Recommended reading


Last updated May 2007


This page is as eclectic as the rest of the Aeroexperiments website, so take the time to scroll all the way through... Also see the "Links" section of the Aeroexperiments website for much more related material that is available on-line.


Books and papers on aerodynamics and on the physics of flight:


"Model Aircraft Aerodynamics" by Martin Simons. 2d edition 1987. Argus Books. Offers a very thorough treatment of the basic physics of flight, airfoils and wing planforms (including optimization for lower Reynolds numbers), longitudinal (pitch-axis) stability and control, yaw and roll stability issues (including accurate diagrams and descriptions of the way that dihedral creates a stabilizing roll torque in the presence of a sideways airflow), balancing dihedral and vertical tail size for good roll stability (avoiding spiral instability), and much more. A superb introduction to these issues for any pilot of full-scale aircraft; the emphasis on the aerodynamics of small (model) aircraft makes many of the ideas in the book especially applicable to bird flight as well.


"Basics of R/C Model Design" by Andy Lennon. 1996. From the publishers of Model Airplane News. This little, well-illustrated book (widely available in hobby stores) gives a superb introduction to airfoils and wing planforms, benefits of flaps, longitudinal (pitch-axis) stability and control, balancing dihedral and vertical tail size for good roll stability (avoiding spiral instability), drag reduction, canard and other unusual planforms, and much more. My only beef with this book is the heavy emphasis on "centrifugal force" in the section on maneuverability, when it would be sufficient to only include the real, aerodynamic forces created by the airflow around the aircraft!


A 2-part series of articles called "Spiral Stability and the Bowl Effect" by Blaine Beron-Rawdon that appeared in Model Aviation in September and October 1990, and also a series of articles entitled simply "Dihedral, a 4-part series" by the same author in the same magazine in August through November of 1988, provide an excellent introduction to the way that "airflow curvature" affects the spiral stability and control of a slow-flying, long-spanned aircraft. These articles discuss "airflow curvature" in relation to stability and efficiency in rudder-controlled model sailplanes, but the ideas within apply to all aircraft.


"Swept Wings and Effective Dihedral" by Bill and Bunny Kuhlman. RC Soaring Digest, January-March 2000. A detailed treatment of the dihedral-like effects of sweep, spiral stability, etc. This paper is absolutely central to many of the ideas discussed on the Aeroexperiments website.


"Tailless Aircraft in Theory and Practice" by Karl Nickel and Michael Wohlfahrt, published by AIAA, ISBN 1-56347-094-2, also available in German. Much more on sweep, spiral stability, etc.


"Stick and Rudder, an explanation of the art of flying" by Wolfgang Langewiesche. 1944. Mc Graw-Hill. This is THE classic physics-for-pilots book, and every pilot should be thoroughly familiar with the ideas contained within. I do find myself in disagreement with one passage, as detailed in the "Critiques" section of this website!


"Aircraft Stability and Control: a history of the technologies that made aviation possible" by Malcolm J. Abzug and E. Eugene Larrabee. 2d edition. 2002. Cambridge University Press. This superb book offers a great introduction to many interesting details of the theory of stability and control, enmeshed in a fascinating survey of aviation history. Includes a brief treatment of ultralight aircraft, including notes on how the airflow curvature effect (and resulting aerodynamic damping in pitch) allows the "maneuver point" where maneuvering stability disappears to be well aft of the "neutral point" where static stability disappears. Also includes an interesting section on roll and yaw control of the Gossamer Condor human-powered aircraft. Also includes a brief treatment of yaw-roll coupling effects in swept-wing hang gliders and trikes.


Books on hang gliding:


"The Hang Glider's Bible" by Michael A. Markowski. 1977. TAB Books. This is one of the best of the myriad of books from the "old days" of hang gliding. Explores the stability and control of full-Rogallo wings in some depth.


"Sky Adventures--legends and stories about the early days of hang gliding and paragliding", edited by Jim Palmieri and Maggie Palmieri, and illustrated by Mike Vorhis. 1998. Sky Dog Publications. More than anything else, this book is a fascinating study of the personalities that that populated the pioneering days of hang gliding, revealing the drives and passions and quirks of character that led these men and women to persevere against all odds to give birth to a new form of aviation. Also reveals some of the strange ideas and misconceptions that prevailed in the earliest days of modern hang gliding, which are as foreign to today's pilots as are the misconceptions of a beginner to an experienced master of the air. After reading this book, you'll never again take for granted the well-mannered, high-performance gliders and the vast wealth of collective knowledge that are available to today's pilots.


"The Secrets of Champions" by Dennis Pagen. 2003. Sport Aviation Publications. Full of practical tips from 17 recent champion hang glider pilots--a wealth of information on thermal finding and centering, cross-country decision-making, etc.. This book is really a must-read for any aspiring cross-country soaring pilot. Some of the tips on glider tuning provide some interesting food for thought on stability and control issues.


"Hang Gliding Training Manual" and "Performance Flying" by Dennis Pagen. Sport Aviation Publications. These two books provide a very solid introduction to modern hang gliding, and are so packed with good tips that they are worthwhile reading even for experienced hang glider pilots. I do find myself in disagreement with some of the analysis of turning flight, as detailed in the "Critiques" section of this website.


"Towing Aloft" by Dennis Pagen and Bill Bryden. 1988. Sport Aviation Publications. If you fly hang gliders via any kind of aero- or ground-based towing, or are contemplating doing so, this book may save your hide.


"Understanding the Sky: a sport pilot's guide to flying conditions" by Dennis Pagen. 1992. Sport Aviation Publications. A good introduction to the meteorology of soaring flight. I recommend this one to all hang glider pilots, sailplane pilots, and also to researchers interested in understanding soaring weather as it applies to raptor migration


Books on soaring (sailplanes):


"The Complete Soaring Handbook, revised and enlarged" by Anne and Lorne Welch and Frank Irving. 1968. David McKay company. This old gem goes into all kinds of interesting technical details, yet is extremely readable. A few selected topics: thermal-centering theory, control of the aircraft (and dead-reckoning navigation) in clouds, Cook and Bohli compasses for cloud flying, soaring weather (focussed on England), basics of stability and control (balance of forces in the roll axis, design techniques to control the stick-force-per-G, etc), glider performance theory (formulae for lift and drag, modeling the lift distribution over the span, circling performance formulae and graphs), MacCready theory (formulae and graphs), and more. Perhaps the most eye-opening section is the chapter on flight limitations and the maneuvering envelope, which includes a detailed look at the loads on the glider in various situations, and the reasons for the various airspeed and G-loading limitations placed on the glider.


"Cross-Country Soaring" (Streckensegelflug) by Helmut Reichmann. 1978. Thomson Publications. An absolutely superb treatment of many issues pertaining to soaring flight. Just a few of the topics covered in this book: nuances of ridge lift, thermal triggering, thermal soaring, thermals and clouds, thermal streets, thermals acting as "slopes" to generate ridge lift, waves associated with shears and inversion layers, "dynamic soaring" in shear layers, MacCready speed-to-fly theory, dolphin techniques, theory of lapse-rate charts etc., circling polars, theory of flight with ballast, schematic diagrams of Cook and Bohli cloud-flying compasses, schematic diagram of lift-coefficient indicator, speed-to-fly instrumentation, total energy instrumentation.


"Transition to gliders: a flight training handbook for power pilots" by Thomas L. Knauff. 1984. Prentsmioja Arna Valdemarssonar hf (Iceland). An excellent handbook by a superb glider instructor and competition pilot. Lots of emphasis on real-world safety concerns. Also includes a good treatment of the yaw string, usage of the rudder, slips, skids, roll torque created by dihedral when a sideways airflow (sideslip) is present, spiral instability, practical techniques for aerotowing, judgement of the landing pattern, advantages of steep (45 degree) banked turns in emergency situations at low altitude (minimizes the height loss per degree of turn, and also reduces the temptation for the pilot to "hurry" the turn with the rudder while "holding the nose up" with excessive back stick, which is a recipe for a spin), overbanking effects due to wind gradient, physics of steep turns, physics of spiral dives, MacCready speed-to-fly theory, physics of gust loads, weight-and-balance calculations, thermal-centering theory, emergency cloud-flying strategies (benign spiral mode), elementary glider aerobatics, distinguishing between the sensations of reduced G-loading and the sensations of stalling, and much more. Similar material is covered in this pair of books by the same author: "Glider Basics From First Flight to Solo", and "After Solo".


"The Handbood of Glider Aerobatics" by Peter Mallinson and Mike Woolard. 1990. Airlife Publishing Ltd (England). Fascinating. Even if you have no intention of performing aerobatics, the treatment of flight envelopes, loading, and V-speeds will help you become a safer pilot. Interesting notes on adverse yaw and rudder usage in 0-G and negative-G situations.


"The Art and Technique of Soaring" by Richard A Wolters. 1971. McGraw- Hill Book Co. This book is a perfect tool to help the complete novice become a proficient glider pilot. Very user-friendly, not overly technical, great graphics and photos, an inspirational style, and packed with all the essential information.


Books on airplanes:


"The Compleat Taildragger Pilot" by Harvey S. Plourde. A very solid, very practical, yet physics-based tutorial on tailwheel techniques and safety.


"Anatomy of a spin" by John Lowery. 1981 and 1994. Airguide Publications. A superb treatment of the differences in spin recovery techniques--including techniques for recovery from inverted spins and flat spins-- in a wide variety of aircraft with different mass distributions, from corporate jets ("fuselage loaded") to GA trainers ("neutral loaded") to prop twins ("wing loaded").


"The flight instructor's manual, 3rd edition" by William K. Kershner. 1993. Iowa State University Press. Packed with accurate, practical information on flying light planes and twins, including basic instrument techniques and elementary aerobatics, with lots of attention to common errors.


Some other aviation books:


"Redefining Airmanship" by Tony Kern. 1997. McGraw Hill. This book will give you a new perspective on your own psychology and behavior, and will help you to become a much safer pilot. Examines how risk-taking is often contagious, looks at how some aviation subcultures have often tended to promote risk-taking behavior rather than seeking to reduce risk, and much more. Filled with real-life examples from military flying, commercial flying, and general aviation.


"Test Pilots: the frontiersmen of flight" by Richard P. Hallion. 1981 revised 1988. Smithsonian Institution Press. Covers the entire history of powered flight. A very good read, and provides some practical insight into stability and control issues.


The books listed below have little to do with the physics of flight, but are near the top of my aviation-related reading list:


"Spirit of St Louis" and "The wartime journals of Charles Lindbergh" by Charles Lindbergh. The first is a classic for obvious reasons and the second provides some extraordinary insight into the one man's view of the changes sweeping this world during the late 1930's and early 1940's.


More stories of extraordinary voyages:


"Gossamer Odyssey: The Triumph of Human-Powered Flight" by Morton Grosser. The story of Paul MacCready's projects that resulted in the first crossing of the English Channel via human-powered flight.


"The Double Eagle" by Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, Larry Newman. The first crossing of the Atlantic by manned balloon. Sadly, the hang glider had to be jetisoned...


"Voyager" by Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan with Phil Patton. 1987. Knopf. The first nonstop flight around the world.


"The Greatest Adventure" by Bertrand Piccard and Brain Jones. 1999. The first nonstop global circumnavigation by balloon.


Everything by and about the earliest pioneers of flight (Lilienthal, the Wrights, etc) including the following:


"Bird flight as the basis of aviation, a contribution toward a system of aviation" by Otto Lilienthal, with a biographical introduction and addendum by Gustav Lilienthal, translated from the second edition by A.W. Isenthal, forward by Mike Markowski. 2001 edition of 1889 classic. Markowski International Publishers. This is one of the books that inspired the Wrights, from the world's first real hang glider pilot. Includes an accurate description of the basic forces of gliding flight, many interesting comments on flapping and soaring bird flight, calculations of the work required for flight based on observations of flapping birds, an accurate description of the way that a bird in flight "feels" its airspeed, not its groundspeed, the development of curved airfoil theory based on observations of birds' wings and on experiments, and more. Yet there are some rather peculiar ideas here as well: at the time Otto wrote this book--which appears to be before he began his hang-gliding experiments--Otto appears not to understand that soaring flight is simply gliding flight conducted within a rising airmass, and that the forces acting on a soaring bird are completely identical to the forces acting on a gliding bird. As a result of this, and also as a result of the complexities introduced by the flapping action of a bird's wings, Otto reaches the conclusion that the power required for level flight is dependent on the wind speed. He views the action of the wind over the wings of a soaring bird as creating some sort of a thrust force, whereas today we would realize that the soaring bird's flight path through the airmass is inclined downward, and there is no aerodynamic thrust force acting in the "forward" direction in relation to the flight path. Otto's observations of seabirds--which today we would recognize as including many wind-gradient-based "dynamic soaring" effects--reinforced his idea that the wind created some sort of a "thrust" force on a soaring bird. After some experiments with lifting plates, Otto also came to the rather bizarre conclusions that the natural wind somehow has a greater lifting effect than does the relative wind created by the forward motion of a body through calm air, and that the natural wind always contains a rising component with respect to the ground. (It would be interesting to examine how these ideas changed as Otto gained experience with gliding and soaring during his thousands of hang-gliding flights.) Also, at the time of this writing, Otto didn't seem to realize that driving an aircraft forward through the air with a propeller would be an efficient way to allow it to maintain altitude--Otto's ideas for powered flight were focussed entirely on flapping wings.


"How we invented the airplane, an illustrated history" by Orville Wright. Edited and introduction and commentary by Fred C. Kelly, additional text by Alan Weissman. 1953. Dover Publications. The brief text in this thin book includes Orville Wright's own description of how the Wrights broke new ground on the basic principles of lateral stability and roll control, Orville's view of why adding a fixed vertical tail actually increased the 1902 glider's spiral instability and why a rudder was incorporated into the 1903 powered airplane, and the Wrights' experiences with the disadvantages and advantages of anhedral (especially in the dune environment).


Books on birds:


"Flight Strategies of Migrating Hawks" by Paul Kerlinger. 1989. University of Chicago press. Very thorough--the title says at all. Lots of emphasis on large-scale weather patterns for North America, especially for the eastern US. Includes aerodynamics issues such as aspect ratio and planform--lots of interesting food for thought here, though a soaring pilot will detect some inaccuracies in some areas.


"Hawks of North America" by William S. Clark and Brian K. Wheeler. 2001. Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin. Every soaring pilot should be familiar with his or her feathered friends, and the more general bird books are very inadequate for raptor ID.


"A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors" by Brian K. Wheeler and William S. Clark. 1995. Academic Press Inc. See above--either of these two books covers all the main points of raptor ID in North America very well.


"Hawks from every angle: how to identify raptors in flight" by Jerry Liguori, with a forward by David Sibley. 2005. Princeton University Press. While either of the above two books provide a superb coverage of the fine points of raptor ID in North America, this inexpensive book serves as an excellent supplement, focussing less on close-in views that show plumage details, and focussing more on providing photos from a wide range of different viewing angles, which helps the reader to absorb the subtle differences in wing shape and silhouette. Particularly valuable to soaring pilots because it includes good views of the top surfaces of the birds in flight. Includes lots of coverage of western birds.


"Raptors of Western North America" and "Raptors of Eastern North America" by Brian K. Wheeler. 2003. Princeton University Press. These books provide detailed photographic documentation of the various color morphs and subspecies of North American raptors, along with detailed notes on molt, habitat, behavior, flight style, voice, historical range, present range (including very detailed range maps), migration movements, and more. The Mississippi river is the dividing line between the "Eastern" and "Western" areas. Range maps include Canada and northern Mexico. This book would not serve well for in the-field-use by someone still learning the basic points of raptor ID at the species level, but is a very valuable resource for experienced observers--includes much more detail than any of the other three books listed immediately above.


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