AVSC 1010 Lecture 1
Brilliant, dashing, winged thing
Moving there across the sky,
What new message do you bring
Unto mankind as you fly?
—American poem from 1910,
The last century of human achievement has been marked by astounding progress in
medicine, computers, power, and hundreds of other fields. Of these, the field of aerospace
has grown and developed more than any other.
Aerospace is the combination of aviation (flight within the earth’s atmosphere) and space
flight (flight beyond the protection of the atmosphere). The two fields are so unavoidably
linked that the companies that manufacture aircraft also manufacture spacecraft. These
companies comprise one of the largest contributors to the world economy: the aerospace
Aerospace has made the world a smaller place by decreasing our travel times between
nations. Only fifty years ago it took weeks on a ocean voyager to travel to other continents;
today that same trip may take only half a day in an airplane. It is now possible to fight forest
fires from the air, rain death from bombers, drop food packages into remote, famine-stricken
areas, and travel from California to New Jersey to visit your Aunt Martha for Thanksgiving
The development of the aerospace field is fascinating. Of course, it is the obligation of all
teachers to present their unique field as “the most important or fascinating,” but as a part-time
professor and a full-time airline pilot, I can say that aviation is truly as exciting as your
textbook says it is.
But what did flying mean to the many people who made flight possible? What did flying mean
to our ancestors watching the flight of birds? What does flying mean to us?
Flying Was for the Birds
We believe the earliest flights began with the dinosaurs. Giant flying reptiles larger than the
largest birds seen today terrorized the skies some 100 million years ago. Actual glider models
have been produced by paleontologists based on fossil records of the creatures. But we can
only guess how far and how high they flew.
Most paleontologists do agree that these flying dinosaurs are closely related to the birds.
Some scientists also argue that the bird is the closest living relative of the dinosaur. Other
flying creatures, including insects and mammals such as bats, were said to have evolved in
An American Golden Eagle in flight
The flights of birds, dinosaurs, and aircraft are explained by basic principles of physics, which
will be discussed in greater detail in a few chapters. For now, but I’ll give you a foundation to
help build your knowledge. Some of you may still be under the mistaken notion that “there is
no there there” in the air (greatest apologies to Gertrude Stein for messing up her famous
line). Yet air is not empty; it is full of trillions of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide
molecules as well as other microscopic particles.
Air is very similar to the liquid of the oceans. The only real difference is the obvious one: the