Richard T. Whitcomb


Richard T. Whitcomb

Richard T. Whitcomb (1921, Evanston, Illinois) is an aeronautical engineer who spent most of his career at the Langley Laboratory of the NACA and its successor organization, NASA.

In the 1950s, Whitcomb proposed the 'Area Rule'. The Area Rule states that two bodies having the same cross-sectional area distribution will have the same wave drag, as measured in the far field. As the axi-symmetric body with the minimum wave drag in transonic flow was shown to be the Sears-Haack body, this provided an optimal distribution to compare designs with. The impact of this concept on aircraft design was immediate. The prototype Convair YF-102 was found to not be capable of exceeding the speed of sound in level flight. By sculpting the fuselage, to reduce the fuselage cross-sectional area in the region of the wing, the aircraft's area distribution was made closer to optimum. The resulting aircraft was found to be capable of exceeding the speed of sound in level flight.

In the 1960s, Whitcomb developed the supercritical airfoil, and in the 1970s, Whitcomb developed winglets, devices used at the wingtips, normal to the wingspar, extending both upward and downward, which reduce wingtip vortices and the induced drag such vortices create, improving the aerodynamic efficiency of the wing and seen frequently in modern airliners, in which they reduce fuel consumption, and in sailplanes in which they improve glide ratio.

External links

* [http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4305/ch11.htm The Slotted Tunnel and the Area Rule]


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