Aerodynamic History

The word ‘aerodynamic’ sounds futuristic and images of rockets, amorphic shapes and smooth surfaces come to mind.  Most simply, though, aerodynamics is the science of looking at the motion of air when it interacts with a solid object.  Humans have been harnessing aerodynamic forces for thousands of years, starting with the sailboat and windmills.  We were content to use the wind without judging it for quite some time, and so quantitative theory of air flow didn’t take off until the 17th century with Leonardo Da Vinci. He wrote about forward motion and lift, in his studies for the first flying machines which were kept secret inside of his private notebooks.

Much later in the 17th century, French scientist Edme Mariotte, Dutch mathematician and Sir Isaac Newton developed a theory of air resistance, connecting drag to the dimensions of a body combined with its velocity.  They attempted to define drag through a mathematical equation.  This lead to Sir George Cayley to be the first to identify the four aerodynamic forces of flight - weight, lift, drag and thrust.

Aerodynamic drag increases significantly with speed, so by the 1950s, German and British automotive engineers began analysing the effects of drag as the consumer car sped up.  Vehicle design and highway engineers research began to dovetail around the issue in the 1960s, when both cars and roads were designed to counteract the loss of energy and creation of noise due to drag.

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