THE TOOLS OF FLIGHT DYNAMICISTS
The tools used by flight dynamicists to solve the design and operational problems of vehicles may be grouped under three headings:
The analytical tools are essentially the same as those used in other branches of mechanics. Applied mathematics is the analyst’s handmaiden (and sometimes proves to be such a charmer that she seduces him away from flight dynamics). One important branch of applied mathematics is what is now known as system theory, including stochastic processes and optimization. It has become a central tool for analysts. Another aspect of this subject that has received a great deal of attention in recent years is stability theory, sparked by the rediscovery in the English-speaking world of the 19th century work of Lyapunov. At least insofar as manned flight vehicles are concerned, vehicle stability per se is not as important as one might suppose. It is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for successful controlled flight. Good airplanes have had slightly unstable modes in some part of their flight regime, and on the other hand, a completely stable vehicle may have quite unacceptable handling qualities. It is performance criteria that really matter, so to expend a great deal of analytical and computational effort on finding stability boundaries of nonlinear and time-varying systems may not be really worthwhile. On the other hand, the computation of stability of small disturbances from a steady state, i. e. the linear eigenvalue problem that is normally part of the system study, is very useful indeed, and may well provide enough information about stability from a practical standpoint.
On the computation side, the most important fact is that the availability of machine computation has revolutionized practice in this subject over the past ten years. Problems of system performance, system design, and optimization that could not have been tackled at all a dozen years ago are now handled on a more or less routine basis.
The experimental tools of the flight dynamicist are generally unique to this field. First, there are those that are used to find the aerodynamic inputs.
Wind tunnels and shock tubes that cover most of the spectrum of atmospheric flight are now available in the major aerodynamic laboratories of the world. In addition to fixed laboratory equipment, there are aeroballistic ranges for dynamic investigations, as well as rocket-boosted and gun-launched free – flight model techniques. Hand in hand with the development of these general facilities has gone that of a myriad of sensors and instruments, mainly electronic, for measuring forces, pressures, temperatures, acceleration, angular velocity, etc.
Second, we must mention the flight simulator as an experimental tool used directly by the flight dynamicist. In it he studies mainly the matching of the man to the machine. This is an essential step for radically new flight situations, e. g. space capsule reentry, or transition of a tilt-wing VTOL airplane from hovering to forward speed. The ability of the pilot to control the vehicle must be assured long before the prototype stage. This cannot yet be done without test, although limited progress in this direction is being made through studies of mathematical models of human pilots. The prewar Link trainer, a rudimentary device, has evolved today into a highly complex, highly sophisticated apparatus. Special simulators, built for most new major aircraft types, provide both efficient means for pilot training, and a research tool for studying flying qualities of vehicles and dynamics of human pilots.