Magazine article ASEE Prism

A History of Aerodynamics and Its Impact on Flying Machines

Magazine article ASEE Prism

A History of Aerodynamics and Its Impact on Flying Machines

Article excerpt

A History of Aerodynamics and Its Impact on Flying Machines

By John D. Anderson, Jr. Cambridge University Press; 1999; 478 pp., $39.95.

Reviewed by John Weese

In A History of Aerodynamics, John Anderson masterfully couples the development of theory with experiment, and correlates this evolving knowledge with the advent and improvement of flying machines. This delightful book requires careful attention, but it'll be read and re-read with genuine appreciation.

Scientists and engineers have worked diligently to understand fluid flow and its application to practical systems, beginning with Aristotle and Archimedes, and to da Vinci. Anderson includes fascinating descriptions of important milestones, from George Cayley's 1804 model glider-which is remarkably similar to modem ones-to early 19th century whirling arm experiments to determine aerodynamic lift forces. Some aircraft modelers may be tempted to construct their version of Cayley's glider because it looks as if it ought to fly well, especially with modem materials. There are also exceptionally good accounts of Lilienthal's 1890s manned glider flights.

Anderson carefully documents contributions to theoretical aerodynamics, including the evolution of the Navier-Stokes equation, which is used in essentially the same form today as when published by Stokes in 1845. The author also writes about the difficulties encountered in trying to solve this equation, including insights gained from the experiments of Helmholtz, Kirchhoff, Lord Rayleigh, and Reynolds. Physical understanding of phenomena such as vorticity, vortex filaments, vortex sheets, and boundary layers are also described well.

Anderson notes that the deep-rooted fascination with powered flight led to the foundation of early aeronautical societies, such as the influential Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, established in 1866. …

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