Running Head: The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation


The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation Joseph A Cooper #22002407 Liberty University

The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation Abstract This paper explores the roles of various men throughout history who had an impact on modern aerodynamics. Since aerodynamics is a sub branch of physics, the paper begins with some of the first physicists and progresses as more knowledge is attributed to mechanics, dynamics, fluid flow, and aerodynamics respectively. The essay focuses primarily on the factors and advancements in science, mathematics, and experimentation prior to the first powered flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright. Thirteen articles from the congress legislated website Centennial of Flight are referred to as separate sources. The 1998 legislated act provides no date for individual articles thus all articles are cited with the date last updated (August 28, 2009) at the time of research. Much research was conducted for relevant events well aft er the first powered flight (1903) but was excluded from this paper for the sake of brevit y. Keywords: aerodynamics, fluid dynamics, history, aviation, pressure, viscosity, laminar


The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation Aerodynamics, in its scientific form, is a sub-branch of mechanics. Aerodynamics only emerged in the last 200 years as a result of scientific and technological advances. However, the roots of aerodynamics began more than 2,000 years ago when Greek philosophers first postulated the elements of fluid dynamics. As humanity¶s curiosity and capability increased, theorists began to discover the underlying principles that would later be the scientific foundation of flight characteristics. From concepts to experimentation, from first flight to supersonic flight; many men throughout history had a profound impact on what is considered today as the basis of all flight; aerodynamics. The primary roots of physics go back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who over 2,000 years ago proposed the theories of continuum and resistance (Aristotle, 199). Continuum assumed that the mass of a fluid was not divisible, as opposed to atomic structure theory. This would prove valuable in understanding elementary fluid flow concepts such as resistance. In the context of a falling stone, the philosopher said that because of the nature of air, the motion of the force impregnating the air would also produce an upward motion, what is now know as air resistance or drag (Aristotle, 199). Archimedes some 100 years later would utilize Aristotle¶s continuum theory to postulate on the pressures exerted by a fluid on an object. He assumed a fluid would exert an equal pressure across an object if fully submerged. Archimedes stated in his book On Floating Bodies, ³[an object¶s] parts is thrust by the fluid which is above it in a perpendicular direction if the fluid be sunk in anything and compressed by anything else´ (as cited in Heath, 1897, p. 253). Because the fluid exerts an equal pressure on the object Archimedes was also able to consider how a


The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation pressure gradient may force motion on an object. Though these principles are often taken for granted today, they are the cornerstones of modern aerodynamics. The simple fact that an equal pressure is exerted on an airfoil has a profound impact on the development of lift. Despite numerous myths of flying men and beasts throughout history, it wasn¶t until much later in about 875 A.D. that anyone seriously considered the concept of flight. Ibn Firnas is said to be the first man to attempt to fly the scientific way. Not much is known of the Moorish daredevil but it is very likely that his attempts to fly with a pair of wings resembling a bird inspired two highly influential men of aerodynamics; Otto Lilienthal and Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo da Vinci is infamous for his many contributions during the European Renaissance. One of which was his treatise called ³Codex on the Flight of Birds´ in which he systematically surveyed the flight and anatomy of flying creatures. Though he likely never flew, he applied his findings to several aircraft designs. Perhaps the most important thing he discovered was related to the physics of flight. Da Vinci said, ³When a bird which is in equilibrium throws the centre of resistance of the wings behind the centre of gravity, then such a bird will descend with its head down´ (as cited in Bradshaw, 1895, para. 4). This is an extremely important distinguishment; the way an aircraft is able to change its direction is by altering either the center of pressure (resistance) or center of gravity. This principle also would be highly used by aviation pioneers in the 19th century such as Otto Lilienthal. Before men could actually test proposals such as a center of pressure they had to understand the more basic concepts such as air resistance. According to Johnston (2009), Galileo Galilei expanded on Archimedes concepts in order to find that the magnitude of


The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation resistance of a fluid on an object depends directly on the density of said fluid. Galileo also proposed some rudimentary thoughts of inertia but they were mainly shaped by his predecessor. The foundation of aerodynamics being rudimentarily in physics, one of the most important physicists was Sir Isaac Newton. According to Tiet jens (1934), Newton proposed the first law of resistance. Overall the law is still applicable in context of mot ion due to inert ia. He developed this law in response to his momentum theorem, which states: ³the force exerted by the fluid on the body is equal to the rate of change of momentum in the fluid due to the presence of the body´ (Tiet jens, 1934, p. 86). Unfortunately, Newton¶s simple formula did not adequately describe the experimental data gathered because he assumed the fluid contained particles wit h no dimension yet had mass. Since his molecular descript ion was incorrect, man would have to wait another hundred years before a better description of fluid flow and drag was discovered. Newton¶s discoveries began a new era for the slowly progressing state of aerodynamics. The primary mechanics of fluid flow were essentially understood which led to a departure of classical physics into a new age of discovering the nuances of fluid dynamics. Daniel Bernoulli was the first to delve deep into these nuances. It was in his book Hydrodynamica that he published his findings on the relation between velocity and pressure of a fluid flow (Calero, 2008). It is this chapter in which the highly aviation dependent Bernoulli equations originate. This book is also where the word ³hydrodynamics´ was coined (Calero, 2008). It is thanks to Bernoulli that many aviation components exist today using the venturi such as the pitot tube, carburetor, flight instruments, and of course, the wing.


The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation One of Bernoulli¶s old associates made some of his own contribut ions to fluid dynamics. Jean le Rond d'Alembert presented a fluid flow model that incorporated conservation of a mass and also presented that the flow of the fluid could vary in both velocity and acceleration (Johnston, 2009). The principle which assumes a perfect fluid (no viscosity or drag) is also named after him; D'Alembert's paradox. Another mathematician who advanced the dynamics of lift was Pierre-Simon Laplace. He developed an equation that would correct Euler¶s equations. He also successfully calculated the speed of sound long before the sound barrier was conceived (Johnston, 2009). One of the most influential men in aviation long before the first flight was George Cayley. According to Rumerman (2009), Cayley was the first person to understand and identify the four forces of flight. He recognized the need for a propulsion system separate from the liftloading plane, or wing (Rumerman, 2009). In his first submission of ³On Aerial Naviagation,´ Cayley (1809), said the idea of a man being able to attach wings to himself and fly was a ridiculous proposition. This was a huge departure from the bird-inspired concept that aircraft should have flapping wings (ornithopter). His ideas brought together the modern recognizable shape of the airplane including elevator and rudder. Another huge advancement he discovered was the need for a cambered wing as he observed birds curving their wings to gain more lift (Rumerman, 2009). Additionally he found that the higher the angle of attack of a bird¶s wings, less propulsion was needed to sustain flight; in other words more lift was generated. Perhaps one of his greatest claims was that of stability. His huge amount of research on stability led him to discover not only oscillation of unmanned aircraft, but also the benefits of using a dihedral wing (Cayley, 1810). Cayley also looked into and proposed solutions for longitudinal stability, streamlining, and changing location of the center of pressure as originally proposed by da Vinci


The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation (Rumerman, 2009). He concluded that the center of pressure is located above the wing. It was in 1849 that his first glider took flight with a human on board; a ten year-old boy. The first flight of an adult occurred in his triplane glider four years later, exactly 50 years before the first powered flight of the Wright Brothers. Rumerman (2009) said, ³Cayley correctly predicted that sustained flight would not occur until a lightweight engine was developed to provide adequate thrust and lift, an event that did not take place until the flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903´ (para. 10). At the beginning of the 19th century, Claude-Louis Navier and Sir George Stokes applied the missing factor of friction to Euler¶s description of fluid motion. The Navier-Stokes equations, which included the effects of viscosity, were central to fluid dynamics, but were unable to be calculated for several years (Conway, 2009). Stokes also presented his law of resistance which integrates the Navier-Stokes equations with velocities of small Reynolds¶s numbers associated with little inertia in regard to the force of viscosity (Tiet jens, 1934). These two men set the mathematical boundaries of fluid flow in aerodynamics. Another fluid mechanic, Gustav Kirchhoff, simplified Stoke¶s Law. He proposed that a sphere will reach equilibrium and velocity will remain constant once resistance is equal to the weight, or force of gravity, of the sphere; this is commonly referred to as terminal velocity (Tiet jens, 1934). In 1858, Francis Wenham began working on a mult iplane glider which led him to the conclusions that cambered wings generate most of their lift from the front portion of the airfoil (Mid-Nineteenth Century Milestones, 2009). Wenham also developed the first wind tunnel (Rumerman, 2009).


The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation Osborne Reynolds¶ impact on modern aerodynamics is st ill seen today. In 1883 his invest igat ions of fluid mot ion through tubes led him to conclude mathemat ically that ³the transition between laminar and turbulent flow can depend only on the dimensionless expression´ (Tiet jens, 1934, p. 30). Reynolds later was credited with the law of similarit y which states: ³two different motions taking place in two geometrically similar vessels are also mechanically similar when they have the same value´ (Tiet jens, 1934, p. 31). The quant itative result of the law of similarity is called the Reynolds¶ number in honor of his contribut ions. The Reynolds¶ number is what allowed a pivotal po int for many fluid flow phenomena as it explained the relat ion of calculat io n to experimental data. Around the 1890s is when the practical applications of fluid dynamics to aviation began. Wilson (2001) said, ³[Lilienthal bridged] the gap between those who dreamed of flying and those who actually flew´ (para. 2). Otto Lilienthal is famous for his pioneering gliding success. By the end of his career he had designed and built over eighteen gliders and made over 2,000 flights (Lilienthal ± The "Flying Man", 2009). His success, however, didn¶t come without study. He devoted himself to analyzing the flight of birds, following the footsteps of da Vinci, before he became the first man both to fly and to land safely. He published his findings in the classic aviation work of literature, Bird Flight as the Basis of Aviation. Noticing the twisting action of birds¶ wings he determined the amount of lift and resistance offered to the wing depending on its camber (Lilienthal ± The "Flying Man", 2009). Utilizing da Vinci and Cayley¶s information of center of gravity, Lilienthal used his body weight to change the direction of flight similar to a hang glider. Yet instead of directly controlling the aircraft, he was merely reacting to the aircraft to maintain stability. This imperative problem would not be solved until the Wright Brothers


The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation entered the scene. On August 9, 1896, Otto Lilienthal¶s glider stalled and he would never fly again (Lilienthal ± The "Flying Man´, 2009). The next day as he lay dying his last words were, ³Sacrifices must be made´ (Lilienthal ± The "Flying Man´, 2009, para. 15). According to Wilson (2001), news of his death likely inspired the Wrights to begin their quest for the skies. This is clearly seen when in a correspondence published in 1912, Wilbur Wright (1912) said, ³Of all the men who attacked the flying problem in the 19th century, Otto Lilienthal was easily the most important´ (para. 1). Otto Lilienthal was not the only aviator to affect the Wrights in a profound way. Octave Chanute noticed a major problem in the slow advancement of aerodynamics. Theorists, physicists, and aviators were largely separated due to time and distance. Chanute took the liberty to assemble a collection of the progress of flying experiments up to the present time (1894) in his book called Progress in Flying Machines. After reading the highly influential book in 1899, the Wright Brothers corresponded with Chanute and they began a mentorship over the next decade that would prove pivotal to the success of the Wrights (Octave Chanute²A Champion of Aviation, 2009). Some influences were the idea of a horizontal propeller, lightweight motor, flying on the coast, and focusing primarily on attaining a way to control the aircraft and maintaining equilibrium in flight (Chanute, 1894). In his conclusion, Chanute (1894), makes many predictions, of which is most notable regarding aerodynamics; ³the final working out of the general problem is likely to take place through a process of evolution. The first apparatus to achieve a notable success will necessarily be somewhat crude and imperfect. It will probably need to be modified, reconstructed, and readventured many times before it is developed into practical shape.´ (para. 60). Despite their admirable mentorship, the Wrights grew apart from


The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation Chanute in defense of protecting their groundbreaking findings. Nevertheless, his effect on the Wrights was providential. Wilbur and Orville Wright were perhaps the most academically prepared for flight due to the material available to them, thanks primarily to Octave Chanute. They read the works of Lilienthal and Langley and wrote to the Smithsonian Institute (The Wright Brothers' 1900 Kite and Glider Experiments, 2009). In their studies, Wilbur concluded a component was necessary to control the longitudinal axis of their first glider. They accomplished this by using a concept called ³wing warping´ where twisting the shape of the wing caused a pressure differential producing a higher amount of lift on one wing than the other (The Wright Brothers' 1900 Kite and Glider Experiments, 2009). They also put the elevator in front of the aircraft following Lilienthal¶s designs to absorb nosedive impacts, making it a ³canard´ (French) because it resembled a duck (The Wright Brothers' 1900 Kite and Glider Experiments, 2009). Unfortunately the wing design did not produce as much lift as they were expecting based on their calculations (The Wright Brothers' 1900 Kite and Glider Experiments, 2009). Orville and Wilbur Wright regrouped and began working on their 1901 glider. This time they ensured their wing camber calculat ions followed Otto Lilienthal¶s research (Further Gliding and Wind Tunnel Experiments ± 1901, 2009). Despit e their attent ion to detail the second flyer performed worse. The brothers suspected Lilienthal¶s equat ions were not correct (Further Gliding and Wind Tunnel Experiments ± 1901, 2009). They reverted to solely experimental data in a wind tunnel to ensure real-world result s. They discovered Lilienthal¶s calculat ions inaccurately relied on Smeaton¶s Coefficient, originally used for windmill designs (Further Gliding and Wind Tunnel Experiments ± 1901, 2009). After extensively test ing over 200


The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation airfo ils and objects in a wind tunnel they moved the highest depth of the wing fro m half way down the chord, as in Lilient hal¶s research, to only about one fourth of the way fro m the leading edge (Further Gliding and Wind Tunnel Experiments ± 1901, 2009). Another issue was that they used calculat ions based on a different aspect ratio than that of their flyers. Fo llowing their new data they added a double, fixed rudder to their 1902 glider. The brothers did this after coincidentally discovering adverse yaw (Success! Orville's and Wilbur's 1902 Glider Flights, 2009). Ironically, the wing warping method, which caused more lift on the outside wing, proportionally produced more drag causing the aircraft to yaw opposite the direction of the rolling act ion. Unfortunately, the fixed rudder solut ion did not solve what Orville called ³Well Digging´ (Success! Orville's and Wilbur's 1902 Glider Flights, 2009). Orville¶s new so lut ion was to make one, moveable rudder to counteract the adverse yaw. As a result, on October 8, 1902, ³They had solved the key problems of flight: the lifting ability of the wings and the perfection of three-dimensional control. The 1902 glider was, for all practical purposes, the first true airplane´ (Success! Orville's and Wilbur's 1902 Glider Flights, 2009, para. 11). Regarding the issue of powered flight the Wrights once again referred to Chanute¶s advice. They realized a propeller (screw) could be used in the horizo ntal and that it was essent ially a rotating wing (Before the First Powered Flight, 2009). Since no motors in existence were light enough for flight they called on their associate Charlie Taylor to design the engine for the first powered flight (Before the First Powered Flight, 2009). With these few issues resolved, the other issues most ly


The History of Aerodynamics in Aviation fell into place as Chanute predicted. On December 17, 1903, Orville Wright piloted the first heavier-than-air, powered aircraft. However the real milestone was when the rudder and roll components were separated on June 23, 1905 in order that the Flyer III would be completely controllable in each axis (Rumerman, 2009). Since powered aircraft first took flight aerodynamics has taken strides to perfect the design of the airplane. A few men who have had a huge role in aerodynamics in t he last century are: Theodore von Kármán (³Father of Supersonic Flight´), Ludwig Prandtl (explained the boundary layer and flow separation in a stall), Jakob Ackeret, Eastman Jacobs (NACA), Adolf Buseman (swept wings), Harland D. Fowler (Fowler flaps), Richard T. Whitcomb (NACA, transonic area rule, supercritical wing, winglets). From 2,000 year old physics, to mechanics, to fluid dynamics; without these numerous contributions made by men throughout history aerodynamics would be inexistent. Aerodynamics is critical to understanding the characteristics of flight. Those admirable men who tested time, finances, and safety made considerable deliberations to study those men that went before them, eventually leading to the aim and destiny of man; to fly.


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