Aerodynamics (shaping of objects that affect the flow of air, liquid or gas) is a branch of fluid dynamics concerned with the study of forces generated on a body in a flow. The solution of an aerodynamic problem normally involves calculating for various properties of the flow, such as velocity, pressure, density, and temperature, as a function of space and time. Understanding the flow pattern makes it possible to calculate or approximate the forces and moments acting on bodies in the flow. This mathematical analysis and empirical approximation form the scientific basis for heavier-than-air flight.
Aerodynamic problems can be classified 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, the shock waves that form in front of the nose of a rocket or the flow of air over a hard drive head 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. Most aerodynamicists use numbers between 5 and 8.
The influence of viscosity in the flow dictates a third classification. Some problems involve only negligible viscous effects on the solution, in which case viscosity can be considered to be nonexistent. The approximations to these problems are called inviscid flows. Flows for which viscosity cannot be neglected are called viscous flows.