The Enigma of the Aerofoil: Rival Theories in Aerodynamics, 1909-1930

Paperback | November 15, 2011

byDavid Bloor

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Why do aircraft fly? How do their wings support them? In the early years of aviation, there was an intense dispute between British and German experts over the question of why and how an aircraft wing provides lift. The British, under the leadership of the great Cambridge mathematical physicist Lord Rayleigh, produced highly elaborate investigations of the nature of discontinuous flow, while the Germans, following Ludwig Prandtl in Göttingen, relied on the tradition called “technical mechanics” to explain the flow of air around a wing. Much of the basis of modern aerodynamics emerged from this remarkable episode, yet it has never been subject to a detailed historical and sociological analysis.
           
In The Enigma of the Aerofoil, David Bloor probes a neglected aspect of this important period in the history of aviation. Bloor draws upon papers by the participants—their restricted technical reports, meeting minutes, and personal correspondence, much of which has never before been published—and reveals the impact that the divergent mathematical traditions of Cambridge and Göttingen had on this great debate. Bloor also addresses why the British, even after discovering the failings of their own theory, remained resistant to the German circulation theory for more than a decade. The result is essential reading for anyone studying the history, philosophy, or sociology of science or technology—and for all those intrigued by flight.

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Why do aircraft fly? How do their wings support them? In the early years of aviation, there was an intense dispute between British and German experts over the question of why and how an aircraft wing provides lift. The British, under the leadership of the great Cambridge mathematical physicist Lord Rayleigh, produced highly elaborate i...

David Bloor is professor emeritus in the Science Studies Unit at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Knowledge and Social Imagery and coauthor of Scientific Knowledge: A Sociological Analysis, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:608 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.4 inPublished:November 15, 2011Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0226060950

ISBN - 13:9780226060958

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Question to Be Answered

1       Mathematicians versus Practical Men: The Founding of the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
2       The Air as an Ideal Fluid: Classical Hydrodynamics and the Foundations of Aerodynamics
3       Early British Work on Lift and Drag: Rayleigh Flow versus the Aerodynamics of Intuition
4       Lanchester’s Cyclic Theory of Lift and Its Early Reception
5       Two Traditions: Mathematical Physics and Technical Mechanics
6       Technische Mechanik in Action: Kutta’s Arc and the Joukowsky Wing
7       The Finite Wing: Ludwig Prandtl and the Göttingen School
8       “We Have Nothing to Learn from the Hun”: Realization Dawns
9       The Laws of Prandtl and the Laws of Nature
10       Pessimism, Positivism, and Relativism: Aerodynamic Knowledge in Context

Notes
Bibliography
Index

Editorial Reviews

“A masterpiece of writing and research. David Bloor brings his varied background to the table, writing the only book that describes a wonderful mixture of the scientific, historical, philosophical, and sociological forces that help to explain the ‘enigma’ of the aerofoil.”