Flight Vehicle Aerodynamics

This book assumes that the reader is well versed in basic physics and vector calculus, and already has had exposure to basic fluid mechanics and aerodynamics. Hence, little or no space is devoted to introduction or discussion of basic concepts such as fluid velocity, density, pressure, viscosity, stress, etc. Chapter 1 on the Physics of Aerodynamics Flows is intentionally concise, since it is intended primarily as a reference for the underlying physical principles and governing equations of fluid flows rather than as a first introduction to these topics. The author’s course at MIT begins with Chapter 2.

Some familiarity with aerodynamics and aeronautics terminology is assumed on the part of the reader. How­ever, a summary of advanced vector calculus notation is given in Appendix A, since this is not commonly seen in basic vector calculus texts.


The author would like to thank Doug McLean, Alejandra Uranga, and Harold Youngren for their extensive comments, suggestions, and proofreading of this book. It has benefited considerably from their input. Ed Greitzer, and Bob Liebeck have also provided comments and useful feedback on earlier drafts, and helped steer the book towards its final form. Also very helpful have been the comments, suggestions, and error corrections from the numerous students who have taken the Flight Vehicle Aerodynamics course at MIT.

Mark Drela


This book is intended as a general reference for the physics, concepts, theories, and models underlying the discipline of aerodynamics. An overarching theme is the technique of velocity field representation and modeling via source and vorticity fields, and via their sheet, filament, or point-singularity idealizations. These models provide an intuitive feel for aerodynamic flow behavior, and are also the basis of aerodynamic force analysis, drag decomposition, flow interference estimation, wind tunnel corrections, computational methods, and many other important applications.

This book covers some topics in depth, while offering introductions or summaries of others. In particular, Chapters 3,4 on Boundary Layers, Chapter 7 on Unsteady Aerodynamics, and Chapter 9 on Flight Dynamics are intended as introductions and overviews of those topics, which deserve to be properly treated in separate dedicated texts. Similarly, there are only glancing mentions of the related topic of Propulsion, which is its own discipline.

Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and computational methods in general are indispensable for today’s practicing aerodynamicist. Hence a few computational methods are described here, primarily the vortex lat­tice and panel methods which are based on the source and vorticity flow-field representation. The main goal is to provide improved understanding of the concepts and physical models which underlie such methods.

Most of this book is based on the lecture notes, handouts, and reference materials which have been devel­oped for the course Flight Vehicle Aerodynamics (course number 16.110) taught by the author at MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. This course is intended for first-year graduate students, but has also attracted a significant number of advanced undergraduates.