Theodore Theodorsen

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Theodore Theodorsen (January 8, 1897 – November 5, 1978) was a Norwegian-American theoretical aerodynamicist noted for his work at NACA and for his contributions to the study of turbulence. He and his family emigrated to the U.S. in 1924 and settled in Baltimore, Maryland. Theodorsen's thesis from johns Hopkins University dealt with thermodynamic and aerodynamic themes developed in two parts: 1) shock waves and explosions and 2) combustion and detonation. Through the urging of Dr. Joseph Ames, president of Johns Hopkins University and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the NACA, Theodorsen came to NACA in 1929 as an associate physicist.

Within a short time Theodorsen was made head of the Physical Research Division. Full Scale Wind Tunnel and the Tow Tank were some of the new buildings planned. The proposed location of the tow tank had formerly been a bombing range. One of Theodorsen's first activities was the invention of an instrument for detecting buried metals and on its very first use it located a live bomb.

Theodorsen was productive in a variety of experimental and theoretical areas. His research included:

  • Improvement of thin airfoil theory
  • Development of the theory of arbitrary wing sections
  • In-house noise research
  • Prevention and removal of aircraft icing
  • Contributtions to the theory of open, closed and partially open wind-tunnel test section
  • Development of the basic theory of aircraft flutter and its verification
  • Performed early measurements of skin friction at transonic and supersonic speeds
  • Ddevelopment of the use of freon for experimental aeroelastic work
  • Expansion of general propeller theory.

Theodorsen left NACA in 1946 and went to Brazil where helped to organize and administer the Instituto Tecnológico de Aeronáutica (1947–1950). Then he served as Chief Scientist for the U.S. Air Force (1950–1954) where he worked on the structure of turbulence. Theodorsen then became the Chief of Research for the Republic Aviation Corporation (manufacturer of the famous P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane of World War II, and after the war the F-84 Thunderjet and the F-105 Thunderchief) a post from which he retired in 1962 when he became an active consultant to the Sikorsky Helicopter Corporation where he specialized in ducted propeller work and helicopter rotors.

Theodore Theodoresen Display
Theodorsen with a research display in 1946

[top] Reports

General theory of aerodynamic instability and the mechanism of flutter. 1935. TR-496.

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