Aeronautical Engineering



Table of Contents

1. Personal Context

I work for an aerospace firm. While I mostly do computing systems, I've learned some by osmosis from working with engineers, mechanics, and pilots. Also, as I work with a new group, I study their field so I can talk their language.

2. Theory

The physics are well understood: Navier-Stokes equations. But they are so hard to solve that we simplify where we can: Assume away viscosity, or compressibility, or heat/chemical effects.

Even then real problems are too hard to solve symbolically. All real work is done with models. Hardware mockups and scale models in wind tunnels have a long history, and a long history of complexities to overcome (e.g., scaling effects). So much of the work has turned to computational simulations -- which themselves have problems.

Read Anderson (anderson11. Then install OpenFoam and do the tutorials:

3. Design

Theory tells what the shape must be. Structural engineering is how we obtain and maintain that shape using materials and designs that are still light enough to fly. Systems engineering is how we tell the control surfaces to change, so we can maneuver.

Takeoff is optional; landing is mandatory. Structural engineering makes them possible. Systems engineering makes them predictable and safe.

Structural engineering is always a tradeoff of weight and strength. A key insight is to put strength only were you need it -- and that requires lab and simulation studies of stresses. Aircraft designers are always looking for better (lighter) materials. Alimunim was a big breakthrough, and composites are now taking the lead.

See Niu (niu2006) for traditional airframe structural design. He also has one on Composites.

System engineering for aircraft is largely the same as anywhere, just the problems are specific. We need

  • Control systems to operate the propulsion units (engines) and control surfaces -- complete with appropriate backup systems.

  • Avionics to know where we are, where we need to go, and who or what else we might run into on the way.

  • Human-support systems. Seats, doors, aisles, oxygen masks, lights, galleys, lavatories, storage, emergency slides.

  • Cargo-support systems. Loading ramps, tiedowns, load ballast.

4. Use

Humans can't fly by themselves, and they can't even float safely down to earth if something goes wrong (remember Icarus?). So you'd better do everything right, first time, every time. Even a perfectly designed and built aircraft can fall out of the sky if you do something wrong.

Further, you don't kill just yourself. An aircraft falling from the sky can kill innocent bystanders. Therefore the regulatory bodies have a need to ensure safe designs, and safe pilots. Pilots need highly repeatable habits for prefight, in-flight, landing, responses to emergencies, etc. All this calls for extensive training.

The regulations and the handbooks reflect a century of hard-earned experience on what can go wrong and how to prevent it or cope with it. See FAA handbooks for airplanes (faa_airplane2007), rotocraft (faa_rotor2007), and gliders (faa_glider2007)

See also Illman (illman2000) for more general/related information.

5. The Business

There are a lot of military aircraft, and some private/business craft, but the bulk of airtravel is on commercial airlines. It is a business, with a business's needs to plan and execute.

See Wells and Wensveem (wells2004) for an overview. See Ashford et al (ashford1997) for airport operations.

6. References


JD Anderson. "Fundamentals of Aerodynamics", 5th ed. McGraw-Hill, 2011. ISBN 978-0-07-339810-5.

This is the book to learn aerodynamics. Widely and justly praised.


N Ashford, HPM Stanton, CA Moore. "Airport Operations", 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill, 1997. ISBN 0-07-003077-4.


FAA. "Airplane Flying Handbook". Skyhorse Publishing, 2007. 978-1-60239-003-4.


FAA. "Glider Flying Handbook". Skyhorse Publishing, 2007. 978-1-60239-061-4.


"Rotorcraft Flying Handbook". Skyhorse Publishing, 2007. 978-1-60239-060-7.


JH Ferziger, M Perec. "Computatinal Models for Fluid Dynamics", 3rd ed. Springer, 2002. ISBN 3-540-42074-6.

Detailed analysis and considerations for modeling algorithms.


RV Giles, JB Evett, C Liu. "THeory and Problems of Fluid Mechanics and Hydraulics", 3rd ed. Schaum's Outlines Series, 1994. ISBN 0-07-023316-0.

The usual: Theory, derivations, and solved problems.


WF Hughes, JA Brighton. "Theory and Problems of Fluid Dynamics", 2nd ed. Schaum's Outline Series, 1991. ISBN 0-07-031117-X.

The usual: Theory, derivations, and solved problems.


PE Illman. "The Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge", 4th ed. McGraw-Hill, 2000. ISBN 0-07-134519-1.


MCY Niu. "Airframe Structural Design: Practical Design Information and Data on Aircraft Structures", 2nd ed. Adaso/Adastra Engineering Center, 2006. ISBN-10: 9627128090 ISBN-13: 978-9627128090


GK Vallis. "Atmospheric and Oceanic Fluid Dynamics: Fundamentals and Large-scale Circulation" Cambridge Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-521-84969-2.

One-of-a-kind text unifying the math modeling for ocean currents and atmospheric currents.


AT Wells, JG Wensveem. "Air Transportation: A Management Perspective", 5th ed. Thompson/Brooks/Cole, 2004. ISBN 0-534-39384-5.

Creator: Harry George
Updated/Created: 2013-12-28