin-friction distribution on the surface, and the streamline pattern on the surface; the functional relationship is expressed by a mathematical model that is nonlinear in the oil-film thickness and is known simply as the thin-oil-film equation. From the image data acquired as described, the time-dependent oil-thickness distribution and streamline pattern are extracted and by inversion of the thin-oil-film equation it is then possible to determine the skin-friction distribution.

In addition to a quasi-monochromatic light source, the SISF system includes a beam splitter and two video cameras equipped with filters for observing the same area on a model in different wavelength ranges, plus a frame grabber and a computer for digitizing the video images and processing the image data. One video camera acquires the interference pattern in a narrow wavelength range of the quasi-monochromatic source. The other video camera acquires the streamline image of fluorescence from the chalk in a nearby but wider wavelength range. The interference-pattern and fluorescence images are digitized, and the resulting data are processed by an algorithm that inverts the thin-oil-film equation to find the skin-friction distribution.

This work was done by James L. Brown of Ames Research Center and Jonathan W. Naughton of MCAT, Inc. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at under the Physical Sciences category. This invention has been patented by NASA (U.S. Patent No. 5,963,310). Inquiries concerning rights for the commercial use of this invention should be addressed to

the Ames Technology Partnerships Division at (650) 604-2954.

Refer to ARC-14189-1.