In recent years there has been extensive research on three-dimensional flow separation. There are two different approaches: the phenomenological approach and a mathematical approach using topology. These two approaches are reviewed briefly and the shortcomings of some of the past works are discussed. A comprehensive approach applicable to incompressible and compressible steady-state flows as well as incompressible unsteady flow is then presented. The approach is similar to earlier topological approaches to separation but is more complete and in some cases adds more emphasis to certain points than in the past. To assist in the classification of various types of flow, nomenclature is introduced to describe the skin-friction portraits on the surface. This method of classification is then demonstrated on several categories of flow to illustrate particular points as well as the diversity of flow separation. The categories include attached, two-dimensional separation and three different types of simple, three-dimensional primary separation, secondary separation, and compound separation. Hypothetical experiments are utilized to illustrate the topological terminology and its role in characterizing these flows. These hypothetical experiments use colored oil injected onto the surface at singular points in the skin-friction portrait. Actual flow-visualization information, if available, is used to corroborate the hypothetical examples.

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