FoilSim is a computer program that calculates and graphically depicts information on flows of air around airfoils of various shapes. Although it is useful primarily as a teaching tool to enhance mathematical and scientific curricula, it was derived from "real-life" flow-computing software of engineering quality. To make the underlying flow-computing software useful in education, it was augmented with a graphical user interface that enables students to manipulate the features of the program easily and that guides the students through the learning process. The team that designed FoilSim combined the highly technical knowledge of scientists with the understanding of experienced educators to generate a product that is not too complex to be understood by students, yet it provides an entertaining and interactive way for students to explore substantial mathematical and scientific concepts.

FoilSim Generates an Interactive Display that shows aspects of the flow around an airfoil. Through the controls in the display, the user can explore the effects of design parameters like thickness, curvature, and angle of attack.

FoilSim generates an interactive display, called the Airfoil View Panel (see figure), which contains a simulated view of a wing being tested in a wind tunnel with air moving past it from left to right. Students can change the position, orientation and shape of the wing by moving slider controls in the display to vary the parameters of altitude, angle of attack, thickness, and curvature. Other parameters that can be varied are the wing area and the airspeed. The software displays plots of pressure or airspeed above and below the airfoil surface. A simulated probe monitors airspeed and pressure at a particular point on or close to the surface of the airfoil. The software calculates the lift of the airfoil, enabling students to learn factors that influence lift.

Interactive lessons that accompany the program prompt students to engage in problem solving and discovery. These lessons include:

  • Factors That Affect Lift
  • How Lift Changes
  • Flow Field Details
  • The Lift Coefficient
  • Baseball Lessons

In Baseball Lessons, students learn more about aerodynamics by controlling conditions of a baseball pitch, including altitude (location), speed, and spin.

The overall reaction from FoilSim users has been overwhelmingly positive. A high-school teacher reported that all of his students were using FoilSim and were beginning to "appreciate the process of experimenting." A student obtained a superior rating for a science-fair project that incorporated FoilSim. Parents, flight instructors, and engineers, each having a different reason to use FoilSim, have all expressed their delight with the program.

This work was done by Tom Benson, Bruce Bream, and Beth Lewandowski of Glenn Research Center; John Eigenauer and Ruth Petersen of RMS Information Systems; Roger Storm of Fairview Park City Schools; Darryl Palmer, Jr., of Cleveland State University; and Carol Galica of Thigpen and Associates. LEW-16711