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Example of a Joukowsky transform. The circle above is transformed into the Joukowsky airfoil below

In applied mathematics, the Joukowsky transform, named after Nikolai Zhukovsky, is a conformal map historically used to understand some principles of airfoil design.

The transform is


where z = x + iy is a complex variable in the new space and ζ = χ + iη is a complex variable in the original space. This transform is also called the Joukowsky transformation, the Joukowski transform, the Zhukovsky transform and other variations.

In aerodynamics, the transform is used to solve for the two-dimensional potential flow around a class of airfoils known as Joukowsky airfoils. A Joukowsky airfoil is generated in the z plane by applying the Joukowsky transform to a circle in the ζ plane. The coordinates of the centre of the circle are variables, and varying them modifies the shape of the resulting airfoil. The circle encloses the origin (where the conformal map has a singularity) and intersects the point z = 1. This can be achieved for any allowable centre position by varying the radius of the circle.

A closely related transform is the Kármán–Trefftz transform, as used to specify the Kármán–Trefftz airfoil, another class of airfoils. The trailing edge of the Kármán–Trefftz airfoil does not have the cusp which the Joukowsky airfoil has.


Velocity field and circulation for the Joukowsky airfoil

The solution to potential flow around a circular cylinder is analytic and well known. It is the superposition of uniform flow, a doublet, and a vortex.

The complex velocity \tilde{W} around the circle in the ζ plane is

\tilde{W}=V_\infty e^{-i \alpha} + \frac{i \Gamma}{2 \pi (\zeta -\mu)} - \frac{V_\infty R^2 e^{i \alpha}}{(\zeta-\mu)^2}


  • μ = μx + iμy is the complex coordinate of the centre of the circle
  • V_\infty is the freestream velocity of the fluid
  • α is the angle of attack of the airfoil with respect to the freestream flow
  • R is the radius of the circle, calculated using R=\sqrt{(1-\mu_x)^2+\mu_y^2}
  • Γ is the circulation, found using the Kutta condition, which reduces in this case to
\Gamma=4\pi V_\infty R \sin \left(\ \alpha + \sin^{-1} \left( \frac{\mu_y}{R} \right)\right).

The complex velocity W around the airfoil in the z plane is, according to the rules of conformal mapping and using the Joukowsky transformation:

W=\frac{\tilde{W}}{\frac{dz}{d\zeta}} =\frac{\tilde{W}}{1-\frac{1}{\zeta^2}}.

Here W = uxiuy, with ux and uy the velocity components in the x and y directions, respectively (z = x + iy, with x and y real-valued). From this velocity, other properties of interest of the flow, such as the coefficient of pressure or lift can be calculated.

A Joukowsky airfoil has a cusp at the trailing edge.

The transformation is named after Russian scientist Nikolai Zhukovsky. His name has historically been romanized in a number of ways, thus the variation in spelling of the transform.

Kármán–Trefftz transform

Example of a Kármán–Trefftz transform. The circle above in the ς-plane is transformed into the Kármán–Trefftz airfoil below, in the z-plane. The parameters used are: μx = –0.08, μy = +0.08 and n = 1.94. Note that the airfoil in the z-plane has been normalised using the chord length.

The Kármán–Trefftz transform is a conformal map closely related to the Joukowsky transform. While a Joukowsky airfoil has a cusped trailing edge, a Kármán–Trefftz airfoil — which is the result of the transform of a circle in the ς-plane to the physical z-plane, analogue to the definition of the Joukowsky airfoil — has a non-zero angle at the trailing edge, between the upper and lower airfoil surface. The Kármán–Trefftz transform therefore requires an additional parameter: the trailing-edge angle α. This transform is equal to:[1]

 z = n \frac{\left(1+\frac{1}{\zeta}\right)^n+\left(1-\frac{1}{\zeta}\right)^n} {\left(1+\frac{1}{\zeta}\right)^n-\left(1-\frac{1}{\zeta}\right)^n},   (A)

with n slightly smaller than 2. The angle α, between the tangents of the upper and lower airfoil surface, at the trailing edge is related to n by:[1]

\alpha = 2\pi\, -\, n\pi \quad \text{ and } \quad n=2-\frac{\alpha}{\pi}.

The derivative dz / dζ, required to compute the velocity field, is equal to:

 \frac{dz}{d\zeta} = \frac{4n^2}{\zeta^2-1} \frac{\left(1+\frac{1}{\zeta}\right)^n \left(1-\frac{1}{\zeta}\right)^n} {\left[ \left(1+\frac{1}{\zeta}\right)^n - \left(1-\frac{1}{\zeta}\right)^n \right]^2}.


First, add and subtract two from the Joukowsky transform, as given above:

 \begin{align} z + 2 &= \zeta + 2 + \frac{1}{\zeta}\, = \frac{1}{\zeta} \left( \zeta + 1 \right)^2, \ z - 2 &= \zeta - 2 + \frac{1}{\zeta}\, = \frac{1}{\zeta} \left( \zeta - 1 \right)^2. \end{align}

Dividing the left and right hand sides gives:

 \frac{z-2}{z+2} = \left( \frac{\zeta-1}{\zeta+1} \right)^2.

The right hand side contains (as a factor) the simple second-power law from potential flow theory, applied at the trailing edge near ζ = + 1. From conformal mapping theory this quadratic map is known to change a half plane in the ζ-space into potential flow around a semi-infinite straight line. Further, values of the power less than two will result in flow around a finite angle. So, by changing the power in the Joukowsky transform — to a value slightly less than two — the result is a finite angle instead of a cusp. Replacing 2 by n in the previous equation gives:[1]

 \frac{z-n}{z+n} = \left( \frac{\zeta-1}{\zeta+1} \right)^n,

which is the Kármán–Trefftz transform. Solving for z gives it in the form of equation (A).


  1. ^ a b c Milne-Thomson, Louis M. (1973), Theoretical aerodynamics (4th ed.), Dover Publ., pp. 128–131, ISBN 048661980X  


  • Anderson, John (1991). Fundamentals of Aerodynamics (Second Edition ed.). Toronto: McGraw–Hill. pp. 195–208. ISBN 0-07-001679-8.  
  • D.W. Zingg, "Low Mach number Euler computations", 1989, NASA TM-102205

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