Dynamic pressure

Dynamic pressure (sometimes called velocity pressure) is the increase in a moving fluid's pressure over its static value due to motion. In this way it can be thought of as the fluid's kinetic energy per unit volume. In both incompressible and compressible fluid dynamics, dynamic pressure, or Q, is defined as:[1]

where (using SI units):

= dynamic pressure in pascals,
= fluid density in kg/m3 (e.g. density of water),
= flow speed in m/s.

For incompressible flow, the dynamic pressure of a fluid is the difference between its total pressure and static pressure. From Bernoulli's law, dynamic pressure is given by

where and are the total and static pressures, respectively.

Physical meaning

Dynamic pressure is the kinetic energy per unit volume of a fluid particle. Dynamic pressure is in fact one of the terms of Bernoulli's equation, which can be derived from the conservation of energy for a fluid in motion. In simplified cases, the dynamic pressure is equal to the difference between the stagnation pressure and the static pressure.[1]

Another important aspect of dynamic pressure is that, as dimensional analysis shows, the aerodynamic stress (i.e. stress within a structure subject to aerodynamic forces) experienced by an aircraft travelling at speed is proportional to the air density and square of , i.e. proportional to . Therefore, by looking at the variation of during flight, it is possible to determine how the stress will vary and in particular when it will reach its maximum value. The point of maximum aerodynamic load is often referred to as max Q and it is a critical parameter in many applications, such as launch vehicles.


The dynamic pressure, along with the static pressure and the pressure due to elevation, is used in Bernoulli's principle as an energy balance on a closed system. The three terms are used to define the state of a closed system of an incompressible, constant-density fluid.

When the dynamic pressure is divided by the product of fluid density and acceleration due to gravity, g, the result is called velocity head, which is used in head equations like the one used for pressure head and hydraulic head. In a venturi flow meter, the differential pressure head can be used to calculate the differential velocity head, which are equivalent in the adjacent picture. An alternative to velocity head is dynamic head.

Compressible flow

Many authors define dynamic pressure only for incompressible flows. (For compressible flows, these authors use the concept of impact pressure.) However, the definition of dynamic pressure can be extended to include compressible flows.[2][3]

If the fluid in question can be considered an ideal gas (which is generally the case for air), the dynamic pressure can be expressed as a function of fluid pressure and Mach number.

By applying the ideal gas law:[4]

the definition of the speed of sound and of Mach number :[5]


and also , dynamic pressure can be rewritten as:[6]

where (using SI units):

= static pressure in Pascals, Is also the basic SI unit of Pressure
= molar density of the ideal gas in mol/m3
= mass of a mole of the ideal gas in kg/mol
= density of the ideal gas in kg/m3
= gas constant (8.3144 J/(mol·K)),
= absolute temperature in kelvins (K),
= Mach number (non-dimensional),
= ratio of specific heats (non-dimensional) (1.4 for air at sea level conditions),
= flow speed in m/s,
= speed of sound in m/s

See also


  • L. J. Clancy (1975), Aerodynamics, Pitman Publishing Limited, London. ISBN 0-273-01120-0
  • Houghton, E.L. and Carpenter, P.W. (1993), Aerodynamics for Engineering Students, Butterworth and Heinemann, Oxford UK. ISBN 0-340-54847-9
  • Liepmann, Hans Wolfgang; Roshko, Anatol (1993), Elements of Gas Dynamics, Courier Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-41963-0


  1. Clancy, L.J., Aerodynamics, Section 3.5
  2. Clancy, L.J., Aerodynamics, Section 3.12 and 3.13
  3. "the dynamic pressure is equal to half rho vee squared only in incompressible flow."
    Houghton, E.L. and Carpenter, P.W. (1993), Aerodynamics for Engineering Students, Section 2.3.1
  4. Clancy, L.J., Aerodynamics, Section 10.4
  5. Clancy, L.J., Aerodynamics, Section 10.2
  6. Liepmann & Roshko, Elements of Gas Dynamics, p. 55.
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