Copyright © A. Filippone (1996-2001). All Rights Reserved.

Reference Desk
Flight Mechanics & Performance

One of the least understood problems of flight in the early days was the handling quality. This problem eventually gave rise to a new engineering branch. These books are a mix between performances and stability, with some aerodynamics. Here is a list of essential reading, where I emphasize (when possible) the aerodynamic aspects.

  1. Bramble, Y. Airplane Flight , Isaac Pitman and Sons, London, 1952.
    Review: This book makes good reading, but it is now obsolete. It contains the basics of airplane flight (without formulas), and is illustrated with hand drawings.

  2. Melville Jones, B. Dynamics of the Airplane, in WF Durand (editor) Aerodynamics Theory, Vol 5, Division N. Dover Publ 1954.
    Review: This work is one of the first attempts to put order to the theory of flight dynamics, and it is considered a classic. The author starts from the basis of steady motion, free flight, symmetric and asymmetric moments, complete equations of motion, and includes numerical solutions for small disturbances (not a simple thing in the 1930s).

  3. Kermode AC. Mechanics of Flight, Isaac Pitman and Sons, Ltd., London, 1956 (6th edition; later editions available).
    Review: An entertaining book, especially Chapter XI on the test flight. Mr. Kermode had a stylistic mark that I did not find anywhere else. The book reports plates of early airplanes, basics of aerodynamics (airfoils, wings, propellers, etc.), and the traditional topics of flight mechanics: level flight, stability and control. Unlike the books reviewed below, this is devoid of mathematics and rather qualitative. It is therefore more indicated to students pilots.

  4. Etkin B. Dynamics of Flight, John Wiley, 1959 (later editions available).
    Review: This is a classic for all interested in flight, not necessarily in aerodynamics. The book introduces stability and control, the general equations of unsteady motion, stability derivatives, flight in turbulent atmosphere, response of the airplane to actuation, and some basic missile problems.

  5. Miele A. Flight Mechanics (Part One), Addison-Wesley, 1962.
    Review Prof. Miele has long been recognized an authority in this field. The book discusses the foundations of the mechanics of flight by establishing the fundamental equations. As for aerodynamics proper, it includes problems of hypervelocity vehicles, and aircraft performances at subsonic and supersonic speeds.

  6. Gunston WT, Flight Handbook, Iliffe Books Ltd, London, 1962 (6th edition)
    Review: A general book on flight aerodynamics, ideal for the pilot, the enthusiast, and the freaks of aviation looking for hard data. It contains chapters on aerodynamics (airfoils, wings, control surfaces), propulsion systems (gas turbines, propellers), engine installations and VTOL vehicles. It has 8 fold out drawings, good technical drawings, photos, and a short data base in the appendix. A great classic.

  7. Seckel E. Stability and Control of Airplane and Helicopters, Academic Press, 1964.
    Review: If you are interested in hard data, look in Appendix 1. This is the only book I know of that reports useful data (including stability derivatives) for a number of real-life aircraft: Grumman Mohawk, Boeing 707, Convair B-58, Bell X-1, NASA X-15, Sikorsky S-58. The book contains a chapter on VTOL vehicles, all the necessary aerodynamics, and outstanding photos. A great book.

  8. Talay TA. Introduction to the Aerodynamics of Flight, NASA SP-367, NASA History Office, Washington DC, 1975.
    Review: This report is somewhat more general, does not contain much engineering mathematics, and is easy to read. I mention shortly a chapter on hypersonic vehicles and the Space Shuttle. Also of interest the discussion on helicopters and rotors.

  9. Ashley H. Engineering Analysis of Flight Vehicles, Addison-Wesley, 1974.
    Review: I like particularly the chapter on “Morphology of Flight Vehicles”, but the rest (optimization of aircraft climb, dynamic performance and atmospheric entry) is also very good. Prof. Ashley worked with superior analytic knowledge. Recommended.

  10. Hale, FJ.Introduction to Aircraft Performance, Selection and Design, Addison-Wesley, 1984.
    Review: A well-written book. Besides the classical considerations on aircraft performances, this book distinguishes itself from the other ones in this list because of the selection and design, based on figures of merit. The author also devotes one chapter to the effects of the wind on performance. There is a good treatment of propeller aircraft.

  11. Shevell, RSFundamentals of Flight, Prentice Hall, 1989.
    Review: The book starts with a historical overview, a qualitative discussion of important aircraft of the past and present. It proceeds with basics of aerodynamics, performances, stability and control, including rockets.

  12. Anderson JD. Aircraft Perfomance and Design, McGraw-Hill, 1998.
    Review: This book is a mix of aerodynamics, performances and aircraft design. (three sections in this order). The section Aerodynamics includes chapters on propulsion, and the performances discussion is quite general. It seems, at times, that the presentation is not concise enough. The book borrows from others of the same author.

  13. Vinh NX. Flight Mechanics of High-Performance Aircraft, Cambridge Aerospace Serie 4, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.
    Review: What distinguishes this book from the other ones is the detailed treatment of turning flight of jet aircraft, take off and landing performances, as well as re-entry vehicles (hypersonics).

  14. Etkin B, Duffy LD. Dynamics of Flight: Stability and Control, John Wiley, NY 1995 (3rd edition).
    Review: It is a simpler book that Etkin’s atmospheric flight (see above). It includes: static stability and control, general equations of unsteady motion, stability derivatives, stability on uncontrolled motion, open- and closed-loop control, besides data for estimating aerodynamic derivatives and other analytical tools.

  15. Ojha, SK. Flight Performance of Aircraft, AIAA Aerospace Educational Series, 1995.
    Review: This book is geared toward undergraduate students, and is particularly exhaustive at this level. It pays much attention to the atmosphere and to the weather hazards, but it also contains good material on propulsion systems and on aerobatic maneuvers. Recommended.

  16. Padfield GD. Helicopter Flight Dynamics, Blackwell Science, 1996. (also available from AIAA)
    Review: To understand how helicopters fly and how they are controlled, which are a lot more difficult to control than fixed-wing aircraft. I found useful rotorcraft data in Appendix 4B. There is only little aerodynamics in this book.

  17. Stinton D. Flying Qualities and Flight Testing, Blackwell Science, 1996.
    Review: I like to complement this book to all the above. It is about flying qualities, airworthiness, handling, and assumes also the point of view of the airplane pilot. It is well documented, with plenty of test cases from all times; with its almost 700 pages it is an encyclopedic work. Recommended.

  18. Russell JB. Performance and Stability of Aircraft, Arnold. London, 1996.
    Review: I would recommend this book to those who want a modern look at stability and control, but I hardly find in it any of the issues not already treated in any of the above references. The bibliography is poor.

  19. Asselin M. An Introduction to Aircraft Performances, AIAA Educational Series, AIAA, 1997.
    Review: This is a compact book with selected items, whose main features are elements of aircraft design, flying in adverse weather, and ground proximity warning systems. The remaining topics are covered by the other books reviewed here.

  20. Azbug MJ, Larrabee EE. Airplane Stability and Control, Cambridge University Press, 1997.
    Review: This book is incredibly exciting: a clear complement of all the above. Extensive bibliography, Who’s Who in Flight Mechanics, a long example of achievements and case studies, all from the point of view of scientific discovery. Subtitle: A History of the Technologies that Made Aviation Possible. Absolutely recommended reading.

  21. JD Anderson. Introduction to Flight, McGraw-Hill, 1999 (4th ed).
    Review: This book is full of historical details and quotations, placed here and there between chunks of basic theory of flight. The book includes chapters relative to the development of the airfoil, the propeller and space flight. Once I got excited with the history, I found it hard to concentrate on the “hard” topics. Readers can also go the other way around.

  22. Eshelby EM. Aircraft Performance: Theory and Practice, Arnold Publ, London, 2000.
    Review: Just another book on general aircraft performances. Its usefulness lies in the “Performances Examples” (chapter 11). It is limited to commercial airplanes and lacks some description of more advanced performance parameters.

  23. Mair, WA and Birdsall, DL. Aircraft Performance, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992.
    Review: This book covers several aspects of aircraft flight and performances, and it is a good reference. However, the mathematical background is modest, and the problems proposed relatively simple. There are chapters on transonic and supersonic flight.

  24. Dole, CE, Lewis, JE. Flight Theory and Aerodynamics: A Practical Guide for Operational Pilots, John Wiley, 2000. Review: This book is addressed to pilots, and assumes a practical point of view, without rigorous mathematics. It includes operational performances of both fixed- and rotary wing aircraft.

  25. Cooke, AK. Helicopter Test and Evaluation, AIAA Educational Series, 2002. Review: This book deals with the experimental (e.g. flight testing) evaluation of helicopter performance, including stability and control.

  26. McCormick BW. Aerodynamics, Aeronautics and Flight Mechanics, John Wiley, New York, 1994.
    Review: This book is comprehensive. I recommend it for an applied view at wings, and for its treatment of propeller and engine performance, V/STOL and helicopter flight performance. This is one book one must have.

  27. Lowry, J. Performance of Light Aircraft, AIAA, 1999. Review: A well written performance book that deals with several aspects of light aircraft. There is a good treatment of propeller performance.

  28. Saarlas, M. Aircraft Performance , John Wiley, 2006. Review: This book is at the basic level for undergraduate students, and presents classical topics in fixed-wing aircraft performance. The limitations of this book are in the closed-form solutions, and a lack of references for further study. The figures generally show aircraft drawings with no reference to the main text. This puzzles me.

  29. McCormick BW.Aerodynamics of Vertical/Short Take-off and Landing Flight, Academic Press, 1967.

  30. Wagenmakers, J. Aircraft Performance Engineering : Guidelines from an Aircraft Performance Engineer. Prentice Hall, New York, 1991.

  31. Lan, CE and Roskam, J. Airplane Aerodynamics and Performance, Roskam Aviation & Eng. Corp, Kansas, 1980.

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Copyright © A. Filippone (1996-2001). All Rights Reserved.