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What is Flutter and Can it Be Stopped?

What is Flutter?

Flutter is a word that people do not hear very often – and behind its obscure definition hides a reality that it has already taken so many lives. However, engineers and scientists around the world are doing everything they can to come up with a proper solution and stop the disasters caused by a flutter. The said phenomena affect structures like buildings, bridges, road signs, and power lines.

Experts use the term flutter in order to describe an incident or phenomena where an object experiences unstable oscillation due to aerodynamic forces, inertial effects, and structural elasticity. The phenomena could easily result in an accident. Especially when immersed in a fluid flow, such as sturdy winds and strong water currents.

One example of a flutter incident was the fall of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940. There were different theories made to explain what caused the collapse of one of the most popular bridges in America, but flutter turned out to be the more realistic answer.

According to the witness, Professor F. Bert Farquharson, “We knew from the night of the day the bridge opened that something was wrong.”

The Bold Action: How to stop the Phenomena of Flutter

Experts are continuously looking for ways to prevent such accidents from happening again. In the meantime, the aviation industry is making no mistake as cases of flutter occur more often on planes.

To date, engineers believe that earlier airplane crashes were the result of flutter occurrences. They now put more focus on the design elements of both the tail and wings. For the design of the aircraft, engineers use the processes of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and the finite element analysis (FEA).

CFD allows scientists and engineers to calculate moment characteristics and aerodynamic force of the plane at different sideslip, speeds, angles of attack, and atmospheric settings. On the other hand, FEA helps them recognize the plane’s structural properties like deformation under load, natural frequencies, and vibrational modes.

Developing a refined mathematical model that has the ability to capture flutter is what scientists and engineers want. If they ever come up with a model, scientists could predict the condition of a specific structure. They can also test their predictions in a controlled experimental location.

It is easy to predict if there is a flutter in a structure. However, experts are currently having a hard time recognizing its after effect. Scientists are still trying to create a more advanced mathematical model in order to capture the after-effects of the flutter.

“It sounds simple, but the mathematics are exceptionally complex and the stakes of being wrong are great. There is no room for error.” – David Amsallem, Engineering Research Associate

Scientists have already tried their best to propose various intricate models in the past. However, some of them were not able to work properly and others just failed to provide the right information.

Turning Negative into Positive

Engineers and scientists discovered that it is also possible to gather energy from certain kinds of flutter. They say that people could harvest a small amount of energy by using a tiny metallic strip just centimeters long. In order for the strip to generate energy, it needs to fluctuate similar to a flapping flag.

Using a practical mathematical model, engineers could gather energy efficiently from sources such as a moving car or just the wind. The bold action to generate energy from a flutter using waving strips is going to benefit many people. They could charge phone batteries and might even deliver power to remote places.

The presence of flutter has been around since men started building structures. It was only acknowledged during the era of the Cold War – and now things need to change. Flutter is a double-edged sword because it has negative effects but it also has positive ones. Authorities must give more time and conduct more studies about the phenomena in order to understand it better.

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