You are on page 1of 7

What is aerodynamics?

The word comes from two Greek words: aerios, concerning


the air, and dynamis, which means force. Aerodynamics is the study of forces and
the resulting motion of objects through the air. Judging from the story of Daedalus
and Icarus, humans have been interested in aerodynamics and flying for thousands
of years, although flying in a heavier-than-air machine has been possible only in the
last hundred years. Aerodynamics affects the motion of a large airliner, a model
rocket, a beach ball thrown near the shore, or a kite flying high overhead. The
curveball thrown by big league baseball pitchers gets its curve from aerodynamics.

At this Web site you can study aerodynamics at your own pace and to your own
level of interest. Some of the topics included are: Newton's basic equations of
motion; the motion of a free falling object, that neglects the effects of
aerodynamics; the terminal velocity of a falling object subject to both weight and air
resistance; the three forces (lift, drag, and weight) that act on a glider; and finally,
the four forces that act on a powered airplane. Because aerodynamics involves both
the motion of the object and the reaction of the air, there are several pages devoted
to basic gas properties and how those properties change through the atmosphere.

This site was created at NASA Glenn as part of the Learning Technologies Project
(LTP). It is currently supported by the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate at
NASA HQ through the Educational Programs Office at NASA Glenn. The purpose for
this web site is to provide background information on basic aerodynamics as
teaching aids for math and science teachers. Some of the slides were prepared to
support FoilSim, an interactive educational computer program that allows students
to design and test airfoil shapes on a personal computer. Other slides were prepared
to support the Digital Learning Network (DLN) videoconferencing workshops for
teachers and students. The slides were collected into Power Point Presentations
which are made available to teachers and students.

There is a special section of the Beginner's Guide which deals with compressible, or
high speed, aerodynamics. This section is intended for undergraduates who are
studying shock waves or isentropic flows and contains several calculators and
simulators for that flow regime.

This site has been intentionally organized to mirror the unstructured nature of the world wide
web. There are many pages here connected to one another through hyperlinks and you can then

navigate through the links based on


Aerodynamics is the way
objects move through air. The rules of aerodynamics explain how an airplane is able to fly.
Anything that moves through air is affected by aerodynamics, from a rocket blasting off, to a kite
flying. Since they are surrounded by air, even cars are affected by aerodynamics.

What Are the Four Forces of Flight?


The four forces of flight are lift, weight, thrust and drag. These forces make an object move up
and down, and faster or slower. The amount of each force compared to its opposing force
determines how an object moves through the air.

What Is Weight?
Gravity is a force that pulls everything down to Earth. Weight is the amount of gravity multiplied
by the mass of an object. Weight is also the downward force that an aircraft must overcome to
fly. A kite has less mass and therefore less weight to overcome than a jumbo jet, but they both
need the same thing in order to fly -- lift.

What Is Lift?
Lift is the push that lets something move up. It is the force that is the opposite of weight.
Everything that flies must have lift. For an aircraft to move upward, it must have more lift than
weight. A hot air balloon has lift because the hot air inside is lighter than the air around it. Hot air
rises and carries the balloon with it. A helicopter's lift comes from the rotor blades. Their motion
through the air moves the helicopter upward. Lift for an airplane comes from its wings.
your own interest and inquiry. There is an Aerodynamics Index of topics that you can
access from any page, so you are never more than two clicks away from any other
Web page at this site. However, if you prefer a more structured approach, you can
also take one of our Guided Tours through the site. Each tour provides a sequence of
pages dealing with some aspect of aerodynamics.