What are some good aerospace engineering books?

Below, I have provided links to the aerospace engineering books that I have come to value highly.

But before you get your wallet out, I offer the following cautionary tale:

Books occupy a perverse place in the mind of an engineer.

As a mechanical engineering student, I compiled a huge volume of engineering books.

For each new course and each new professor, a textbook was prescribed or me, which was usually not cheap.

It was assumed by one and all that, if you wanted to pass this course, you needed to buy (not borrow, buy) this book.

So by the end of my university days, I had accumulated a bookcase full of heavy, dust-laden books (which I proceeded to lug everywhere I moved).

Most of them, I never used again.

Eight years later, I switched careers, and went back to university to re-train in aerospace. Time for a new bookcase of books, aerospace engineering books this time.

Same mistake, repeated.

My advice:

Borrow as many books as you need.

Don’t buy until you’ve trudged back to the library for the third time, only to find the book you’re after is out on loan, and there’s nothing else like it available.

Then the saving in time and heartache makes buying the book worthwhile.

When you are post-university, on the job, you will come across a document here, and a document there, that is just so useful that you find yourself going back to them time and again.

Photocopy those. (Oops, I shouldn’t have told you that, should I?)

If that’s really risky because of company policy or whatever, then hand-write in your own notebook or your own online tool (e.g. Evernote) the information you need to retain.

In short, create your own aerospace engineering books as much as possible. Buy only what’s really valuable to you, or will cost you so much time to write down that it’s worth it to buy it. What you buy should occupy no more than one shelf on the bookcase. Half a dozen, ideally. Any more than that, and I think you’re fooling yourself.

Having said all this  .  .  .  .

I understand the perverse, geeky satisfaction that comes from having a pile of techie books at your beck and call.

I have more than a shelf’s worth myself. I can’t bear to part with them. It would seem a betrayal of all that is right and true in the world.

So if you’re determined to buy some really, really good airplane-geek books  .  .   .   .   check these out:

(Second disclaimer: The links are to brand new, hardbacks, which will last a lifetime, but don’t come cheap. If money is a problem, you can find a cheaper, second-hand copy if you hunt around.)

Aircraft Design: A Conceptual Approach, by Dan Raymer.

Yes, it is a book about conceptual, not detailed design, but don’t be fooled. This book is about the closest thing there is to an encyclopaedia of aircraft design. When I want to learn about some unlnown aspect of an aircraft, this is the first book I check out. His website AircraftDesign.com is also a goldmine of links to other relevant sites around the world.

Airframe Structural Design, by Michael Niu

A book by an engineer, for engineers, if ever there was one. Yes, it’s of particular use to structural designers and stress engineers, but the plethora of pictures and drawings of bits of structure and mechanisms are tremendously informative. This book is often just referred to as Niu’s green book, due to its green cover.

Airframe Stress Analysis and Sizing, also by Michael Niu

His red book. Both books accumulated from a lifetime of stress and structural analysis work at Boeing and Lockheed. This one is really only useful if you have some connection to stress analysis in your daily work. It is nevertheless a really well-laid-out manual for stress analysts. Niu also has a blue book, which is worth getting if your specialize in composite material applications.

I should mention that both of Niu’s books I bought as a practicing engineer, not as a student. That’s how good they are.

Mechanical Engineering Design, originally by Shigley and Mitchell (now just Shigley).

One of the few books I have kept from my undergraduate mechanical engineering days. At the time, I was much more interested in fluid mechanics than the hard, solid side of mechanical engineering. This book changed that. The layout is typical of the McGraw-Hill engineering series of books – very easy and readable. The balance between text, illustrations and mathematical equations is perfect, and the flow of logic as he explain the equations is equally perfect. Even when I haven’t been doing anything directly related to mechanical design, I will occasionally pull this book out to peruse, like a magazine.

Introduction to Flight, by John Anderson

Wow, what a gold mine.

I came across this book in a university library. I was working in an engineering job I didn’t enjoy, and I was supposed to be researching something else, but instead allowed myself to daydream about switching careers to aerospace. Introduction to Flight looked so tempting, I borrowed it and spent the next several evenings reading it at home like a novel. (Sad, I know, but some geeks do it.) I would go back to it again and again, to keep the dream alive. It’s got a healthy mix of text, equations and historical anecdotes about the early pioneers of flight.

Book that I have and recommend, but use rarely, include:

Fundamental of Aerodynamics, also by John Anderson

Probably only an essential if you find yourself actually doing aerodynamics or something directly related to it.

Fluid Dynamic Drag, by Sighard Hoerner

While I don’t often refer to it, this book provokes the most sincere admiration in me. It is the most comprehensive encyclopaedia of data and advice on fluid dynamic drag imaginable. Assembled by the author after emigration to America from World War II Germany, he could not find a publisher who could take him seriously. So he determinedly published it himself. Herr Hoerner is gone now, but his work is still, some 50 years later, the Bible on the subject. If you need a drag coefficient estimate for some obscure feature on your project, Hoerner has got something for you. An extraordinary engineer. They don’t make ’em like him anymore.

He also published a sort of sequel on lift entitled, appropriately enough, Fluid Dynamic Lift. However, I have no experience of it.

Flight Dynamics Principles, by Mike Cook

I stumbled on this one by virtue of its publication by a Cranfield professor coinciding with my arrival at Cranfield University for a year of study. I wasn’t even going to be concentrating on flight dynamics, but my interest in the subject and proximity to the author led me to gamble the money and buy it anyway. It has proved to be a very excellent source of information.

Aerodynamics, Aeronautics and Flight Mechanics, by McCormick

Again, a superb book. When researching an aerodynamic or flight-mechanics topic, I will generally start with an Anderson book, and if I don’t find what I’m after, McCo

Writing Better Requirements, by Alexander and Stevens

Not specific to aerospace, nor to any one field of work, for that matter. It is simply a very short, practical book that give you tips on writing requirements well, be they for a system, software or business.

Aeroelasticity, by Bisplinghoff, Ashley and Halfman.

You have to be a geek’s geek to benefit from this one. I got it by cheating. The company sent me on a week-long course in aeroelasticity, and this book got thrown in for free. The math is mind-numbing, but there is hardly a better source of information on the subject.

Introduction to Flight Test Engineering, originally by Ward and Strganac, now just Ward.

Only really of significant use if you get into flight testing. This was the other book I got for free at the aeroelasticity course. (The second author was the course instructor.) I have sadly not had much use for it, not ever having had much connection with flight testing.

Other books I don’t have, but that I know are good and very relevant, include:

Flight Dynamics, by Bernard Etkin

By and large still considered the Bible on the subject, several decades after its initial publication. I have never had cause to use it, but I am aware of its reputation amongst specialists in the field. Prof Etkin only recently passed away. His reputation was such that, during the Apollo 13 crisis, he was called on to do some calculations is support of the mission. Ironically, my father attended some of Prof. Etkin’s lectures, having been a student at the University of Toronto during the middle years of Prof. Etkin’s career.

Fluid Mechanics, by Frank White

This one, I also bought in my 3rd year mechanical engineering, and have since gotten rid of. I regret that. Have had many occasions when I wish I still had it to refer to.


– By Dave Kimbell

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