Experimental studies of the aerodynamics of spinning and stationary footballs

The accurate discrimination of the aerodynamic parameters affecting the flight of sports balls is essential in the product development process. Aerodynamic studies reported to date have been limited, primarily because of the inherent difficulty of making accurate measurements on a moving or spinning ball. Manufacturers therefore generally rely on field trials to determine ball performance, but the approach is time-consuming and subject to considerable variability. The current paper describes the development of a method for mounting stationary and spinning footballs in a wind tunnel to enable accurate force data to be obtained. The technique is applied to a number of footballs with differing constructions and the results reported. Significant differences in performance are noted for both stationary and spinning balls and the importance of the ball orientation to the flow is highlighted. To put the aerodynamic data into context the results are applied in a flight model to predict the potential differences in the behaviour of each ball in the air. The aerodynamic differences are shown to have a considerable effect on the flight path and the effect of orientation is shown to be particularly significant when a ball is rotating slowly. Though the techniques reported here are applied to a football they are equally applicable to other ball types.