I am an aeronautical engineering student at Istanbul Technical University and our course plan includes Fortran as a programming language. I have some doubts about that because Fortran is an old language.

Is Fortran still being used in aviation?

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    $\begingroup$ The last stable release of Fortran was in 2008, and considering the language itself is almost 60 years old I wouldn't classify it as an "old" language, but a mature one. Granted it isn't used mainstream anymore, but for mathematical analysis Fortran is a very good language to know. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Nov 2 '16 at 12:22
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    $\begingroup$ You will learn "Programming". The language is not important (yet). $\endgroup$ – Giacomo Catenazzi Nov 2 '16 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ Given how old and outdated Fortran is, I expect it is used extensively in the aviation industry. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Nov 2 '16 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ @JonathanWalters If you think Fortran 2008 (or the upcoming 2015 version) are "outdated", most likely you don't actually know Fortran. You do realize that standard Fortran now supports object-oriented programming, parallel computing, etc, etc? Admittedly, there are lots of people still writing code that looks pretty much the same as Fortran 66 used to, but that's not the fault of the language. $\endgroup$ – alephzero Nov 2 '16 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ @alephzero: "standard Fortran now supports object-oriented programming" Which is perhaps a good reason NOT to use it in aviation. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 2 '16 at 18:06

FORTRAN is not used much that I'm aware of in aviation, but it is significantly used in aeronautical engineering. I work with people that use Mark Drela's 'xfoil', 'xrotor' and 'aswing' programs on a daily basis for the design and analysis of airfoils, propellers and aerostructures. And I've used the 'CHARM' model of rotorcraft dynamics. All of these are written in FORTRAN and you often need to know the language to debug them or integrate them into other programs e.g. for global design optimization.

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    $\begingroup$ It Fortran, not FORTRAN. For more than 25 years it has been. $\endgroup$ – Vladimir F Nov 2 '16 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ @VladimirF depends on its revision I guess... FORTRAN 66 and FORTRAN 77 are named in caps. $\endgroup$ – Ruslan Nov 2 '16 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Ruslan '77 goes back to 1977-1978 says Wikipedia, dating it to a conservative 37 years ago. I don't see how that contradicts Vladimir F's comment. $\endgroup$ – user Nov 3 '16 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling my point is that there may still be in use programs written in those old versions of the language. $\endgroup$ – Ruslan Nov 3 '16 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ NASTRAN, frequently used for FEA (Finite Element Analysis) in aerospace applications is written in FORTRAN and apparently skilled practitioners have to delve in at a low level in some serious applications. $\endgroup$ – Spehro Pefhany Nov 3 '16 at 16:01

Fokker Services and DynamicSource AB have jointly developed an iOS Application to run FORTRAN Take Off and Landing SCAP (Standard Computerised Airplane Performance) modules on the Apple iPad®. The app allows an operator to make the performance calculations shortly before take-off and therefore allows the opportunity to incorporate last minute changes with respect to aircraft loading and runway conditions.

OEM take-off and landing performance calculation modules are complying with the IATA SCAP interface specification. They are written in Fortran. Normally Fortran programs do not run on iPad® , but the software engineers from DynamicSource AB managed to make this possible.

The OEM-supplied SCAP module is combined with a calling program and an airport/obstacle database. Via a user-friendly Graphical User Interface (GUI) relevant data like aircraft-weight, wind, and runway condition are fed into the app. Within seconds the take-off and landing data like V1, V2 and flap setting are presented on the screen of the iPad®.


FORTRAN is still in active use for AT LEAST the following reasons, not all of which I have seen spelled out here:

  1. FORTRAN has a huge legacy base of code that just works and has stood the test of time. Sure, you can pipe the source through a FORTRAN-to-C converter (which is how some modern FORTRAN compilers actually work behind the scenes), but then you largely ruin any self-documenting nature of the code -- which for many programs and algorithms is the only documentation that exists or is complete and reliable.

  2. The syntax and control flow of FORTRAN is relatively simple compared to many modern languages and thus can be used as the "lingua franca" for distributing calculation algorithms that demonstrably work.

  3. As a corollary to the immediately preceding point, the fact that FORTRAN is a relatively "dead" language that will not be revised can be seen as a good thing. If you publish a scientific finding, and include the FORTRAN source of the algorithms used to extract the critical data and perform the analyses that support the finding, there is no question that in 50 or even 100 years, scientists and researchers will still be able to run your code somewhere. Can the same claim really be made for something like MATLAB? I think not.

You'd be crazy, of course, to try and write a GUI framework or really anything beyond pure number-crunching code in FORTRAN. But what it does, it still does very well.

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    $\begingroup$ the fact that FORTRAN is a relatively "dead" language that will not be revised WTF? Draft Fortran 2015 is already finished. (Fortran, not FORTRAN). Maybe you just meant that the backward compatibility will be maintained? $\endgroup$ – Vladimir F Nov 2 '16 at 18:35

Yes, Fortran is still being used. However, don't get too worried if you find your class less than exciting: Most Aerospace engineers don't do much (if any) computer programming. However, if you intend to go on to graduate school, pay attention in you Fortran class! I think your first priority (regardless of your grad school plans) should be Matlab. Everyone uses it today, especially if you publish. The power of Matlab (and Mathematica) is in their ability to do algebraic equation simplification and producing pretty (publish ready) output. Mathematica used to be the king of the hill in this area, but Matlab has pretty much pushed them out (although Mathematica is seeing resurgence due to the free Raspberry pi version). These are both great tools, but if you need to crunch big data, the tools of choice in Aerospace are Fortran or c/c++. Fortran is preferable when dealing with complex numbers and has many built-in vector, matrix, and mathematical functions. However, it falls short when trying to deal with pointers or interfacing with low level operating system functions (where c shines). But, only a small percentage of Aerospace engineers write code in these languages. Most of the Fortran at Boeing runs on their massively parallel machines performing electromagnetics and fluid dynamics calculations in research areas. The c languages are primarily used in embedded systems (avionics). My recommendation: You should be proficient in Matlab but know you way around (be able to read and understand) both Fortran and c...


My current employer in the flight simulation industry still uses it on new work. We are trying to move away from it, but its simply not possible (or sensible) to do 100% when we have a lot of fully-debugged reusable code written in it, and we still occasionally get flight models from vendors that employ it. (That right there is your big huge clue that yes, the Aviation industry is still using it)

I believe most other major players in the flight simulation business are in the same boat. Even when we do move away from it, its mostly to other non-VM procedural compiled languages like C++, which I suspect a lot of college students also consider "old languages" these days.

Even if we could get rid of Fortran in all our new jobs, we have a lot of delivered systems that use it, and those periodically need bug fixes or upgrades (obsolescent hardware replacement efforts, etc.). So we would still have to support Fortran for another couple of decades.


I've been told directly by a director of UAV development for the U.S. that Fortran is still used in their UAVs.

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    $\begingroup$ While this may be true, this answer would be much more helpful with more detail or sources to support it. $\endgroup$ – fooot Nov 3 '16 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ All I have is a personal statement made to me. Just annecdotal evidence from late 2000s. acq.osd.mil/sts/organization/bio-weatherington.shtml $\endgroup$ – user724067 Nov 7 '16 at 22:55

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