pitot tube

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pitot tube

[pē′tō ‚tüb]
An instrument that measures the stagnation pressure of a flowing fluid, consisting of an open tube pointing into the fluid and connected to a pressure-indicating device. Also known as impact tube.

Pitot Tube


an L-shaped tube for measuring the total head of a flowing fluid. The tube is named after the French scientist H. Pitot, who invented it in 1732. The Pitot tube is used as a component of the Pitot-static (Pitot-Prandtl) tube.

Pitot tube

A device to measure the stagnation pressure due to isentropic deceleration of a flowing fluid. In its original form it was a glass tube bent at 90° and inserted in a stream flow, with its opening pointed upstream. Water rises in the tube a distance, h, above the surface, and if friction losses are negligible, the velocity of the stream, V, is approximately 2gh, where g is the acceleration of gravity. However, there is a significant measurement error if the probe is misaligned at an angle α with respect to the stream. For an open tube, the error is about 5% at α ≈ 10°.

The misalignment error of a pitot tube is greatly reduced if the probe is shielded, as in the Kiel-type probe. The Kiel probe is accurate up to α ≈ 45°.

The modern application is a pitot-static probe, which measures both the stagnation pressure, with a hole in the front, and the static pressure in the moving stream, with holes on the sides. A pressure transducer or manometer records the difference between these two pressures. Pitot-static tubes are generally unshielded and must be carefully aligned with the flow to carry out accurate measurements.

When used with gases, estimate of the stream velocity is only valid for a low-speed or nearly incompressible flow, where the stream velocity is less than about 30% of the speed of sound of the fluid. At higher velocities, estimate of the stream velocity must be replaced with a Bernoulli-type theory, which accounts for gas density and temperature changes. If the gas stream flow is supersonic, or the stream velocity is greater than the speed of sound of the gas, a shock wave forms in front of the probe and the theory must be further corrected by complicated supersonic-flow algebraic relations.

A disadvantage of pitot and pitot-static tubes is that they have substantial dynamic resistance to changing conditions and thus cannot accurately measure unsteady, accelerating, or fluctuating flows. See Flow measurement

pitot tube

A device, used in conjunction with a suitable manometer or other pressure-reading instrument, for measuring the velocity of air in a duct or water in a pipe.

pitot tube

An open-end tube that points directly into the air flowing over the aircraft structure, providing pressure for the pitot and, often, the static systems. See pitot pressure.