Parallel finite element simulation of large ram-air parachutes

V. Kalro, S. Aliabadi, W. Garrard, T. Tezduyar*, S. Mittal, K. Stein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


In the near future, large ram-air parachutes are expected to provide the capability of delivering 21 ton pay loads from altitudes as high as 25,000 ft. In development and test and evaluation of these parachutes the size of the parachute needed and the deployment stages involved make high-performance computing (HPC) simulations a desirable alternative to costly airdrop tests. Although computational simulations based on realistic, 3D, time-dependent models will continue to be a major computational challenge, advanced finite element simulation techniques recently developed for this purpose and the execution of these techniques on HPC platforms are significant steps in the direction to meet this challenge. In this paper, two approaches for analysis of the inflation and gliding of ram-air parachutes are presented. In one of the approaches the point mass flight mechanics equations are solved with the time-varying drag and lift areas obtained from empirical data. This approach is limited to parachutes with similar configurations to those for which data are available. The other approach is 3D finite element computations based on the Navier-Stokes equations governing the airflow around the parachute canopy and Newton's law of motion governing the 3D dynamics of the canopy, with the forces acting on the canopy calculated from the simulated flow field. At the earlier stages of canopy inflation the parachute is modelled as an expanding box, whereas at the later stages, as it expands, the box transforms to a parafoil and glides. These finite element computations are carried out on the massively parallel supercomputers CRAY T3D and Thinking Machines CM-5, typically with millions of coupled, non-linear finite element equations solved simultaneously at every time step or pseudo-time step of the simulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1353-1369
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal for Numerical Methods in Fluids
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1997 Jun 30
Externally publishedYes


  • 3D flow simulations
  • Parachutes
  • Parallel computations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computational Mechanics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics


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