In this paper we develop the Optimal Control Approach to the rotary control of the cylinder wake. We minimize the functional which represents the sum of the work needed to resist the drag force and the work needed to control the flow, where the rotation rate (t)
is the control variable. Sensitivity of the functional to control is determined using the adjoint equations. We solve them in the “vorticity” form, which is a novel approach and leads to computational advantages. Simulations performed at Re = 75
and Re = 150
reveal systematic decrease of the total power and drag achieved using a very small amount of control effort. We investigate the effect of the optimization horizon on the performance of the algorithm and the correlation of the optimal controls with the changes of the flow pattern. The algorithm was also applied to the control of the subcritical flow at Re = 40,
however, no drag reduction was achieved in this case. Based on this, limits of the performance of the algorithm are discussed. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.