The Simple Science of Flight - from insects to jumbo jets
Henk Tennekes
The MIT Press (1997)
Aerodynamics, Birds, Flight, Technology & Engineering / Aeronautics & Astronautics, Transportation / Aviation / History
From the smallest gnat to the largest aircraft, all things that fly obey the same aerodynamic principles. The Simple Science of Flight offers a leisurely introduction to the mechanics of flight and, beyond that, to the scientific attitude that finds wonder in simple calculations, forging connections between, say, the energy efficiency of a peanut butter sandwich that fuels your body and that of the kerosene that fuels a jumbo jet.

It is the product of a lifetime of watching and investigating the way flight happens. He covers paper airplanes, kites, gliders, and human-powered flying machines as well as birds and insects, explaining difficult concepts like lift, drag, wing loading, and cruising speed through many fascinating comparisons, anecdotes, and examples.

Equations, often the best shorthand to explain and connect phenomena, are integrated seamlessly into the flow of the text in such a way that even math-phobic readers should not be put off. Tennekes begins with a simple comparison of the relative fuel consumption of hummingbirds, cars, and airplanes, then turns to the relations between an airplane's weight, its wing area, and its cruising speed.

After showing that it is possible to collect data on all flying creatures and flying machines in a single "Great Flight Diagram", he looks at energetics through the considerable efforts of a little 35-gram bird in a wind tunnel. There are stories on the effects of headwinds, tailwinds, and weather conditions on both birds and planes, on the elegance of the mechanics that makes flight possible, and on the aerodynamics of sophisticated flying toys.