As is well known, the elastic stability of shell structures under certain loading conditions is characterised by a severely unstable postbuckling behaviour. The presence of simultaneous buckling modes ('competing' modes corresponding to the same critical buckling load) is deemed to be largely responsible for such a behaviour. In the present paper, within the framework of the so-called classical theory (linear bifurcation eigenvalue analysis), the buckling behaviour of axially compressed cylindrical shells is firstly reviewed. Accordingly, doubly periodic eigenvectors (buckling modes) corresponding to the same eigenvalue (critical buckling load) can be determined, and their locus in a dimensionless meridional and circumferential buckling wavenumber space is described by a circle (known as the Koiter circle). In the case of axially compressed conical shells, no clear evidence of the existence of simultaneous buckling modes can be found in the literature. Then, such a problem is studied here via linear eigenvalue finite element analyses, showing that simultaneous doubly periodic modes do also occur for cones, and that their locus in a specifically defined dimensionless wavenumber space can be described by an ellipse (hereafter termed as the Koiter ellipse) whose aspect ratio is dependent on the tapering angle of the cone.
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