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The Science of Flight

Master the principles of flight with an award-winning professor and Smithsonian curators.
The Science of Flight is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 102.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too technical This really should be called Introduction to Aeronautical Engineering, a college-level course for engineering students. Pretty much every lecture was filled with equation after equation. Technically that's science of flight, yes, but I've watched a lot of other Great Courses that explain complicated stuff without resorting to one equation after another. I lost interest in following the equations by about the third lecture and therefore a number of explanations probably flew by me. For instance, I still don't know what makes a jet engine rotor turn even though I watched a 30-minute lecture on the subject. In the final lecture, the instructor ends with the question: why do birds flap their wings but airplanes do not? I watched it twice: he replies that birds and planes follow the same laws of aerodynamics but never answers the question about flapping. If you overlook all the technical jargon and overload of equations, the course is well organized and there certainly is a lot interesting stuff in here. The interviews at the Smithsonian that start every lecture were very informative and added a lot.
Date published: 2023-12-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Difficult to review The first two lectures may well put most people off, as they are overloaded with equations. JG is an engineer, but he doesn’t seem to have realised that most people who try to watch this series of lectures are not ! Indeed, equations abound in all the lectures ! Having said this, if one listens to the verbal explanations, there is much to be learnt here. The introductions to each lecture, done by someone from the Smithsonian, are also valuable. Many of the movie clips provide exciting images. All in all, a thought-provoking Course, but not for individuals who like to be spoon-fed.
Date published: 2023-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best course This is certainly the best course out of several that I have.
Date published: 2022-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A quality series. The presentation is well organized and well paced and is delivered by a doctorate level aeronautical engineer who is faculty at Ohio's premier university. Dr. Gregory is also involved in the non-academic aerospace industry and he is himself a pilot.
Date published: 2022-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course! Good Visuals, Great real life examples, Nice pace, Excellent Presenters! My son who is a graduate level Aerospace Engineering student was impressed with the faculty from Ohio State and the coverage of the material.
Date published: 2022-06-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from OVER PRICED AND OUT DATED I watch threw them all and they were soo overpriced and outdated. They would be worth it for just 20 bucks but 60 terrible they were soo out dated just UPDATE IT
Date published: 2022-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Let's be serious I will start by dissing most of the reviewers who offered 3 or fewer stars. Look at the title. Expect that there will be a lot of technical stuff. That does include formulae...which you are free to ignore as there is no exam at the end of the course. The intelligent viewer can choose to ignore all the formulae (as I did...I no longer take exams!) and still appreciate all the substance. But the substance is all about science and physics and appeals to flight-nerds and physics-nerds of which I am one....If you are not, the title alone should have told you this course is not for you. If we were allowed to provide fractional ratings, I would record a rating ever so slightly lower than 5 [(perhaps Score = log(my IQ-my age)/(my GPA) -(My SAT scores/my birth year) + (ln(my social security number to the negative power of my dad's birth year)....did I sufficiently alienate those who hate formulae?]....back to language...I would take off a fraction of a point for the lecturer's failure to mention by name Dr Robert Goddard and give him his due in the lecture on rocketry. Dr Goddard was the father of modern rocketry.
Date published: 2021-11-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too much math I bought this course because I have always been interested in flight and airplanes. Please note that there is nothing wrong with the Professor...he does a great job and is entertaining as well. I returned the course because he gets way too detailed in the math behind flight. I really don't need to know the coefficient of drag in detail. If math is your thing, this may be a great course for you. If, like me, you simply want to understand why/how planes fly, this may be a bit too much in the weeds.
Date published: 2021-10-18
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Taught by Professor James Gregory of Ohio State University, with commentary by Smithsonian curators and examples from the National Air and Space Museum, this course is a treasure trove for all who wonder where lift comes from, how a pilot flies a plane, what air traffic controllers do, and many other things about flight, including how rockets and orbits work. Extensive graphics make the concepts clear.


James W. Gregory

It has been the constant of trying to break the bonds of Earth that has fueled our efforts to engage in flight.


The Ohio State University

James W. Gregory is Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at The Ohio State University. He received a bachelor of science degree in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Tech and a doctorate in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Purdue University. He is also an instrument-rated private pilot with more than 200 hours of flight time in gliders and single- and multi-engine aircraft.

Prior to his arrival at Ohio State in 2008, Dr. Gregory's work experience included stints at Delta Air Lines, NASA's Glenn Research Center, and Tohoku University in Japan. He also served as a policy fellow at the National Academy of Engineering, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the United States Air Force Academy, and he held a summer faculty fellowship at the Air Force Research Laboratory Air Vehicles Directorate.

Dr. Gregory's innovative teaching has earned him Ohio State's David C. McCarthy Engineering Teaching Award and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Outstanding Professor Award, as well as the SAE Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award. In 2014-2015, he was honored as a Fulbright Scholar at the Israel Institute of Technology (Technion) in Haifa, Israel.

Dr. Gregory's research has been funded by more than $10 million from industry and government, and has resulted in more than 100 publications. He is currently completing a book on the flight testing of light aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

By This Professor

The Science of Flight
The Science of Flight


Fundamentals of Flight: Gliding

01: Fundamentals of Flight: Gliding

How did two world-class pilots coax their glider to a new altitude record? Focus on this feat as a lesson in the key principles of winged flight-including angle of attack, lift, drag, thrust, and weight. Also explore "the miracle on the Hudson," when airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger glided his jet to an emergency water landing. Close your first lesson with an investigation of the control inputs:...

35 min
Balloons, Buoyancy, and the Atmosphere

02: Balloons, Buoyancy, and the Atmosphere

Balloons were the first vehicles to fly and Archimedes' principle is the secret of their lift-carrying power. Use the ideal gas law to determine air density and the hydrostatic equation to chart air pressure versus altitude. Then apply these concepts to lighter-than-air craft to learn how the Breitling Orbiter balloon was able to circumnavigate the globe non-stop....

35 min
Takeoff: How Wings Produce Lift

03: Takeoff: How Wings Produce Lift

Lift is the fundamental force involved in winged flight. It is also fraught with misunderstanding. Debunk a popular but incorrect explanation of lift, known as the equal-time theory. Then gain a deep appreciation for the power of air flowing around an airfoil at differing angles of attack. Also examine Albert Einstein's misguided attempt to design a better airfoil....

31 min
Drag Trade-Offs and Boundary-Layer Turbulence

04: Drag Trade-Offs and Boundary-Layer Turbulence

Focus on parasitic drag, a byproduct of moving an aircraft through the air, which has no practical benefit and is therefore like a parasite. Zero in on two aspects of parasitic drag: skin friction and pressure. Observe how these phenomena arise and how they can be reduced, which is a key goal of aircraft design. Learn about laminar flow as well as golf ball design....

34 min
Stall Events and Lift-Induced Drag

05: Stall Events and Lift-Induced Drag

Aerodynamic stall occurs when lift suddenly decreases, causing drag to rise steeply. Consider the role of stall in several notable air accidents, and see a demonstration in which Professor Gregory deliberately pilots a plane through a stall, showing how to recover. Also look at technological measures to combat stall and the problem of induced drag....

34 min
Wind Tunnels and Predicting Aerodynamics

06: Wind Tunnels and Predicting Aerodynamics

Starting with the Wright brothers, trace the role of wind tunnels for studying lift and drag on aircraft structures-research that sparked the rapid advancement of aviation. Aerodynamic research also involves analysis and computations. Get a taste of this process by analyzing conservation of mass, momentum, and energy as they relate to lift and drag....

33 min
Propeller Aircraft: Slow and Efficient

07: Propeller Aircraft: Slow and Efficient

Apply concepts of lift and drag to propulsion, focusing on the internal combustion engine and propeller-still the most efficient power plant for aircraft flying at low speeds. Study the four-cycle engine and the design of propellers, which are rotating wings twisted to present an optimum angle of attack across their entire length....

34 min
Jet Aircraft: Thrust to Fly Fast

08: Jet Aircraft: Thrust to Fly Fast

Propeller-driven aircraft drop sharply in efficiency at high fractions of the speed of sound. For sustained high-speed flight, a different propulsion system is needed-the jet engine. Trace the history of jets and their super-efficient variant used on commercial airliners-the high-bypass turbofan, a machine so intricate and beautiful that a piece of one is on display at the Museum of Modern Art....

32 min
Aircraft Structures and Materials

09: Aircraft Structures and Materials

For anyone who gets the jitters during heavy turbulence, fear not: the plane is designed to take it! Follow the evolution of airframes from wood to metal to today's composite materials. Consider the problem of designing a sturdy structure that is still light enough to fly efficiently. Also look at tragic accidents that revealed the limits of certain materials and led to safer planes....

37 min
Aircraft Stability and Flight Control

10: Aircraft Stability and Flight Control

Trace the quest for stable, controlled flight back to aviation pioneers Samuel P. Langley, the Wright brothers, and Glenn Curtiss. Stability means producing forces that restore an aircraft to equilibrium when perturbed, while control entails deflection of control surfaces to alter the pitch, roll, or yaw effects that act on the aircraft's center of gravity....

34 min
Flying Faster and Higher

11: Flying Faster and Higher

Enter the realm of extreme flight, exploring how fast and how high a plane can go. The answers are remarkably precise and help define a given aircraft's flight envelope. Learn how aeronautical engineers calculate parameters such as airspeed for best climb angle, service ceiling, absolute ceiling, time to climb, stall speed, maximum speed, and speed for optimal cruise....

37 min
Breaking the Sound Barrier and Beyond

12: Breaking the Sound Barrier and Beyond

During and just after World War II, the quest for ever faster fighter planes reached an apparent natural barrier-the speed of sound. On approaching this limit, aircraft became unstable and uncontrollable. Discover how a new approach to aircraft design solved the problem of compressibility and shock waves in this transonic region, paving the way for supersonic flight....

36 min
Long-Distance Flight and Predicting Range

13: Long-Distance Flight and Predicting Range

Planes take off with only the fuel required for the planned trip-plus a safety margin. Since there are no filling stations in the sky, the calculations must be precise, taking account of the plane's performance characteristics, the weather, and other factors. Learn the equations that pilots use and hear a riveting story about what happens when they get it wrong....

33 min
Aerobatics and Dogfighting

14: Aerobatics and Dogfighting

Dogfighting is not just about stick-and-rudder skills; a pilot must understand the physics behind aerial maneuvering. Focus on turn performance, which is the key factor that limits maneuverability and is the cause of many fatal loss-of-control accidents. Learn how energy management is the secret of success in aerial combat, and get tips on performing a barrel roll....

32 min
Mission Profiles and Aircraft Design

15: Mission Profiles and Aircraft Design

Roll up your sleeves and learn how to design an aircraft, using an approach that has hardly changed in a century of building new airplanes. Start out by determining the weight values, maximum lift coefficient, wing loading, and thrust-to-weight ratio. Next lay out a configuration. Finally, iterate, making modifications and adjustments to perfect your vehicle....

33 min
Primary Cockpit Instruments

16: Primary Cockpit Instruments

Focus on the science and engineering of the flight instruments. First, look at the hazards faced by even experienced pilots in the era before the altimeter and attitude indicator, learning how these vital instruments work. Then consider the importance of the airspeed indicator, turn coordinator, heading indicator, and vertical speed indicator....

34 min
Air Traffic Navigation and Communication

17: Air Traffic Navigation and Communication

On a typical weekday, five to ten thousand aircraft are in the air over the U.S. at a given moment, flying to different cities at varying speeds and different altitudes. Survey the methods, tools, and jargon of air traffic controllers, who keep this traffic moving safely and expeditiously. Also look ahead to next-generation enhancements in the air traffic control system....

33 min
Flight Autonomy and Drones

18: Flight Autonomy and Drones

Automated flight systems are increasingly used in human-piloted aircraft, where their nearly fail-safe expertise creates some unusual problems. Also look at remotely piloted vehicles, also called drones. Pioneered by the military, these are taking to the sky for a variety of practical civilian missions, including recreational uses....

32 min
Helicopters and Vertical Flight

19: Helicopters and Vertical Flight

Helicopters are so unlike fixed-wing aircraft in appearance and operation that it's hard to believe they work on the same aerodynamics principles. Focus on their ingenious rotor blades, which are rotating wings. Explore the challenge of flying a chopper, and learn why it's safer to lose power at altitude in a helicopter than in an airplane....

33 min
Rocket Science and the Evolution of Launch

20: Rocket Science and the Evolution of Launch

Fly beyond the atmosphere with the only vehicle now capable of reaching space-the rocket. Discover that rocket science is not "rocket science," in the sense of being extraordinarily difficult. It's just basic physics and chemistry. Review the fundamentals of solid and liquid propellants, thrust, specific impulse, stability, nozzle design, and the advantages of using multiple stages....

32 min
Orbiting Earth Means Always Falling

21: Orbiting Earth Means Always Falling

Having ascended into space in the previous lecture, now investigate your orbital options. Whether you go into a circular, elliptical, or Earth-escape orbit-or make it into orbit at all-depends on your cutoff velocity. Calculate different orbits, including the Hohmann transfer ellipse needed for efficiently changing orbits. Also relive the orbital rendeSTous exploits of Gemini 8 and Apollo 11....

34 min
To Mars and Beyond: Gravity-Assist Flight

22: To Mars and Beyond: Gravity-Assist Flight

Venture beyond Earth to the realm of the planets. Interplanetary trajectories require exquisite timing so that the target planet is in exactly the right spot when the spacecraft arrives, often by a Hohmann transfer ellipse. Consider two fuel-saving approaches to these marathon journeys-gravity assists and ion propulsion....

31 min
Atmospheric Reentry: Ballistic, Skip, Glide

23: Atmospheric Reentry: Ballistic, Skip, Glide

Now return to Earth, analyzing the problem of decelerating from orbital or escape speed to a gentle touchdown on land or water. Calculate the amount of energy that must be lost during the plunge through the atmosphere, and consider three approaches to reentry, including that of the Space Shuttle, which unfortunately ended tragically for Columbia in 2003. Also look at the dire reentry scenario face...

34 min
The Future of Air and Space Flight

24: The Future of Air and Space Flight

Close by probing future developments in air and space flight. See these two realms combined in two vehicles: the White Knight aircraft that launches the Space Ship One capsule, and the proposed Mars atmospheric flyer. Consider technically possible devices such as the space elevator, solar-powered aircraft, and personal air vehicles. And that's just the beginning, for the sky is truly the limit!...

39 min
Bonus Material: Gustave Eiffel's Wind Tunnels

25: Bonus Material: Gustave Eiffel's Wind Tunnels

Interview with Dr. John Anderson regarding Gustave Eiffel's Wind Tunnels and his career as an applied scientist in the field of aerodynamics. Dr. Anderson is the Curator of Aeronautical Engineering, Aeronautics Department at Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum....

5 min
Bonus Material: Engineering Faster Flight Speeds

26: Bonus Material: Engineering Faster Flight Speeds

Interview with Dr. John Anderson regarding flight speed engineering....

13 min
Bonus Material: Why the Wright Flyer Succeeded

27: Bonus Material: Why the Wright Flyer Succeeded

Interview with Dr. John Anderson regarding how and what contributed to the success of the Wright Flyer....

10 min
Bonus Material: The Wright Brothers' Innovations

28: Bonus Material: The Wright Brothers' Innovations

Interview with Dr. Tom Crouch regarding the many innovations of the Wright Brothers. Dr. Crouch is the Senior Curator, Aeronautics Department at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum....

3 min
Bonus Material: Higher, Farther, Faster

29: Bonus Material: Higher, Farther, Faster

Interview with Dr. Roger D. Launius, Former Associate Director of Collections and Curatorial Affairs with Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum....

21 min