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

Max M. Munk (1890 – 1986)

Max M Munk at NACA

Max M Munk at Langley (1926). Photo courtesy of NASA History Office

It makes me happy to remember that long ago, at the beginning of aviation, Heaven granted me the opportunity to make significant contributions to aerodynamics.

[Max M Munk, 1981]

The contributions of Max Munk to aerodynamics could be summed up by his own statement. He came of age at the beginning of aeronautics and started his work with Prof Ludwig Prandtl at Göttingen, where he earned his doctorate. The wind tunnel at Göttingen was the first in Germany, “primitive and slow”, but that was enough at the time: “You can learn so much when you start from ignorance (Munk, 1981, recollections).

Munk’s most outstanding contributions are in the field of theoretical aerodynamics, and include a wide variety of problems. His works were classified under WWI by the German army, but they leaked out to the English speaking countries soon after.

After WWI (in 1921) Munk moved to the US, were he held jobs at both NACA (as chief aerodynamicist) and the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. He was one of first of a long series of aerodynamicists to leave Germany.

Some of his contributions are: airship theory (moments and forces), the theory of induced drag (his own definition), airfoil theory (with the definition of the center of pressure), interference aerodynamics of multi-body lifting systems (with 3 stagger theorems), a general theory of the biplane, non planar wing systems (twisted wings), propeller and windmill theory, the apparent mass theory (1923), and the variable density wind tunnel (NACA TN 60, 1923).

The invention of the variable density wind tunnel was not a small thing. In fact, by compressing air, one could increase the Reynolds number without needing to increase the model size. Conversely, at high densities, say 10 bars, the model needed for a given Reynolds number would be 1/10 of the size in atmospheric conditions.

The figure below is a sketch based on the variable speed wind tunnel built at NACA by Munk. The pressurized air is circulated through an annular duct.

Fig. 2: NACA Variable Speed Wind Tunnel designed/built by M. Munk

Selected References

  • Munk MM. My Early Aerodynamic Research – Thoughts and Memories, in Ann Review Fluid Mech, Vol 13, pages 1-7, 1981.

  • Ames JS. A Resume’ of Advances in Theoretical Aeronautics made by Max M Munk. NACA Report 213, 1926.

  • Munk MM. Aerodynamics of Airships, in Durand WF (editor), Aerodynamic Theory, Vol 5, Division N, Dover Publ. Inc (1934, reprinted several times).

  • Munk MM. General Theory of Windmills. NACA TN-164, 1923

  • Munk MM. General biplane theory. NACA Report 151, 1923.

  • Munk MM. On a New Type of Wind Tunnel. NACA TN 60, 1921.

  • Munk MM. Note on Vortices on their Relation to the Lift of Airfoils. NACA TN-184 1924.

  • Munk MM. The Minimum Induced Drag of Aerofoils. NACA Report 121, 1923.

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