The Bird Is on the Wing
Aerodynamics and the Progress of the American Airplane
Aviation
6.125 x 9.25, 288 pp.
54 b&w photos.
Pub Date: 11/07/2003
Centennial of Flight Series
  cloth
Price:        $50.00 s

978-1-58544-288-1
  paper
Price:        $24.95

978-1-58544-243-0
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The Bird Is on the Wing

Aerodynamics and the Progress of the American Airplane

By James R. Hansen

The airplane ranks as one of history’s most ingenious and phenomenal inventions—and surely one of the most world-shaking. How ideas about its aerodynamics first came together and how the science and technology evolved to forge the airplane into the revolutionary machine it became is the epic story James R. Hansen tells in The Bird Is on the Wing. Just as the airplane is a defining technology of the twentieth century, aerodynamics has been the defining element of the airplane.

Hansen provides an engaging, easily understandable introduction to the role of aerodynamics in the design of such historic American aircraft as the DC-3, X-1, and 747. Recognizing the impact individuals have had on the development of the field, he conveys not only a history of aircraft technology, but also a collective biography of the scientists, engineers, and designers who created the airplanes.

From da Vinci, whose understanding of what it took to fly was three centuries too early for practical use, to the invention of the airplane by the Wright brothers, Hansen explores the technological matrix from which aeronautical engineering emerged. He skillfully guides the reader through the development of such critical aerodynamic concepts as streamlining, flutter, laminar-flow airfoils, the mythical “sound barrier,” variable-sweep wing, supersonic cruise, blended body, and much more.

Hansen’s explanation of how vocabulary and specifications were developed to fill the gap between the perceptions of pilots and the system of engineers will fascinate all those interested in how human beings have used aerodynamics to move among, and even beyond, birds on the wing.

James R. Hansen, a former NASA historian, teaches the history of science and technology and the history of flight at Auburn University. He has written a number of works in aviation history, including Engineer in Charge and Spaceflight Revolution. He holds a Ph.D. from Ohio State University. Hansen has been chosen as the authorized biographer of Neil Armstrong, for a book to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2005.

What Readers Are Saying:

“. . . a splendid overview of the R&D processes that characterized the evolution of American aerodynamics and aviation. The brevity and high readability of this study will make it an especially welcome addition to the literature on the history of flight. The author’s background in writing NASA aeronautical history also shines through in the quality of the sources cited. Hansen has clearly written for the general reader, and has eminently succeeded in constructing an informative narrative. The author has done a marvelous job of covering a considerable amount of territory, but has kept the narrative within bounds. The author’s depth of knowledge about the subject illuminates the entire book. Bravo.”--Roger Bilstein, University of Houston-Clear Lake

“Jim Hansen has provided us with a comprehensive look at American airplane aerodynamic history framed in the context of the people who defined and expanded this engineering discipline. He takes us from kites to modern jets using the individuals involved to tell the human and technical story of American flying machines and their defining element, aerodynamics. The Bird is on the Wing is clear, readable and will be enjoyable for anyone interested in aviation or technology.” --Jim Voss, Astronaut Associate Dean of Engineering, Auburn University

“Nicely illustrated and gracefully written by one of the leading experts in the field, this volume is the finest introduction available to the revolutionary changes that took place in aeronautics during the 20th century. Summing Up: Highly recommended.” --Choice

“Not only does Hansen address science and technology, he also provides interesting and lively sketches of many of the people involved in the development of American aeronautics.” --Technology and Culture

“...this is a very good, serious history of the development of heavier-than-air airplanes...in America.” --Aeronautical Journal

“(This excellent study) is an offshoot and summary of the massive six-volume series.” --Air Power History

“Timely. The manuscript is clear, lively, well-written, and well-organized. The outstanding contribution of this book, is the author’s mastery of the people and contribution of the NACA and NASA. As promised in the introduction, he makes this story come alive by offering authoritative biographies for the main characters and quoting from them extensively.” --Alex Roland, Duke University

“. . . a splendid overview of the R&D processes that characterized the evolution of American aerodynamics and aviation. The brevity and high readability of this study will make it an especially welcome addition to the literature on the history of flight. The author’s background in writing NASA aeronautical history also shines through in the quality of the sources cited. Hansen has clearly written for the general reader, and has eminently succeeded in constructing an informative narrative. The author has done a marvelous job of covering a considerable amount of territory, but has kept the narrative within bounds. The author’s depth of knowledge about the subject illuminates the entire book. Bravo.” --Roger Bilstein, University of Houston-Clear Lake

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