NASA Animate The Beauty Of Drone Aerodynamics


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

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NASA Ames Research Center/NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division/Tim Sandstrom

It’s fair to say that quadcopter drones don’t look like the most aerodynamic of machines. But as the fruits of their labor show, they’re able to perform with greater control and dexterity than many other flying machines when it comes to certain tasks.

NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley has been using the latest imaging techniques and computer modeling to explore the aerodynamics of these drones. Their research studied a modified DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter, a popular battery-powered drone often used for aerial photography.


In a rather cool looking animation, NASA show the complex pattern of airflow and pressure changes created by the drone’s blades during flight. The airflow interactions are shown as the trippy undulating lines, while areas of high pressure are red and regions of low pressure are blue.

NASA Ames Research Center/NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division/Tim Sandstrom via MakeGIF

Aside from being a pretty sight, the researchers hope to offer new insights into how to design the next-generation of drones. For example, the delivery industry is already placing their bets on autonomous aerial drones to be the postmen of the future. The better we understand the dynamics of the drone's flight and how it copes with pressure changes, the better we’ll be able to create larger and safer drones that can transport heavy items.

With a bit of luck, they might even be able to make them a little less noisy too.



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