Copyright © A. Filippone (1997-2005). All Rights Reserved.

Reference Desk
  • History and Related Topics

Hystory of aerodynamics and related technology is so important that the AIAA has devoted a session at some of its technical meetings. Needless to say, history of the early days is the most interesting one.

Many Science and Aerospace Museums in America and Europe have extensive collections of publications. I have listed some references, from aerodynamics to aircraft and missile technology, but the actual bibliography is quite vast. Please inquire for more.

  1. Anderson JD. A Hystory of Aerodynamics,
    Cambridge Aerospace Series No. 8, Cambridge University Press, 1997 (ISBN 0-5214-5435-2)
    Review: Important book, from the beginning of time to our age. This is the best one-volume compendium I have seen so far. It points to appropriate references. I tend to like the discussion of modern aerodynamics, leaving behind work earlier than Cayley’s. Recommended reading.

  2. Wolko KS (editor). The Wright Flyier – An Engineering Perspective. , NASA and Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, 1987.
    Review: This book summarizes the aerodynamics, stability, control, propulsion system, and structural design of the Wright Brothers 1903 Flyier. There is an historical perspective, and it is comprehensive from the technical point of view (it also includes data on the airfoil section).

  3. Driver H. The Birth of Military Aviation: Britain 1903-1914., The Royal Historical Society, The Boydel Press, 1997 (ISBN 0 86193 234 X).
    Review: A historical book dealing with technology issues and more. It contains biographies of pioneers (such as Moore- Brabazon and Handley Page), early days corporations (Vickers, Avro), and a very extensive bibliography.

  4. Vincenti WG. What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History, John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1993 (ISBN 0-8018-4588-2).
    Review: On the process of learning through engineering experimentation. The author discusses topics such as airfoil design and propeller testing in the early days. Recommended.

  5. Wohl R. A Passion for Wings, Aviation and the Western Imagination 1908-1918, Yale Univ Press., 1994.
    Review: About the early aviators, airplanes, airshows, dreams and wars, with great illustrations, portraits, posters and disussion of contemporary society (poets, painters, ..). An excellent evening reading. With extensive notes and bibliography.

  6. Grosser M. Gossamer Odyssey – The Triumph of Human-Powered Flight, Dover Inc., 1991. (ISBN 0-486-26645-1).
    Review: A little adventurous, with human aspects, about the crossing of the English Channel on a human powered airplane. Many design issues discussed at a basic level.

  7. Loftin LK. Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft, NASA SP-367, Washington, 1985.
    Review: This is a history of aircraft evolution from the point of view of the engineer, and is well referenced. It goes from the design explorations of the 1910s to the design trends of the modern days. The report contains lots of useful design data (including drag, wind characteristics. etc).

  8. Wolko, HS. In the Cause of Flight – Technologists of Aeronautics and Astronautics Smithsonian Studies in Air and Space, Vol 4, Washington, 1981.
    Review: This is essentially a collection of short biographies of people who made pionereeing discoveries, research, inventions, etc, in fields such as aerodynamics, air breathing proulsion, vertical flight.

  9. Gibbs-Smith CH. The Rebirth of European Aviation, 1902-1908: A Study of the Wright Brothers’ Influence, London 1974.
    Review: History of the early days of aviation, hard-to-find book.

  10. Gibbs-Smith CH. The Aeroplane: An historical Survey, Her Majesty Stationary Office, London 1960.
    Review: A good book including historical details of pre-flight era, for example kites, rockets, parachutes, airscrews, engines. It contains a glossary, a chronology of aviation, photos and technical drawings.

  11. Burnet C. Three Centuries to Concorde, Mechanical Eng. Publications, Ltd, London, 1979.
    Review: There is no limit to the imagination caught by the Concorde. This book highlights some aeronautic achievements up to the Concorde era with a brief description of the limiting factors to high speed. This seems to make a point for the current interest in supersonic commercial flight.

  12. Many authors. The Lore of Flight, Tre Tryckare, Gothemburg, Sweden, 1970
    Review: Basic, with historical perspective, illustrated with color drawings, and encyclopaedic index and essential data. Foreword by Igor Sikorsky.

  13. Pritchard JL. Sir George Cayley – The Inventor of the Airplane. Max Parrish, London, 1961.
    Review: This is a biographical work into the achievements of the first pioneer in aerodynamics and aviations. Cayley’s work is for the most part obscure, having been written when aeronautics was a ludicrous subject. This book clearly highlights an outstanding number of ideas and reasoning.

  14. Hanle PA. Bringing Aerodynamics to America, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1960.
    Review: About Theodore von Kármán, in life and letters.

  15. Becker, JV. The High Speed Frontier – Case Histories of 4 NACA Programs. NASA SP-445, Washington DC, 1980.
    Review: It’s the history of four major American projects(1920-1950): high speed airfoils (including supercritical wing sections), high speed wind tunnels, high speed propellers, and wing body combinations (including supersonic area rule).

  16. von Kármán T, Edson L. The Wind and Beyond – Theodore von Karman Pioneer in Aviation and Pathfinder in Space. Little Brown and Co, Boston, 1967.
    Review: This is von Kármán’s autobiography, edited by science journalist Lee Edson. von Kármán’s life and achievements are framed in a set of world events that are unique. Also very descriptive are the photos from the author’s archive. I got a lot of inspiration from reading this book (who wouldn’t ?)

  17. Lambermont P, Pirie A. Helicopter and Autogyros of the World Cassell, London, 1958
    Review: Illustrated with amazing photos of vehicles from the early days, with basic helicopter performance data and foreword by Igor Sikorsky.

  18. von Kármán T. Aerodynamics – Selected Topics in the Light of their Historical Development, Cornell University Press, 1954, Ithaca, NY.
    x Review: This is a summary of lectures delivered by von Kármán at Cornell Univeristy, and his selected topics include theories of lift, drag, skin friction; history of supersonic aerodynamics, propellers and aerounatic propulsion systems, all the way up to the rocket. It’s a simple reading.

  19. Gatland KW. Development of the Guided Missile, Iliffe and Sons, Ltd, London, 1954.
    Review: The books reviews the important stages in the development of the missile up to the early 1950s. The survey contains an extraordinary data base of significant missiles (dimensions, power systems, boosters, etc.). It starts from the German V-1 and V-2. Good illustrations.

  20. Scott P. The Shoulders of the Giants: A History of Human Flight to 1919., Addison-Wesley, 1955.
    Review: This is not a technical book, but an easy weekend reading of the prehistoric human endeavors in aviation.

  21. Stevens JH. The Shape of the Aeroplane, Hutchinson Publishers Ltd, London, 1953.
    Review: written and beautifully illustrated by the author, it makes a history up to the beginning of the jet revolution. There are several aerodynamic topics discussed at a basic level, in addition to detailed analyses of selected aircraft (Spitfire, early Fokker airplanes, DC-3, etc.). Good reading !

  22. Ley W. Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel, The Viking Press, NY, 1951.
    Review: The book covers technical, cultural and political issues related to space technology and space travel from the very beginning. Its only problem is that it stops in 1950. Many things have happened since. Fluid reading.

  23. Hood JF. When Monsters Roamed the Skies, Grosset and Dunlop Publ., NY 1968.
    Review: This is a non-technical book about dirigibles, those huge lighter-than-air that had their hey-days during the first two decades of the century. The book is illustrated with vintage photos of the Zeppelin monsters (1900-1919) and other types of machinery.

  24. Blackall TE. Concorde: The History, the Fact and the Figures, G.T. Foulis and Co, Ltd, 1969.
    Review: As the subtitle implies, this is the story of the Anglo-French joint-venture in the design and production of the supersonic airliner Concorde. The events are seen in the historical and political perspective. There are some interesting technical data (skin temperatures, performances, engines, economics) and many black/white photos of the Concorde itself and other supersonic adventures.

  25. Hallion, RC. On the Frontier: Flight Research at Dryden, 1946-1981, NASA SP 4303 1983. (foreword by N. Armstrong)
    Review: This is an exciting account of high speed and space flight. From confronting the speed of sound (1940s) to the experimental aircraft, such as X-15 and XB-70, and then on to the Gemini and Apollo projects and the space Shuttle. A book without many technicalities.

  26. Liberatore, E.K. Helicopters Before Helicopters, Krieger Publ., 1998, Malabar, FL
    Review: This is an easy read of helicopter history from the first speculative ideas of rotorcraft aerodynamics. The book also contains a discussion of early helicopters, a list of relevant patents, a full glossary of technical terms and a good bibliography.
  27. Schultz, W. Winds of Change – Expanding the Frontiers of Flight. NASA, 1993.
    Review: This is a summary of 75 years of aerodynamics reseearch at NASA Langley, from 1917. It si a non technical monograph illustrated with many photographs.

  28. Hartman, EP. Adventures in Research: History of the Ames Research Center, 1940-1965, NASA SP-4302, 1970. (foreword by C. Lindbergh)

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Copyright © A. Filippone (1997-2005). All Rights Reserved.