A polymath and engineer, Lanchester made important contributions to automotive engineering and to aerodynamics; he worked extensively with both gas and petrol engines. He also co-invented the topic of operations research. The Lanchester Engine Company (later Lanchester Motor Company) was a pioneer of automotive design. In 1909, he became a technical consultant for the Daimler Company, where he worked on the Daimler-Knight engine which powered their cars until the mid-1930s.
His aerodynamic work began eleven years before the first successful powered flight, in 1892. In 1909 Herbert Henry Asquith's Royal Advisory Committee on Aeronautics was established, Lanchester was appointed a member and foresaw the impact of flight on warfare; he became interested in predicting aerial battles and formed his Power Laws to do so. In the same year, patented contra-rotating propellers.