Aerodynamics for Pilots

Problems with teaching aerodynamics to pilots or STEM students have been systemic for years; from my perspective it started with a high school physics teacher’s group that started pushing for “Newton only” educational approaches. It’s not that you can’t get there (i.e., from a “Newton only” approach) but that approach is more appropriate for an engineering audience than for the general public. It also illustrates a lack of understanding about the reciprocal nature of the flow field or that Bernoulli’s equation is derived from the analyzation of properties of a particle in a streamline using Newton’s Second Law. Claiming that Bernoulli based explanations, used for years as a simplified explanation for teaching aerodynamics, is wrong is as misguided as claiming that Bernoulli alone is sufficient; they each are incomplete without the other and, in many ways, actually depend on each other. Combined with the pseudo science and incomplete public understandings of technical subjects that often exist and get made popular by the Internet, there is incorrect material now being taught by major pilot education organizations, including AOPA, the Civil Air Patrol and, sadly, the FAA.

The first real move I saw to battle this inaccuracies came in the form of a book published over 5 years ago entitled “Understanding Aerodynamics: Arguing from the Real Physics” by Don McLean and published by Wiley Press. I discovered the book a couple of years ago as I endeavored to wade in to combat what I felt were the technical mis-explanations that gaining traction. My work with McLean’s text has been two-fold: first, to shore up my own understanding of aerodynamics and make sure I had a better handle on the actual physics, and secondly, to find an approach that I get would help me create a “simple-enough” yet technically and physically accurate explanation that would tie together all I had learned over the years. With this blog tonight, I am releasing my first salvo in this effort, a .pdf of a stand-alone presentation entitled “Aerodynamics for Pilots“. (Click the link to download; it’ll take a few minutes as it is a 14MB file.) Like Mr. McLean, I am a believer that every technical subject can be taught at a simplified level most people can understand without making it technically inaccurate, something not always done by groups and organizations dealing with the public and teaching about aviation and spaceflight. While this presentation is aimed at general aviation pilots, anyone who’s interested in how lift is created and how it is used to fly airplanes hopefully will find it educational.

I will eventually put a video version of it up on my You Tube channel; but for now, feel free to download the pdf and read it. If you’d like for me to present or discuss this with your group or class or have any questions or comments, please contact me at: