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Testing the aerodynamics of Star Wars ships in a virtual wind tunnel

Contributed by
Jun 19, 2018

We all know (hopefully) that Star Wars is far more fiction than science, and that’s part of the franchise’s lasting charm. But we also know there are some really cool ships, that seem like they could function even in a galaxy not so far away. But how real-world functional are they?  

That’s the question that first popped into YouTuber EC Henry’s mind when he got ahold of Auto Desk Flow design, which is basically “a virtual wind tunnel simulator,” as he tells us in the video below. Since the program is particularly good at calculating the drag coefficient of objects in flight, Henry knew he had to find some 3D models and test away on Star Wars ships. 

According to NASA's Glenn Research Center, “The drag coefficient is a number that aerodynamicists use to model all of the complex dependencies of shape, inclination, and flow conditions on aircraft drag.” Which basically measures the amount of resistance an object gets from air (in this case).

The smaller the drag coefficient number is, the lower the object’s resistance is. So a cube would have a 1.05 drag coefficient, a sphere 0.47, and a teardrop shaped object would have a minimal drag coefficient of 0.04.  

So what were the results of Henry’s Star Wars experiment? Well, apparently you’d almost rather be flying a brick than a TIE Fighter, which has a laughable drag coefficient of just 0.98. And even with its more aerodynamic wing configuration, the TIE/IN Interceptor didn’t fare much better, with a rating of 0.78. Granted, Rogue One’s TIE Striker took advantage of its stealthy atmospheric mission redesign to score a 0.48.

And what about the ships that generally chase TIE Fighters, when they’re not being chased by them? Well, a standard T-65 X-Wing displayed the sadly sphere-like drag coefficient of 0.45. Not exactly the pinnacle of maneuverability. But the X-Wing variants fared a little better, with the ARC-170 Aggressive ReConnaissance starfighter (inspired by the real world P-61 Black Widow), which was used heavily in the Clone Wars, coming in at 0.39. And Poe’s ship, the T-70, is the most aerodynamically sound of all the X-Wings with a drag coefficient of 0.24.

The A-Wing pushes the air resistance down even more for the Rebels, with a 0.17 score. And the Y-Wing, the “slowest rebel fighter canonically,” sports a 0.68 drag coefficient, which is still better than most of the TIE Fighters. 

But the fastest Star Wars ship is no doubt the N-1 Starfighter used to protect the skies around Naboo, which came in at 0.10. However, even that score is critically bested by the real-world aircraft that Henry tested, the F-4E fighter jet, which has been around since the ‘60s, and still scored a 0.02 drag efficiency. 

Henry concludes that most of Star Wars’ drag coefficiency negativity can be attributed to the fact that designers aren’t paying enough attention to the back end of their ships, which as far as aerodynamics are concerned, should be every bit as important as the front.  

Granted, none of this means a whole heck of a lot in the vacuum of space, but there’s plenty of atmosphere flying in TGFFA as well. And honestly, don’t we all care a heck of a lot more about the TIE Fighter looking and sounding cool then we do about its drag coefficient?

(via Popular Mechanics)