Right Stuff for the Wright brothers

Q. A consultant has the power to take the Wright brothers forward or backward in time to gather tips for their Wright Flyer. The travel agent, a history buff, suggests Isaac Newton, England, 1687, or Daniel Bernoulli, Russia, 1738. The consultant says, “No, take us to Langley, Virginia, 1941, Bob Gilruth.” The agent looks puzzled: “You mean the space guy?” What doesn’t the agent know?

Draft a response of no more than 250 words and email it by noon Eastern March 15 to aeropuzzler@aiaa.org for a chance to have it published in the April issue.

DESIGNING FOR TITAN RETURN VELOCITY: We asked you what’s wrong with a junior engineer’s plan to design a small nose radius for a reentry body that will return hydrocarbons from Saturn’s moon Titan.

WINNER: A sharp-nosed reentry vehicle will experience less drag than a blunt body due to the fact that the shockwave is oblique rather than detached, however it is this same phenomenon (the oblique shock) which dooms a sharp-nosed design. Peak heating occurs near the shock front, and the detached shock characteristic of a blunt body thus keeps the area of peak heating displaced from the surface of the reentry vehicle. The sharp-nosed body’s oblique shock, on the other hand, brings the area of peak heating right to the leading edge surface of the reentry vehicle. This intense heat flux will cause ablation of the leading edge until the reentry vehicle “naturally” assumes the shape of a blunt body.

Joseph Kusko
Kusko is a junior studying aerospace engineering at Texas A&M in College Station.

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Right Stuff for the Wright brothers