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Aerodynamics is a branch of dynamics concerned with studying the motion of air, particularly when it interacts with a moving object. Aerodynamics is a subfield of fluid dynamics and gas dynamics, with much theory shared between them. Aerodynamics is often used synonymously with gas dynamics, with the difference being that gas dynamics applies to all gases. Understanding the motion of air (often called a flow field) around an object enables the calculation of forces and moments acting on the object. Typical properties calculated for a flow field include velocity, pressure, density and temperature as a function of position and time. By defining a control volume around the flow field, equations for the conservation of mass, momentum, and energy can be defined and used to solve for the properties. The use of aerodynamics through mathematical analysis, empirical approximations, wind tunnel experimentation, and computer simulations form the scientific basis for heavier-than-air flight.

Aerodynamic problems can be identified in a number of ways. The flow environment defines the first classification criterion. External aerodynamics is the study of flow around solid objects of various shapes. Evaluating the lift and drag on an airplane or the shock waves that form in front of the nose of a rocket are examples of external aerodynamics. Internal aerodynamics is the study of flow through passages in solid objects. For instance, internal aerodynamics encompasses the study of the airflow through a jet engine or through an air conditioning pipe.

The ratio of the problem's characteristic flow speed to the speed of sound comprises a second classification of aerodynamic problems. A problem is called subsonic if all the speeds in the problem are less than the speed of sound, transonic if speeds both below and above the speed of sound are present (normally when the characteristic speed is approximately the speed of sound), supersonic when the characteristic flow speed is greater than the speed of sound, and hypersonic when the flow speed is much greater than the speed of sound. Aerodynamicists disagree over the precise definition of hypersonic flow; minimum Mach numbers for hypersonic flow range from 3 to 12.

The influence of viscosity in the flow dictates a third classification. Some problems may encounter only very small viscous effects on the solution, in which case viscosity can be considered to be negligible. The approximations to these problems are called inviscid flows. Flows for which viscosity cannot be neglected are called viscous flows.


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