Frederick W. Lanchester Presents Airflow Theory – Airways Magazine
DALLAS – In Aviation Today, English polymath and engineer Frederick W. Lanchester presented his theory of circulatory airflow to the Birmingham Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1894.
The theory would later become a mainstay of aerodynamics and modern airfoil theory.
Lanchester was born on October 23, 1868 in Lewisham, London. After completing his studies, Lanchester developed an interest in engineering.
From Nautical to Aeronautical
His idea of circulatory airflow was born while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Lanchester studied the herring gulls that followed the liner during the long days at sea. He observed how the birds could fly visually still, soaring along the air currents. He measured various birds to understand how the center of gravity contrasted with the center of support.
Upon returning home, Lanchester began working on his theory of flight, some eleven years before the Wright brothers made the world’s first successful powered flight. In 1894 he built several models and began testing the theory in his garden in Birmingham, UK.
“A Fool’s Dream”
But disappointment followed. His ideas were immediately discouraged, despite Lanchester’s belief in his aerodynamic hypothesis. He later explained how he had been “seriously warned that my profession as an engineer would suffer if I meddle in a subject that was just a fool’s dream!”
Lanchester continued. He pursued his passion for aeronautics while making many pioneering developments in the automotive industry, such as the gasoline engine. He would later discover the air “vortex” effect due to the friction of air moving over the wings and offer the first detailed description of lift and drag.
As aircraft design developed over the years, Lanchester’s contributions were eventually recognized. Unfortunately, this was not before his death on March 8, 1946.
Featured image: Condensation swirls seen above a Hawaiian Airlines (HA) Airbus A321neo wing approaching Oakland (OAK). Photo: Bill Abbott, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.