Ludwig Prandtl “Farther of modern aerodynamics”

cross-post from DLR (German Aerospace Center)

100 Jahre – Ludwig Prandtl “Father of modern aerodynamics”


Ludwig Prandtl is today considered one of the key founding fathers of institutionalised aerospace research. When he founded the Modellversuchsanstalt für Aerodynamik der Motorluftschiff-Studiengesellschaft [Institute for testing of aerodynamic models of the powered airship society] which would later become the Aerodynamischen Versuchsanstalt, [Institute for Aerodynamic Testing] or AVA, a precursor of the modern day German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in 1907 in Göttingen, he was laying the foundations of modern aerodynamic research. He is considered the “Father of modern aerodynamics” and founder of modern study of aerodynamics Colleagues describe him as “an extroadinary scholar, a successful teacher and a good man“.

Ludwig Prandtl was born on 4.2.1875 in Freising, studied Engineering as the assistant of August Föppl in Munich and graduated with doctorate status (Dr. phil) from Munich University in 1900. He worked towards his professorship in mechanics at Technische Hochschüle Hannover [Hanover University] and lived in Göttingen from 1904 until he died on 15.8.1953. Ludwig Prandtl was appointed to the University of Göttingen in 1904. In Göttingen, he worked as Professor of technichal physics from 1904 to 1947 and as Professor of applied mechanics from 1907. Ludwig Prandtl was the first person in Germany to receive a lecturing post in the study of aerospace in 1909.

The enthusiasm for flight grew rapidly in the first few years of the last century. This lead to the founding of 1907 the Modellversuchsanstalt der Motorluftschiff-Studiengesellschaft, M.St.G. [the Institute for testing aerodynamic models of the powered airship society] which would later become the Aerodynamischen Versuchsanstalt, AVA, [Institute for Aerodynamic testing] which Ludwig Prandtl would head from 1907 to 1937. Ludwig Prandtl held the post of Chairman of the Board of AVA from 1938 to 1945. 

zum Bild Modellversuchsanstalt für Aerodynamik

The first wind tunnel was constructed in 1908 on the Hildebrandstraße in Göttingen, where the first aerospace models were tested. In 1917, measuring operations in a new, larger wind tunnel were already in service to analyse aircraft on the site in Böttingerstraße in Göttingen. This first wind tunnel was known around the world, and especially in the USA as the “Göttinger Construction”. Prandtls dream of founding a new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Hydrodynamics was fulfilled and at the same time he decided to make Göttingen his future place of work. He headed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for aerodynamic research, inaugurated in 1925, now the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, from 1925 to 1947 in very difficult times, politically and economically.

In 1912 Ludwig Prandtl held the post of founding member and Chief Executive of the Scientific Aerospace Society in Berlin. In 1914 he became a member of the Scientific Society of Göttingen. In 1922 he held the post of founding member and Chief Executive of the Society for Applied Mathematics and Mechanics (GAMM), where he remained Chief Executive until 1950. 

Ludwig Prandtl was not only a researcher and teacher. He was also in charge of science and a political advisor at the same time. He designed the construction of the “Modellversuchsanstalt“ [Model Testing Institute], of the Institute for Aerodynamic Testing and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and he was advisor to the Ministry of Transport on issues concerning the promotion of aerospace research. From this came his membership on the board of the newly created Lilienthal Society for Aerospace Research from 1936 to 1945.

He was awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of Danzig, Zurich, Prague, Trondheim, Bucharest and Istanbul. Ludwig Prandtl was decorated for outstanding service, being awarded the Großes Verdienstkreuz [highest order of merit] of the Federal Republic of Germany. Ludwig Prandtl became Emeritus Professor at the University of Göttingen in 1947.

The following areas can be attributed to the research carried out by Ludwig Prandtls and his postgraduates:

  • Elasticity, plasticity, rheology
  • Boundary layer and resistance
  • Turbulence and eddy formation
  • Gas dynamics
  • Wings
  • Model testing body
  • Meteorology

zum Bild Airship in the wind tunnel

In total, Ludwig Prandtl supervised 85 dissertations. Above all, mention should be made of Jakob Ackeret, Adolf Busemann, Theodore von Kármán, Oskar Tietjens, Walter Tollmien and Hermann Schlichting and their renowned work on boundary layer and resistance, who would all later be recognised as outstanding aerospace scientists.

Ludwig Prandtl was characterised by a very contemplative style of thinking which enabled him to solve substantial mathematical problems. He analysed boundary layers in wall areas on wing surfaces and always confirmed his theoretical declarations through wind tunnel experiments. His groundbreaking work on wing theory provided the first declarations on the effect of forces on wings. Ludwig Prandtl also enjoyed success with his analyses of compressible flow currents. In Göttingen, he not only developed low-speed wind tunnels but also supervised the construction of the first supersonic wind tunnel in Germany.

Ludwig Prandtl possessed a wealth of ideas and plans and when it came to mathematical or experimental problems, he was always available as the patient teacher for his colleagues and students. His drive for research, his passion for new challenges and above all his professional methodology have been imprinted on his numerous students at home and abroad. Many have acted as new catalysts of the Prandtl school and have passed on his ideas to their own students.


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