This is an article about the basics of aerodynamics. By the end, you will understand what aerodynamics is, where it originated, and its need in the present world of aircraft.
“Aerodynamics is a beautifully organized, intellectual subject.” – John D Anderson
So, What is Aerodynamics?
To put a long story short, Aerodynamics is the study of fluids interacting with any moving body. This study dates back to the work of Aristotle and Archimedes. However, it was around the 18th century when the real work on aerodynamic theories started because humankind began making drastic development in flight.
One of the first pioneers in Aerodynamics was Sir George Cayley, who today is known as the Father of Aerodynamics. It was Sir Cayley who developed the concept and design for what is considered to be the first modern airplane.
Later, immense contributions were made by scientists like Newton, Bernoulli, Euler, and Prandtl, which is why now, we can see a 450-ton piece of metal flying around the world safely carrying humans.
Why is Aerodynamics Important?
As aerodynamics is the study of fluids, let’s use ourselves as an example. Ever put your hand out of a moving car? What did you notice when you tilt it upwards?
Your hand experiences an upward force as soon as you tilt it about 10 degrees. The effect you observed there is called lift.
Another example, try blowing some air onto your hand, keeping it about 15 cm from your mouth. There are two ways to do it. Firstly you can keep your mouth wide open and secondly, make your mouth small.
You’ll notice that it is easier to blow with force when your mouth is made small. What you just observed is the concept of Jet – used in designing modern Jet Engines.
I’m sure that all of us have been in water. Just try moving your hand inside in a swimming pool. You’ll notice that it is easier to ‘cut’ through the water with your hand palm perpendicular to the direction of movement. By doing this, you reduce the form drag. The most significant aerodynamic force that applies to nearly everything that moves through the air is drag. Drag is the force that opposes an aircraft’s motion through the air.
How is Aerodynamics used in the world we see today?
Aerodynamics is present everywhere around you, and you’ll realize it when you start observing the simplest of your activities. Theories of aerodynamics can explain all these phenomena.
In the modern world, Aerodynamics plays a massive role in the designing of any machine or structure that interacts with fluids. From the mighty Burj Khalifa to stealth submarines, from F1 race cars to speed suits, even shuttle cocks! In their own ways, each of these designs needs to be Aerodynamic.
Now the next question is, how do we quantify this? Which design is more aerodynamic?
One way to check that out is by testing the actual model in a wind tunnel. But that is too costly and time-consuming, so engineers found a way to analyze a design without actually building the model – using software, simulations.
There comes the beauty of engineering; we incorporated all the theories that were created to date into software to simulate actual models. This field of study is called Computational Fluid Dynamics or (CFD). In CFD software, you can create your model and simulate it near to the actual flow conditions and find out the forces acting on your model.
Now the real task is to understand the science behind the software. The software is just a tool created by humans; it cannot be 100% accurate and always give perfect results. This is what Aerodynamicists do. They make simulations as close as possible to the real-world conditions.
How do we, at AeroMIT, use Aerodynamics?
The present requirement of the aviation industry is to save fuel and reduce noise. Both can be achieved only by innovation in aerodynamic designs. That’s why we need good Aerodynamicists in this world. So, we at AeroMIT as an aerodynamics team, work on creating aerodynamic aircraft designs, simulating them. When we are satisfied with our model, we build and test it.
This is just a very brief overview of aerodynamics. The subject in itself is huge and vast. I hope I have motivated at least some of you to think about this fascinating subject.
~ Written by Vishnu Latheesh for AeroMIT
Compiled and Edited by Rahul Alvares