Fundamental concepts of continuum, drag, and pressure gradients appear in the work of Aristotle and Archimedes. In 1726, Sir Isaac Newton became the first person to develop a theory of air resistance, making him one of the first aerodynamicists.
Dutch-Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernoulli followed in 1738 with Hydrodynamica in which he described a fundamental relationship between pressure, density, and flow velocity for incompressible flow known today as Bernoulli's principle, which provides one method for calculating aerodynamic lift.
In 1757, Leonhard Euler published the more general Euler equations which could be applied to both compressible and incompressible flows.
The Navier-Stokes equations are the most general governing equations of fluid flow and but are difficult to solve for the flow around all but the simplest of shapes. In 1799, Sir George Cayley became the first person to identify the four aerodynamic forces of flight (weight, lift, drag, and thrust), as well as the relationships between them, and in doing so outlined the path toward achieving heavier-than-air flight for the next century.
The Euler equations were extended to incorporate the effects of viscosity in the first half of the 1800s, resulting in the Navier–Stokes equations.
In 1871, Francis Herbert Wenham constructed the first wind tunnel, allowing precise measurements of aerodynamic forces.
In 1889, Charles Renard, a French aeronautical engineer, became the first person to reasonably predict the power needed for sustained flight.
Most of the early efforts in aerodynamics were directed toward achieving heavier-than-air flight, which was first demonstrated by Otto Lilienthal in 1891.
Building on these developments as well as research carried out in their own wind tunnel, the Wright brothers flew the first powered airplane on December 17, 1903. During the time of the first flights, Frederick W.
This rapid increase in drag led aerodynamicists and aviators to disagree on whether supersonic flight was achievable until the sound barrier was broken in 1947 using the Bell X-1 aircraft. By the time the sound barrier was broken, aerodynamicists' understanding of the subsonic and low supersonic flow had matured.
Understanding of supersonic and hypersonic aerodynamics has matured since the 1960s, and the goals of aerodynamicists have shifted from the behaviour of fluid flow to the engineering of a vehicle such that it interacts predictably with the fluid flow.
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