Advanced lightweight laminated composite shells are increasingly being used in modern aerospace structures, for enhancing their structural efficiency and performance. Such thin-walled structures are susceptible to buckling when subjected to static and dynamic compressive stresses. In this paper, details of a numerical (FEM) and an experimental study on buckling of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) layered composite cylinders under displacement and load controlled static and dynamic axial compression are reported. The effects of different types of loadings, geometric properties, lamina lay-up and amplitudes of imperfection on the strength of the cylinders under compression are studied. Accurate measurement of imperfections in the cylindrical surface is carried out in the specimens tested. It is shown that the buckling behavior of thin composite cylindrical shells can be evaluated accurately by modeling measured imperfections and material properties in FEM. © 2012 World Scientific Publishing Company.