Michael Max Munk

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Max M. Munk, chief of aerodynamics, in his office at Langley, 1926

Max Michael Munk (October 22, 1890—1986)[1] was a German aerospace engineer who for National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in the 1920s and made contributions to the design of airfoils.

Education and early career[edit]

Munk earned an engineering degree from the Hanover Polytechnic School in 1914, and earned doctorates in both physics and mathematics from the University of Göttingen in 1917. After World War I, NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, later to become NASA) brought Munk to the United States. President Woodrow Wilson signed orders allowing Munk to come to the United States and work in government. These orders were required since Germany was a recent enemy and Munk had worked briefly for the German Navy.

Career at NACA[edit]

Munk began work at NACA in 1920 and proposed building the new Variable-Density Wind Tunnel (VDT)[2] which went into operation in 1922. Munk published more than 40 articles with NACA.

Thin airfoil theory[edit]

Munk is best known for his development of thin airfoil theory, a means of modelling the behaviour of airfoils by separating their shape (the "mean camber line"[3]) and their varying thickness.[4] This allows separate, and simpler, techniques to model each behaviour. Lift may be assumed to depend on the camber (and angle of attack) alone, and could be modelled by the numerical techniques of the period. Drag depends on the thickness and requires an understanding of viscous flow, which was beyond contemporary capabilities. The thin airflow technique was introduced in 1922 and remained the major theoretical design technique until the development of laminar flow airfoils in the 1930s.[5]


  • Gorn, Michael H. Expanding the envelope: Flight Research at NACA and NASA. ISBN 0-8131-2205-8. 
  1. ^ Anderson, John David (1999). A history of aerodynamics and its impact on flying machines. Cambridge University Press. p. 290. ISBN 0-521-66955-3. Retrieved July 21, 2010. 
  2. ^ "The Variable-Density Wind tunnel". NASA. 
  3. ^ "Mean camber line" is a conceptual curved line drawn through the mean centre of the airfoil, equally spaced from the upper and lower surfaces
  4. ^ Distribution of thickness across the chord, i.e. from front to back of the airfoil
  5. ^ Vincenti, Walter G. (1990). What engineers know and how they know it. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 36–39. ISBN 0-8018-4588-2. 

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