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# THE DESCRIPTIVE GEOMETRY OF

NOSE CONES
© 1996 Gary A. Crowell Sr.

In my work on the VCP program, it was necessary to collect the equations describing the various nose
cone shapes. This collection also brought together some nomenclature and nose cone information that I
have never seen gathered in a single source, so I’ve tried to tidy it up and present it here for your
amusement.

GENERAL DIMENSIONS

In all of the following nosecone shape
equations, L is the overall length of the
nosecone, and R is the radius of the base of
the nosecone. y is the radius at any point
x, as x varies from 0, at the tip of the
nosecone, to L. The equations define the
2-dimensional profile of the nose shape.
The full body of revolution of the nosecone
is formed by rotating the profile around the
centerline (
C
/
L
). Note that the equations
describe the ‘perfect’ shape; practical nosecones are often blunted or truncated for manufacturing or
aerodynamic reasons (see the following section on ‘Bluffness Ratio’).

While a practical nose cone used in modeling usually includes a shoulder for mounting to a tube, that
aspect will be ignored here, as it has no aerodynamic effects, and its mass and inertial contributions are
easily handled separately.

NOSE CONE SHAPE EQUATIONS

CONICAL
A very common nose cone shape is a
simple cone. This shape is often chosen
for its ease of manufacture, and is also
often (mis)chosen for its drag
characteristics. The sides of a conical
profile are straight lines, so the diameter
equation is simply,
y
xR
L
·
Cones are sometimes defined by their ‘half angle’, φ :
φ ·
|
.

`
,

tan
1
R
L
,and, y x · tan φ
Cones are also special cases of the Power and Parabolic series, as shown in the following sections.

φ
L
R
Dimensions used in the equations
C
/L
Conical nosecone
L
R
x = 0 x = L
x
y
C
/
L

y = R y = 0
BI-CONIC
A Bi-Conic nosecone shape is simply a
cone stacked on top of a frustrum of a cone
(commonly known to modelers as a
‘conical transition section’ shape), where
the base of the upper cone is equal in
diameter to the smaller diameter of the
frustrum.

2 1
L L L + ·

for
1
0 L x ≤ ≤ , for L x L ≤ ≤
1
,

1
1
L
xR
y ·
( )( )
2
1 2 1
1
L
R R L x
R y
− −
+ ·

,
`

.
|
·

1
1 1
1
tan
L
R
φ

,
`

.
| −
·

2
1 2 1
2
tan
L
R R
φ

1
tanφ x y · ( )
2 1 1
tanφ L x R y − + ·

POWER SERIES
The Power Series includes the shape
commonly known to modelers as a
‘parabolic’ nose cone. (Oddly enough, the
shape correctly known as a parabolic nose
cone is a member of the Parabolic Series,
and is something completely different.)
The Power Series shape is characterized by
its (usually) blunt tip, and by the fact that its
base is not tangent to the body tube. There
is always a discontinuity at the nosecone-body joint that looks distinctly non-aerodynamic; however the
shape is sometimes modified at the base to smooth out this discontinuity. Often people speak of a
parabola shape, when what they are actually looking for is an elliptical shape, which is tangent at its base.
It is also interesting to note that both a flat -faced cylinder and a cone are shapes that are members of the
Power Series

The Power series nose shape is generated by rotating a parabola about its axis. The base of the nosecone
is parallel to the lattus rectum of the parabola, and the factor ‘n’ controls the ‘bluntness’ of the shape. As
n decreases towards zero, the Power Series nose shape becomes increasingly blunt; at values of n above
about .7, the tip becomes sharp.

For 0 1 ≤ ≤ n , y R
x
L
n
·
|
.

`
,

Where: n = 1 for a CONE
n = .75 for a ¾POWER
n = .5 for a ½POWER (PARABOLA)
n = 0 for a CYLINDER

φ2
L2
R2
C
/
L

Bi-Conic
nosecone
φ1
R1
L1
L
L
R
Power Series Dwg TBD
C
/L

TANGENT OGIVE
Next to a simple cone, the Tangent Ogive shape
is the most familiar in hobby rocketry. The
profile of this shape is formed by a segment of
a circle such that the rocket body is tangent to
the curve of the nosecone at its base; and the
base is on the radius of the circle. The
popularity of this shape is largely due to the
ease of constructing its profile, since that
profile is just a segment of a circle that can be
simply drawn with a compass.

The radius of the circle that forms the ogive is
called the Ogive Radius, ρ ρ, and it is related to
the length and base radius of the nose cone:

ρ ·
+ R L
R
2 2
2

The radius y at any point x, as x varies from 0
to L is:

( ) ( ) y x L R · − − + − ρ ρ
2
2

The nosecone length, L, must be equal to, or less than the Ogive Radius. If they are equal, then the shape
is a hemisphere.

SECANT OGIVE
The profile of this shape is also formed by a
segment of a circle, but the base of the shape
is not on the radius of the circle defined by
the ogive radius. The rocket body will not be
tangent to the curve of the nose at its base.
The Ogive Radius, ρ ρ, is not determined by R
and L (as it is for a tangent ogive), but rather
is one of the factors to be chosen to define
the nose shape. If the chosen Ogive Radius of
a Secant Ogive is greater than the Ogive Radius of a Tangent Ogive with the same R and L, then the
resulting Secant Ogive appears as a Tangent Ogive with a portion of the base truncated; figure n

R
L
ρ
C
/
L

Secant Ogive
L
R
ρ
C
/
L

Tangent Ogive
ρ >
+ R L
R
2 2
2
,and, α
ρ
· −
+
|
.

`
,

|
.

`
,

tan cos
1 1
2 2
2
R
L
L R

Then the radius y at any point x, as x varies from 0 to L is:

( ) y x · − − + ρ ρ α ρ α
2
2
cos sin

If the chosen ρ ρ is less than the Tangent Ogive
ρ ρ, then the result will be a Secant Ogive that
bulges out to a maximum diameter that is
greater than the base diameter; figure n+1. The
classic example of this shape is the nose cone
of the Honest John. Also, the chosen ogive
radius must be greater than twice the length of
the nose cone.
L R L
R 2 2
2 2
< <
+
ρ

Programming note: The inverse cosine function, required in the equations above, is not directly
supported by most programming languages. The derived function for the inverse cosine, in BASIC syntax,
is as follows:
( ) ( )
( ) cos * ( )

· +
1
2 1 z atn - z / sqr - z *z +1 atn ,where atn(1) is pi/4 radians.
Arcsin(z) = atn(z/sqr(-z*z+1))

R
L
ρ
C
/
L

Secant Ogive
ELLIPTICAL
The profile of this shape is one-half of an
ellipse, with the major axis being the
centerline and the minor axis being the
base of the nosecone. A rotation of a full
ellipse about its major axis is called a
prolate spheroid, so an elliptical nose
shape would properly be known as a
prolate hemispheroid. This shape is
popular in model rocketry due to the blunt
nose and tangent base, which are attractive
features for subsonic flight. Note however, that this is not a shape normally found in professional
rocketry. Note also, that if R equals L, this shape is a hemisphere.

y R
x
L
· − 1
2
2

PARABOLIC SERIES
The Parabolic Series nose shape is not the blunt
shape that is envisioned when people commonly
refer to a ‘parabolic’ nose cone. The Parabolic
Series nose shape is generated by rotating a
segment of a parabola around a line parallel to its
Latus Rectum. (Shutup Beavis.) This
construction is similar to that of the Tangent
Ogive, except that a parabola is the defining shape
rather than a circle. Just as it does on an Ogive,
this construction produces a nose shape with a sharp tip. For the blunt shape typically associated with a
‘parabolic’ nose, see the Power Series. (And, of course, the ‘parabolic’ shape is also often confused with
the elliptical shape.)

For 0 1 ≤ ≤ K' , y R
x
L
K
x
L
K
·
|
.

`
,
− ′
|
.

`
,

− ′
|
.

`
,

2
2
2

K’ can vary anywhere between 0 and 1, but the most common values used for nose cone shapes are:

K’ = 0 for a CONE
K’ = .5 for a 1/2 PARABOLA
K’ = .75 for a 3/4 PARABOLA
K’ = 1 for a PARABOLA

For the case of the full Parabola ( K’=1) the shape is tangent to the body at its base, and the base is on the
axis of the parabola. Values of K’ less than one result in a ‘slimmer’ shape, whose appearance is similar
to that of the secant ogive. The shape is no longer tangent at the base, and the base is parallel to, but offset
from, the axis of the parabola.

R
L
C
/
L

Full Parabola
K’=1
L
R
Elliptical nosecone
C
/L
Lattus Rectum

HAACK SERIES
Unlike all of the previous nose cone shapes
the Haack Series shapes are not constructed
from geometric figures. Their shape is
purpose of minimizing drag. While the
series is a continuous set of shapes
determined by the value of C in the
equations below, two values of C have
particular significance. When C=0, the notation ‘LD’ signifies minimum drag for the given length and
diameter, and when C=1/3, ‘LV’ indicates minimum drag for a given length and volume. Note that the
Haack series nose cones are not perfectly tangent to the body at their base, however the discontinuity is
usually so slight as to be imperceptible. Likewise, the Haack nose tips do not come to a sharp point, but
are slightly rounded.

θ · −
|
.

`
,

cos
1
1
2x
L

( )
y
R C
·
− + θ
θ
θ
π
sin
sin
2
2
3

Where: C = 1/3 for LV-HAACK
C = 0 for LD-HAACK (This shape is also known as the Von Karman, or, the Von
Karman Ogive)

NOSECONE CENTER-OF-PRESSURE CALCULATIONS
Standard Barrowman values, TIR-33
Normal force on the nose, regardless of shape: (Exception: a ‘bulgy’ secant ogive?)

( )
C
N
n
α
· 2

Center of Pressure (CP) location of the nose, measured from the base of the nose is:

For a conical nosecone, X
n
L
·
3

For an ogive nosecone, X
n
L · .534 (estimate for L>6R)
For a parabolic nosecone, X
n
L
·
2
(Power Series, Parabola)

(Note that these formulas have been altered to place the reference point for any longitudinal
measurements to be the aft end of the nose cone [excluding any shoulder]. Although it is the
most common reference point in most aeronautical texts, the tip of the nose cone becomes a
remarkably inconvenient reference point in practical use.)

L
R
HAACK drawing TBD
C
/L

These equations for the CP location are all determined from the formula:
X
n
V
A
·
where L is the length, V is the volume, and A is the base area of the nose cone. The base area is
simply πR
2
, and equations are readily available for the volume of a cone and parabola. Likewise
we can get an equation for the volume of an ellipse (prolate hemispheroid), and determine a CP
location for that shape:
For an elliptical nosecone, X
n
L
·
3
2

It is interesting to note that the common value used for the CP position on a Tangent Ogive is
actually not simply proportional to length The value of .534L that is commonly used is only an
approximation that holds well when L ≥ 6R. This is normal for most ogive nosecones, but there are many
exceptions. The exact volume of a Tangent Ogive is:

( ) V L
L
R
L
· − − −
|
.

`
,

]
]
]

π ρ ρ ρ
ρ
2
3
2 1
3
sin where, ρ ·
+ R L
R
2 2
2

and the equation X
n
V
A
·

can be used to determine the CP location. We must remember that when Jim
Barrowman simplified aerodynamic analysis methods for model rocketry use, it was an era when
slide rules were the, ah, rule. When currently programming applications, it is a simple matter to
use the more rigorous forms.

For some of the other shapes, I do not have convenient expressions for their volumes. However it is
a simple matter to perform a numerical integration on those shapes to determine their volume. In the case
of the LV-HAACK and Von Karman shapes, numerical integration on a variety of examples shows that the
CP location is not dependent upon the diameter, but is simply proportional to the length:
For an LV_HAACK nosecone, X
n
L · .437
For a Von Karman nosecone, X
n
L · .500
The secant ogive, and the Power and Parabolic series that aren’t covered by the Conical and
Parabolic CP equations, do not have simple proportional relationships. We must resort to numerical
integration to determine the CP location for each individual instance of these shapes.

Examples

L
R
Estimation of an Elliptical nosecone
C
/
L

h
R
2

C
/L
frustrum of a cone
R
1

Note that some nose cones occasionally include a cylindrical section extending aft of the actual
nose cone shape, usually to expand the payload section of the nose. A cylindrical body section has no
effect on the CP location within the Barrowman Equations. It is only necessary to adjust the reference
point of the nose shape to account for the cylindrical section.

NOSE CONE DRAG CHARACTERISTICS

Below Mach .8, the nose pressure drag is essentially zero for all shapes. The major significant factor is
friction drag, which is largely dependent upon the wetted area, the surface smoothness of that area, and the
presence of any discontinuities in the shape. In strictly subsonic model rockets, a short, blunt, smooth
elliptical shape is usually best. In the transonic region and beyond, where the pressure drag increases
dramatically, the effect of nose shape on drag becomes highly significant. The factors influencing the
pressure drag are the general shape of the nosecone, its fineness ratio, and its bluffness ratio.

Wetted Area - The wetted area is the total surface area of the nosecone shape that is exposed to the
airflow. This does not include the base area of the nosecone. Friction drag on the rocket will depend
upon the total wetted area. Equations for determining wetted area are provided in the appendix, but for a
quick comparison, the following table compares the wetted areas for nosecone shapes of a similar 4:1
fineness ratio:

{table TBD}

General Shape - Many of the references contain empirical data comparing the drag characteristics of
various nose shapes in different flight regimes. The chart below, from reference 4, seems to be the most
comprehensive and useful compilation of data for the flight regime of greatest interest. This chart
generally agrees with more detailed, but less comprehensive data found in other references (most notably
the USAF Datcom).

Many high-power and amateur rockets are striving to accomplish the goal of “Mach-busting”. Therefore
their greatest concern is flight performance in the transonic region from 0.8 to 1.2 Mach, and nosecone
shapes should be chosen with that in mind. Although data is not available for many shapes in the transonic
region, the table clearly suggests that either the Von Karman shape, or Power Series shape with n = ½,
would be preferable to the popular Conical or Ogive shapes, for this purpose.

This observation goes against the often-repeated conventional wisdom that a conical nose is optimum for
a Mach-breaking rocket. I suspect that this belief derives from observations of sounding rockets that
often utilize conical nose shapes, such as the Black Brant III, for example. Such sounding rockets spend
little of their flight time in the transonic region, accelerating quickly to multiple Mach numbers. When it
decelerates after burnout, the sounding rocket remains at multiple Mach for most of its remaining flight
due to the decreased air density at altitude. At the higher Mach numbers where it spends most of its
flight, a cone then becomes the optimum low-drag shape. Fighter aircraft are probably good examples of
nose shapes optimized for the transonic region, although their nose shapes are often distorted by other
considerations of avionics and inlets. An F-16 nose appears to be a very close match to a Von Karman
shape. (What we really need is a nosecone whose shape can be transmorgified in flight to match the
regime - see the Disney movie ‘The Flight of the Navigator’ for a good example of this concept.)

Note that at present, commercially available Von Karman nosecones are very rare. If you desire to
fabricate your own nosecones, the VCP program will print any size profile of the Von Karman, or any of
the other shapes, to a Windows printer. (Royalties will gladly be accepted, in care of the author.)

Due to the close visual similarity of the Von Karman shape with a Tangent Ogive, I suspect that some full
size rockets that are reported in documentation to have “Ogive” nosecones, may actually have “Von
Karman Ogive” nose shapes. Without exact measurements, it would be difficult to distinguish between
the two shapes in photographs.

1
0.8 1.0 1.2 1.4 1.6 1.8 2.0
1 1
1
1
1 1
1
1
2 2
2
2
2
2
2 2
2 2
3
3
3
3
3
3
3
MACH NUMBER
4
4 Ogive
Cone
LV-HAACK
Von Karman
Parabola
3/4 Parabola
1/2 Parabola
x
3/4
Power
x
1/2
Power
Comparison of drag characteristics of various nose shapes in the transonic-to-
low Mach regions. Rankings are: superior (1), good (2), fair (3), inferior (4).
Fineness Ratio - The ratio of the length of
a nosecone compared to its the base
diameter is known as the ‘Fineness Ratio’;
e.g., a nosecone that is 10 inches long and 2
inches in diameter would have a fineness
ratio of 5:1. Note that this is sometimes
also called the ‘Aspect Ratio’, though that
term is usually applied to wings and fins.
Note also that the term ‘fineness ratio’ is
often applied to the entire vehicle,
considering the overall length and diameter.
The length/diameter relation is also often
called the ‘Caliber’ of a nosecone; the
previous example would have a caliber of
‘5’. At supersonic speeds, the fineness
ratio has a very significant affect on nose
cone wave drag, particularly at low ratios;
but there is very little additional gain for
ratios increasing beyond 5:1. Remember
that as the fineness ratio increases, the wetted area, and thus the skin friction component of drag, is also
going to increase. Therefore the minimum drag fineness ratio is ultimately going to be a tradeoff between
the decreasing wave drag and increasing friction drag.

Bluffness Ratio - While most of the nosecone shapes ideally come to a sharp tip, they are often blunted
to some degree as a practical matter for ease of manufacturing, resistance to handling and flight damage,
and safety. This blunting is most often specified as a hemispherical ‘tip diameter’ of the nosecone. The
term ‘Bluffness Ratio’ is often used to describe a blunted tip, and is equal to the tip diameter divided by
the base diameter. Fortunately, there is little or no drag increase for slight blunting of a sharp nose shape.
In fact, for constant overall lengths, there is a decrease in drag for bluffness ratios of up to 0.2, with an
optimum at about 0.15. A flat truncation of a nose tip is known as a Me’plat diameter, and the drag
reduction effect of a Me’plat truncation is shown in the diagram below. The diagram data are for noses
that have been blunted to different diameters while maintaining a constant overall length (i.e., the ogive
radius or cone angle is adjusted). It is interesting to note that many types of rifle bullets and artillery
shells feature Me’plat truncated tips.

Nose Fineness Ratio fn ,
dimensionless
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.
0.
1 2 3 4 5
Wave
Drag
Coefficient
C
D
,
Conical
Shape at
M = 1.4

4:1 Von Karman Ogive with Percent Change in Drag Coefficient vs Me’plat Diameter
0.15 caliber Me’plat truncation.

Note that this does not mean that you should immediately chop all of the sharp tips off of your nose
cones! Removing a tip decreases the fineness ratio, which results in increased pressure drag. However, if
you are limited by materials or tools to a 15” finished nosecone length, for example, then your maximum
fineness ratio is fixed by that length and the base diameter. With such a limit, then using a 16” sharp-tip
shape, and blunting the tip to fit the 15” limit will produce a lower drag shape than a 15” sharp tipped
nosecone. Whether by design or coincidence, most commercially-made tangent ogive hobby nosecones
are blunted to a bluffness ratio of about .1.

24
Me’plat Diameter dm, cal
(Flat unless otherwise indicated).
-8
-4
0
4
8
12
16
20
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4
Percent
Change in
Drag
Coefficient
∆ ∆CD, %
Mach
0.765
1.3
1.8
2.4
Inscribed
Spherical
Tip
Spherical
Tip

TRANSONIC EFFECTS ON NOSE CONE CENTER OF PRESSURE AND
NORMAL FORCE

The Barrowman equations are very specific in their assumption that the flight regime is below .5 Mach. In
this range it is a good assumption that the nose cone center of pressure and the normal force are constant.
Above this point, however, there are significant changes that should be considered.

TBD

OTHER MEASURATION FORMULAE

Reference Area - CP and drag calculations are always based upon a particular reference area of a
rocket. That reference area is nearly always chosen to be the area of the base of the nose cone,
which is: A R · π
2
(Exception - a ‘bulgy’ secant ogive?)

Fineness Ratio - For any shape, the fineness ratio of a nose cone is its length divided by its
diameter. For example, one might speak of a 5-to-1 (also written as 5:1) ogive nosecone shape,
meaning that its length is five times its diameter. This ratio is sometimes also called the ‘Aspect
Ratio’.
A
L
R
R ·
2

Volume - When computing volume for purposes of CP calculations, exclude any nosecone
shoulder. When computing volume for mass or density calculations, the shoulder would be
included.

For a cylinder: V R L AL · · π
2

For a Tangent Ogive: ( ) V L
L
R
L
· − − −
|
.

`
,

]
]
]

π ρ ρ ρ
ρ
2
3
2 1
3
sin

where, ρ ·
+ R L
R
2 2
2

For a Cone: V
R L AL
· ·
π
2
3 3

For a Parabola: V
R L AL
· ·
π
2
2 2
(Power Series, n = .5)

For an Ellipse: V
R L AL
· ·
2
3
2
3
2
π
(prolate hemispheroid)

For all others, numerically integrate the volume of a conical frustrum over the length of the
shape:
( ) V
h
R R R R · + +
π
3
1
2
2
2
1 2

where: R
1
and R
2
are the forward and aft radii, and h is the height, of the frustrum.

Wetted Area - The wetted area is the total surface area of the nosecone shape that is exposed to the
airflow. This does not include the base area or the area of any shoulder section. The wetted area
value is used in drag calculations.

For a cylinder: A RL
wet
· 2π (Does not include face.)

For a Tangent Ogive: ( ) A L L
L
L R
wet
· − +
|
.

`
,
− −

]
]
]

π ρ
ρ
ρ
ρ
2 2
2
1
2
sin gives
neg?

where, ρ ·
+ R L
R
2 2
2

For a Cone: A R R L
wet
· + π
2 2
2pi? Nope, this looks ok.

For an Ellipse: A L
R
wet
· +
+

|
.

`
,

]
]
]
π
π
ε
ε
ε
2
2
1
1
2
ln
where: ε ·
− L R
L
2 2

half of this?

For all others, numeri cally integrate the surface area of a conical frustrum over the length of
the shape:

( ) ( ) S R R R R h · + − + π
1 2 1 2
2
2

where: R
1
and R
2
are the forward and aft radii, and h is the height, of the frustrum.

Mass For any homogenous solid shape, the mass is simply the volume times the density of the
material. But it gets interesting when the shape is hollow, as most hobby nose cones are.
Numerically integrate the volume of an annular conical frustrum:

( ) V ht R R t · + + π
1 2

where: R
1
and R
2
are the forward and aft radii, h is the height, and t is the wall thickness
of the hollow frustrum. (Assuming that the thickness remains constant over the height of
the frustrum.) When either radius is less than the wall thickness (as would be the case
near the tip of the nose cone), the equation for volume of a solid frustrum would be
used.

Note that the mass of any nose cone shoulder should be similarly calculated and included. For
this, the equation for volume of a hollow cylinder might be useful:
( ) V L t R t
s s
· − π 2
where: Rs
is radius, t is the wall thickness, and Ls is the length of the shoulder.

Lateral Area - This value can be used for CP estimates using the center-of-lateral area method, in
cases where the Barrowman CP does not apply. Alat is the lateral area, and Xlat is the distance from
the base of the figure to the center of lateral area of that figure.

For a Cylinder: A RL
lat
· 2 X
L
lat
·
2

For a Cone: A RL
lat
· X
L
lat
·
3

For an Ellipse: A
RL
lat
·
π
2
X
L
lat
·
4

For all others, numerically integrate the lateral area of a conical frustrum over the length of the
shape:

( )
A h R
R R
lat
· +

]
]
]
]
1
2 1
2

( )
( )
X
h R
R R
R R
lat
·
+

]
]
]
]
+
1
2 1
2 1
3

where: R
1
and R
2
are the forward and aft radii, and h is the height, of the frustrum.

Center-of-Gravity Solid/Hollow/Shoulder? Material Density - show how by numerical
integration
Inertial Moments Solid/Hollow/Shoulder? Material Density - show how by numerical
integration. Rotational and Longitudinal.

REFERENCES

1. Hymer, T.C.; Moore, F.G.; “User’s Guide for an Interactive Personal Computer Interface for the
Aeroprediction Code” NSWCDD/TR-94/107, June 1994, Dahlgren, VA.
2. MIL-HDBK-762(MI); ”Design of Aerodynamically Stabilized Free Rockets”; U.S. Army Missile
Command; July 1990.
3. Crowell, G.A., Sr.; “VCP Stability Analysis Program”, Version 1.64; Copyright 1996.
4. Chinn, S.S.; Missile Configuration Design, McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., New York, Copyright
1961.
5. Barrowman, J.S.; “Technical Information Report - 33, Calculating the Center of Pressure of a Model
Rocket”; Centuri Engineering Co.; Copyright 1970.
6. Barrowman, J.S.; “The Practical Calculation of the Aerodynamic Characteristics of Slender Finned
Vehicles”, M.S. Dissertation, The Catholic University of America, March 1967.
7. Donatelli, G., Lt.; “In Pursuit of Mach 1”; Model Rocketeer, October 1983.
8. Hoak, D.E.; Carlson, M.W.; Finck, R.D.; “USAF Stability and Control Datcom”, USAF Stability and
Control Methods, McDonnell Douglas Corp., Douglas Aircraft Division for Flight Control Division,
US Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, 1960.
9. Beyer, W.H.; “Standard Mathematical Tables”, 24
th
ed., The Chemical Rubber Co., 1974.
10. Perkins, E.W.; “Investigation of the Drag of Various Axially Symmetric Nose Shapes of Fineness
Ratio 3 for Mach Numbers from 1.24 to 7.4”, NACA Report 1386, 1952.
11. Stoney, Jr, W.E.; “Transonic Drag Measurements of Eight Body-Nose Shapes”, NACA Research
Memorandum L53K17, 1954.
12. Perkins, E.W.; “Investigation of the Drag of Various Axially Symmetric Nose Shapes of Fineness
Ratio 3 for Mach Numbers from 1.24 to 3.67”, NACA Research Memorandum A52H28, 1952.

L
R
R
L
ρ
C
/
L

C
/
L

Secant Ogive
Tangent Ogive

φ2 φ1 C /L R1 L1 Bi-Conic nosecone for L1 ≤ x ≤ L . and the factor ‘n’ controls the ‘bluntness’ of the shape.75 n = . the tip becomes sharp. Where: n = 1 n = . Often people speak of a parabola shape. at values of n above about .) The Power Series shape is characterized by L its (usually) blunt tip. For 0 ≤ n ≤ 1 .BI-CONIC A Bi-Conic nosecone shape is simply a cone stacked on top of a frustrum of a cone (commonly known to modelers as a ‘conical transition section’ shape). As n decreases towards zero.5 n=0 for a for a for a for a  x n y = R   L CONE ¾ POWER ½ POWER (PARABOLA) CYLINDER . which is tangent at its base. There is always a discontinuity at the nosecone-body joint that looks distinctly non-aerodynamic. y= xR1 L1 y = R1 + ( x − L1 )(R2 − R1 ) L2 R  φ1 = tan −1  1  L   1 y = x tanφ1  R − R1  φ2 = tan −1  2   L    2 y = R1 + ( x − L1 ) tanφ2 POWER SERIES The Power Series includes the shape commonly known to modelers as a ‘parabolic’ nose cone. the Power Series nose shape becomes increasingly blunt. when what they are actually looking for is an elliptical shape. It is also interesting to note that both a flat -faced cylinder and a cone are shapes that are members of the Power Series The Power series nose shape is generated by rotating a parabola about its axis. (Oddly enough. and by the fact that its Power Series Dwg TBD base is not tangent to the body tube. The base of the nosecone is parallel to the lattus rectum of the parabola.7. where the base of the upper cone is equal in diameter to the smaller diameter of the frustrum. however the shape is sometimes modified at the base to smooth out this discontinuity. R and is something completely different. L2 L R2 L = L1 + L2 for 0 ≤ x ≤ L1 . the C shape correctly known as a parabolic nose /L cone is a member of the Parabolic Series.

is not directly supported by most programming languages. Also. in BASIC syntax. figure n+1. required in the equations above.where atn(1) is pi/4 radians. then the result will be a Secant Ogive that bulges out to a maximum diameter that is greater than the base diameter. as x varies from 0 to L is: y = ρ 2 − ( x − ρ cos α ) + ρ sin α 2 If the chosen ρ is less than the Tangent Ogive ρ . The derived function for the inverse cosine. α = tan −1    L2 + R 2  R  −1   − cos      L 2ρ     Then the radius y at any point x.ρ > R 2 + L2 2R .and. is as follows: cos −1 ( z) = atn(. Secant Ogive R C /L L ρ L R 2 + L2 <ρ < 2 2R Programming note: The inverse cosine function. the chosen ogive radius must be greater than twice the length of the nose cone.z / sqr(. The classic example of this shape is the nose cone of the Honest John. Arcsin(z) = atn(z/sqr(-z*z+1)) .z *z + 1)) + 2 * atn(1) .

this construction produces a nose shape with a sharp tip. which are attractive features for subsonic flight. whose appearance is similar to that of the secant ogive. and the base is parallel to. This shape is Elliptical nosecone popular in model rocketry due to the blunt nose and tangent base. and the base is on the axis of the parabola. (And. Just as it does on an Ogive.) 2   x  x   2  − K ′     L  L  y=R   2 − K′     For 0 ≤ K' ≤ 1 . the axis of the parabola. with the major axis being the centerline and the minor axis being the C base of the nosecone.5 for a K’ = . A rotation of a full /L ellipse about its major axis is called a R prolate spheroid. that if R equals L. this shape is a hemisphere. x2 y = R 1− 2 L PARABOLIC SERIES The Parabolic Series nose shape is not the blunt shape that is envisioned when people commonly refer to a ‘parabolic’ nose cone. but the most common values used for nose cone shapes are: K’ = 0 for a K’ = . K’ can vary anywhere between 0 and 1. Note also. so an elliptical nose shape would properly be known as a L prolate hemispheroid. but offset from. For the blunt shape typically associated with a ‘parabolic’ nose. (Shutup Beavis. Note however.) This Full Parabola construction is similar to that of the Tangent Lattus Rectum K’=1 Ogive.ELLIPTICAL The profile of this shape is one-half of an ellipse. except that a parabola is the defining shape rather than a circle. The shape is no longer tangent at the base.75 for a K’ = 1 for a CONE 1/2 PARABOLA 3/4 PARABOLA PARABOLA For the case of the full Parabola ( K’=1) the shape is tangent to the body at its base. that this is not a shape normally found in professional rocketry. Values of K’ less than one result in a ‘slimmer’ shape. the ‘parabolic’ shape is also often confused with the elliptical shape. see the Power Series. The Parabolic R Series nose shape is generated by rotating a C /L segment of a parabola around a line parallel to its L Latus Rectum. of course. .

When C=0. the notation ‘LD’ signifies minimum drag for the given length and diameter. Although it is the most common reference point in most aeronautical texts. measured from the base of the nose is: L X = n 3 X = . regardless of shape: (Exception: a ‘bulgy’ secant ogive?) ( CNα ) n = 2 Center of Pressure (CP) location of the nose. two values of C have particular significance. (Note that these formulas have been altered to place the reference point for any longitudinal measurements to be the aft end of the nose cone [excluding any shoulder]. and when C=1/3.HAACK SERIES Unlike all of the previous nose cone shapes the Haack Series shapes are not constructed C from geometric figures. the Haack nose tips do not come to a sharp point.) . the Von Karman Ogive) NOSECONE CENTER-OF-PRESSURE CALCULATIONS Standard Barrowman values. X = (Power Series. Likewise. n L For a parabolic nosecone. ‘LV’ indicates minimum drag for a given length and volume. the tip of the nose cone becomes a remarkably inconvenient reference point in practical use. TIR-33 Normal force on the nose. however the discontinuity is usually so slight as to be imperceptible. While the series is a continuous set of shapes L determined by the value of C in the HAACK drawing TBD equations below. Note that the Haack series nose cones are not perfectly tangent to the body at their base. Their shape is /L instead mathematically derived for the R purpose of minimizing drag. or. but are slightly rounded.  2x  θ = cos −1 1 −   L Where: y= R θ − sin( 2θ) + C sin 3 θ 2 π C = 1/3 for LV-HAACK C = 0 for LD-HAACK (This shape is also known as the Von Karman.534L (estimate for L>6R) For an ogive nosecone. Parabola) n 2 For a conical nosecone.

We must remember that when Jim Barrowman simplified aerodynamic analysis methods for model rocketry use.437 L n For a Von Karman nosecone.534L that is commonly used is only an approximation that holds well when L ≥ 6R. and equations are readily available for the volume of a cone and parabola. 3L X = n 2 It is interesting to note that the common value used for the CP position on a Tangent Ogive is actually not simply proportional to length The value of . I do not have convenient expressions for their volumes. but is simply proportional to the length: For an LV_HAACK nosecone. and A is the base area of the nose cone. V is the volume. We must resort to numerical integration to determine the CP location for each individual instance of these shapes. it is a simple matter to use the more rigorous forms. However it is a simple matter to perform a numerical integration on those shapes to determine their volume. and the Power and Parabolic series that aren’t covered by the Conical and Parabolic CP equations. The exact volume of a Tangent Ogive is:   L  L3 π  Lρ 2 − V = − (ρ − R) ρ2 sin −1    3  ρ  and the equation X where. Likewise we can get an equation for the volume of an ellipse (prolate hemispheroid). X = . In the case of the LV-HAACK and Von Karman shapes. ah. ρ = R 2 + L2 2R n = V A can be used to determine the CP location.These equations for the CP location are all determined from the formula: X n = V A where L is the length. This is normal for mos t ogive nosecones.500 L n The secant ogive. For some of the other shapes. The base area is simply πR 2 . do not have simple proportional relationships. X = . When currently programming applications. and determine a CP location for that shape: For an elliptical nosecone. it was an era when slide rules were the. numerical integration on a variety of examples shows that the CP location is not dependent upon the diameter. Examples C /L C R L Estimation of an Elliptical nosecone /L R1 h frustrum of a cone R2 . but there are many exceptions. rule.

The wetted area is the total surface area of the nosecone shape that is exposed to the airflow.Note that some nose cones occasionally include a cylindrical section extending aft of the actual nose cone shape. but less comprehensive data found in other references (most notably the USAF Datcom). from reference 4. the effect of nose shape on drag becomes highly significant. where the pressure drag increases dramatically. Wetted Area . Equations for determining wetted area are provided in the appendix. The factors influencing the pressure drag are the general shape of the nosecone. which is largely dependent upon the wetted area. the nose pressure drag is essentially zero for all shapes. The chart below. usually to expand the payload section of the nose. smooth elliptical shape is usually best. the surface smoothness of that area.8. but for a quick comparison. seems to be the most comprehensive and useful compilation of data for the flight regime of greatest interest. It is only necessary to adjust the reference point of the nose shape to account for the cylindrical section. NOSE CONE DRAG CHARACTERISTICS Below Mach . blunt. In the transonic region and beyond. a short. Friction drag on the rocket will depend upon the total wetted area. and its bluffness ratio.Many of the references contain empirical data comparing the drag characteristics of various nose shapes in different flight regimes. the following table compares the wetted areas for nosecone shapes of a similar 4:1 fineness ratio: {table TBD} General Shape . its fineness ratio. This does not include the base area of the nosecone. A cylindrical body section has no effect on the CP location within the Barrowman Equations. In strictly subsonic model rockets. . The major significant factor is friction drag. This chart generally agrees with more detailed. and the presence of any discontinuities in the shape.

Therefore their greatest concern is flight performance in the transonic region from 0. Many high-power and amateur rockets are striving to accomplish the goal of “Mach-busting”. Such sounding rockets spend little of their flight time in the transonic region. If you desire to fabricate your own nosecones. An F-16 nose appears to be a very close match to a Von Karman shape.0 1 1. This observation goes against the often-repeated conventional wisdom that a conical nose is optimum for a Mach-breaking rocket.) Due to the close visual similarity of the Von Karman shape with a Tangent Ogive.) Note that at present. I suspect that some full size rockets that are reported in documentation to have “Ogive” nosecones. or Power Series shape with n = ½. the table clearly suggests that either the Von Karman shape.4 1. it would be difficult to distinguish between the two shapes in photographs. Without exact measurements. accelerating quickly to multiple Mach numbers.0 Comparison of drag characteristics of various nose shapes in the transonic-tolow Mach regions.6 MACH NUMBER 2. for this purpose.8 to 1. (Royalties will gladly be accepted.8 2 1 2 1. Although data is not available for many shapes in the transonic region.Ogive Cone LV-HAACK Von Karman Parabola 3/4 Parabola 1/2 Parabola x3/4 Power x1/2 Power 0. commercially available Von Karman nosecones are very rare. I suspect that this belief derives from observations of sounding rockets that often utilize conical nose shapes. although their nose shapes are often distorted by other considerations of avionics and inlets.see the Disney movie ‘The Flight of the Navigator’ for a good example of this concept. would be preferable to the popular Conical or Ogive shapes. the VCP program will print any size profile of the Von Karman. At the higher Mach numbers where it spends most of its flight. Fighter aircraft are probably good examples of nose shapes optimized for the transonic region.2 2 1 1 3 1 1 3 2 3 2 1 3 4 4 2 1 1 3 3 2 1. such as the Black Brant III. may actually have “Von Karman Ogive” nose shapes. good (2). for example. When it decelerates after burnout. to a Windows printer. or any of the other shapes. Rankings are: superior (1). (What we really need is a nosecone whose shape can be transmorgified in flight to match the regime .2 Mach. a cone then becomes the optimum low-drag shape. fair (3). inferior (4).8 2 2 3 2 1. in care of the author. and nosecone shapes should be chosen with that in mind. . the sounding rocket remains at multiple Mach for most of its remaining flight due to the decreased air density at altitude.

considering the overall length and diameter. the wetted area. the fineness 1 2 3 4 5 ratio has a very significant affect on nose Nose Fineness Ratio fn .Fineness Ratio .The ratio of the length of a nosecone compared to its the base Wave 0. In fact. M = 1. Bluffness Ratio . It is interesting to note that many types of rifle bullets and artillery shells feature Me’plat truncated tips. and is equal to the tip diameter divided by the base diameter. with an optimum at about 0. is also going to increase.15.. the ogive radius or cone angle is adjusted). there is little or no drag increase for slight blunting of a sharp nose shape. .2 Note also that the term ‘fineness ratio’ is often applied to the entire vehicle. resistance to handling and flight damage. a nosecone that is 10 inches long and 2 Coefficient inches in diameter would have a fineness CD .0 ‘5’. dimensionless but there is very little additional gain for ratios increasing beyond 5:1. Note that this is sometimes Conical also called the ‘Aspect Ratio’. they are often blunted to some degree as a practical matter for ease of manufacturing. Drag e. diameter is known as the ‘Fineness Ratio’. This blunting is most often specified as a hemispherical ‘tip diameter’ of the nosecone. and thus the skin friction component of drag. cone wave drag. Fortunately.4 0.. and the drag reduction effect of a Me’plat truncation is shown in the diagram below. Therefore the minimum drag fineness ratio is ultimately going to be a tradeoff between the decreasing wave drag and increasing friction drag. the previous example would have a caliber of 0. ratio of 5:1. The diagram data are for noses that have been blunted to different diameters while maintaining a constant overall length (i. particularly at low ratios. for constant overall lengths.g. The term ‘Bluffness Ratio’ is often used to describe a blunted tip. and safety. Remember that as the fineness ratio increases. though that Shape at term is usually applied to wings and fins.While most of the nosecone shapes ideally come to a sharp tip.e. A flat truncation of a nose tip is known as a Me’plat diameter. there is a decrease in drag for bluffness ratios of up to 0.1 The length/diameter relation is also often called the ‘Caliber’ of a nosecone.2. At supersonic speeds. 0. 0.

4:1 Von Karman Ogive with Percent Change in Drag Coefficient vs Me’plat Diameter 0. Whether by design or coincidence. However. 0. then using a 16” sharp-tip shape.2 0. most commercially-made tangent ogive hobby nosecones are blunted to a bluffness ratio of about .4 Note that this does not mean that you should immediately chop all of the sharp tips off of your nose cones! Removing a tip decreases the fineness ratio.1 0. if you are limited by materials or tools to a 15” finished nosecone length. for example. and blunting the tip to fit the 15” limit will produce a lower drag shape than a 15” sharp tipped nosecone. which results in increased pressure drag. % 8 4 0 Inscribed Spherical Tip -4 Added Spherical Tip -8 0 0.3 1. cal (Flat unless otherwise indicated).8 2.4 16 12 Percent Change in Drag Coefficient ∆ CD.24 20 Mach 0.3 Me’plat Diameter dm.15 caliber Me’plat truncation. With such a limit. then your maximum fineness ratio is fixed by that length and the base diameter.1.765 1. .

n = . In this range it is a good assumption that the nose cone center of pressure and the normal force are constant.5) For a Parabola: For an Ellipse: V = (prolate hemispheroid) . Above this point. meaning that its length is five times its diameter. This ratio is sometimes also called the ‘Aspect Ratio’. For a cylinder: V = π R 2 L = AL For a Tangent Ogive:  2 L3  L V = π  Lρ − − ( ρ − R) ρ 2 sin −1    3  ρ  where. the shoulder would be included.For any shape. AR = L 2R Volume . When computing volume for mass or density calculations.TRANSONIC EFFECTS ON NOSE CONE CENTER OF PRESSURE AND NORMAL FORCE The Barrowman equations are very specific in their assumption that the flight regime is below .CP and drag calculations are always based upon a particular reference area of a rocket. exclude any nosecone shoulder.5 Mach.When computing volume for purposes of CP calculations. TBD OTHER MEASURATION FORMULAE Reference Area .a ‘bulgy’ secant ogive?) 2 Fineness Ratio . however. ρ = R 2 + L2 2R For a Cone: V= V = π R2 L AL = 3 3 π R2L AL = 2 2 2π R 2 L 2 AL = 3 3 (Power Series. there are significant changes that should be considered. For example. That reference area is nearly always chosen to be the area of the base of the nose cone. the fineness ratio of a nose cone is its length divided by its diameter. one might speak of a 5-to-1 (also written as 5:1) ogive nosecone shape. which is: A = π R (Exception .

of the frustrum.For all others. Note that the mass of any nose cone shoulder should be similarly calculated and included. Numerically integrate the volume of an annular conical frustrum: V = πht ( R1 + R2 + t ) where: R1 and R2 are the forward and aft radii. numerically integrate the volume of a conical frustrum over the length of the shape: V= πh 2 ( R + R22 + R1 R2 ) 3 1 where: R1 and R2 are the forward and aft radii. numeri cally integrate the surface area of a conical frustrum over the length of the shape: S = π ( R1 + R2 ) (R 1 − R2 ) + h 2 2 where: R1 and R2 are the forward and aft radii. this looks ok. Mass For any homogenous solid shape. the equation for volume of a solid frustrum would be used. ρ = 2R For a Cone: Awet = π R R2 + L 2 2pi? Nope. the mass is simply the volume times the density of the material. The wetted area value is used in drag calculations. of the frustrum. For this.The wetted area is the total surface area of the nosecone shape that is exposed to the airflow. and h is the height. For a cylinder: Awet = 2π RL (Does not include face. and h is the height. as most hobby nose cones are. But it gets interesting when the shape is hollow.) For a Tangent Ogive: neg?    L ρ2 Awet = Lπ  ρ 2 − L2 + sin −1   − L ( ρ − R) gives 2  ρ   R 2 + L2 where. and t is the wall thickness of the hollow frustrum. h is the height. Wetted Area . (Assuming that the thickness remains constant over the height of the frustrum. the equation for volume of a hollow cylinder might be useful: V = πLs t 2 Rs − t ( ) . This does not include the base area or the area of any shoulder section.) When either radius is less than the wall thickness (as would be the case near the tip of the nose cone). For an Ellipse: half of this? Awet  πR 2  1 + ε   ln    1 − ε   ε  2 = πL + 2 where: ε = L2 − R2 L For all others.

“User’s Guide for an Interactive Personal Computer Interface for the Aeroprediction Code” NSWCDD/TR-94/107.. Hymer. U. 5. Barrowman. and h is the height. Centuri Engineering Co..33. Missile Configuration Design. F. Barrowman. 7. REFERENCES 1..show how by numerical integration Inertial Moments Solid/Hollow/Shoulder? Material Density . Crowell. J. Inc. 2.. June 1994.S.. For a Cylinder: Alat = 2 RL Alat = RL Alat = πRL 2 X lat = L 2 For a Cone: X lat = X lat = L 3 4L 3π For an Ellipse: For all others. March 1967. J. Version 1... Dissertation.S. Chinn. Sr. The Catholic University of America. Dahlgren.show how by numerical integration. 6. Copyright 1996. 3.A. Rotational and Longitudinal.. Alat is the lateral area. t is the wall thickness. T. 4. “In Pursuit of Mach 1”. Model Rocketeer. . New York. October 1983. Center-of-Gravity Solid/Hollow/Shoulder? Material Density ...This value can be used for CP estimates using the center-of-lateral area method. and Ls is the length of the shoulder. G.. Copyright 1961. G. Lateral Area . Moore.where: Rs is radius. and Xlat is the distance from the base of the figure to the center of lateral area of that figure. of the frustrum. ”Design of Aerodynamically Stabilized Free Rockets”.G. “VCP Stability Analysis Program”.C. VA. S. MIL-HDBK-762(MI). Lt. “Technical Information Report . in cases where the Barrowman CP does not apply.. Copyright 1970.S. Donatelli. numerically integrate the lateral area of a conical frustrum over the length of the shape:  ( R2 − R1 )  Alat = h  R1 +  2     X lat  ( R2 − R1 )  h  R1 +  3     = ( R2 + R1 ) where: R1 and R2 are the forward and aft radii. McGraw-Hill Book Co. July 1990. M.S.S. Army Missile Command. “The Practical Calculation of the Aerodynamic Characteristics of Slender Finned Vehicles”.64. Calculating the Center of Pressure of a Model Rocket”.

10.4”. 1952.W. Douglas Aircraft Division for Flight Control Division. “Investigation of the Drag of Various Axially Symmetric Nose Shapes of Fineness Ratio 3 for Mach Numbers from 1.. 9.. Carlson.24 to 3. D. 1954. 12. “USAF Stability and Control Datcom”. 11. Perkins.. Perkins.E. W. NACA Research Memorandum A52H28. 1974. US Air Force Flight Dynamics Laboratory. E. Secant Ogive R C Tangent Ogive R C /L L ρ /L L Ogive Radius ρ . “Investigation of the Drag of Various Axially Symmetric Nose Shapes of Fineness Ratio 3 for Mach Numbers from 1. Ohio.8. 24th ed. 1952. Finck. W. NACA Report 1386.....24 to 7. E.. 1960. Beyer.67”. USAF Stability and Control Methods. McDonnell Douglas Corp.H. R. The Chemical Rubber Co. M. NACA Research Memorandum L53K17. “Transonic Drag Measurements of Eight Body-Nose Shapes”.D.W. Stoney.. Wright-Patterson AFB.E. “Standard Mathematical Tables”. Hoak.. Jr.W.