For decades, NASA has used computer models to simulate the flow of air around aircraft in order to test designs and improve the performance of next-generation vehicles.

At NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, researchers recently used this technique to explore the aerodynamics of a popular example of a small, battery-powered drone, a modified DJI Phantom 3 quadcopter.

This simulation reveals the complex motions of air due to interactions between the vehicle’s rotors and X-shaped frame during flight. In the video, airflow interactions are shown as undulating lines. Pressure changes are shown using color. Areas of high pressure are red; low are blue.

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Video credit: NASA Ames Research Center/NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division/Tim Sandstrom

NASA Ames Research Center is located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. Follow us on social media to hear about the latest developments in space, science and technology.





  1. Thank you for this nice and interesting vidéo, the design of the arm should have a vertical and symmetric wing profile.
    Did you tried a coaxial propeller configuration ?

  2. It looks like DES simulation or maybe even DNS but the flow field doesn't look like its completely resolved. It would be really really informative if there was a legend or some kind of color scale depicting Eddy Viscosity Ratio or Turbulent Kinetic Energy.

  3. What I want to see from these results is a new drone design aided by computer models. I hypothesize that placing the rotors on top of each other would have some turbulence reducing effect.

  4. More info please this is exactly what I need to know right now. My drones are still too slow. Need to understand blade drag, arm width, the effects of turbulence etc.

    Forward flight at 20,30,40,50,60 degrees please

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