< home

< discs main

Von Kármán's Wright Brothers Lecture

April 1947


On April 18, 1947, renowned aerodynamicist Theodore von Kármán, a professor at Cal Tech's Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory and the Air Force's chief scientific advisor, gave the Tenth Wright Brothers lecture of the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences in Washington. The topic was supersonic aerodynamics, a rapidly growing field with important implications for the future of aircraft and rocket design. Von Kármán was widely considered to be one of the world's greatest experts in the science of aerodynamics, and his lectures were fascinating excursions to its frontiers.

The fact that he used an elliptical wing planform as the basis for his discussion of the intricacies of airflow concepts at and above the speed of sound seems to be a rather arresting coincidence, considering that just as the article was published the world's newspapers were full of reports of similar-looking objects seen streaking through the skies. However, it seems that the elliptical shape was a generic form of wing that was used to represent supersonic wings in calculations.