Understanding Flight. Anderson, David F. and Scott Eberhardt,
Second Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2009. ISBN
978-0-07-162696-5. $43.95 Cdn.
As appeared in Volume 32 • 2 November 2010 of Elements Online
««« Reviewed by Stan Taylor
David Anderson is a retired Nuclear Physicist. He has degrees from the University of Washington, Seattle and a PhD in Physics from Columbia University. He has had a 30 year career in high energy physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory, CERN in Geneva and the Fermi National Accelorator Laboratory. Scott Eberhardt has degrees from MIT and a PhD in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University. He was a Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the University of Washington in Seattle for 20 years and is now lead engineer, Design Division at Boeing in Seattle. Both men are private pilots.
The authors scientifically challenge the Bernoulli explanation of flight found in many textbooks and pilot’s manuals. Anderson and Eberhardt explain and prove that the Bernoulli explanation is just plain wrong.
The authors make the argument that an airplane wing produces lift in response to
huge amounts of air being drawn across the top of its wings and diverted down off
the trailing edge of the wing. From a simplistic and explanatory perspective, with all that air being redirected down which is the action, the reaction is the plane goes up.
Presto: Newton’s Third Law. The authors go on to explain that it is the Coanda Effect, viscosity, and the boundary layer that keep the air bent over the curvature of the wing. Without these phenomena flight is not possible.
The book is written for the average reader who does not have a degree in physics. It
is a non-mathematical approach to the physics of flight that reads like a novel.
There are insertions, like sidebars, which contain facts about flight and aviation history. These make for fascinating reading, yet do not take away from the flow of the book. The many illustrations and pictures complement the points the authors are making.
This second edition to the first one published in 2001 has two additional chapters: One is on helicopters and autogyros, and the other is about how airplanes are constructed. As the authors state in their Introduction, “…this book is a
complete course in the principles of aeronautics, presented in straightforward, physical terms. We believe that the information will be accessible to nearly all who read it.”
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in flight.
Stan Taylor is a retired elementary school teacher. He currently does science workshops for Scientists in School and is a member of the Crucible and Elements Editorial Committee (CEEC).