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From Biplanes to Jets: The History of the Airplane

There has been an amazing amount of progress between the first flight of the Wright brothers and modern aviation; helicopters and airplanes are just one piece of the puzzle. Advancing technology and the high demand for more efficient, safer airplane designs for travel, business, and war are reasons why there has been a leap in the technology behind aviation.

The Wright brothers are an integral stepping stone that helped to move technology and flight forward. There were many flight attempts and aircraft designs prior, but the airplane designed by the Wright brothers set standards for future aviation. In 1903, the first engine-powered, controlled flight with aircraft much heavier than blimps and balloons is when airplane history began as the Wright brothers set off on a flight lasting only twelve seconds.

Also furthering the use of new technology and aeronautics, the radiotelephone was invented during World War I as a way for pilots to communicate with ground personnel and commanders. Fabric and wood materials used for aircraft was being replaced with aluminum, which made the aircraft lighter, safer, and stronger. Performing acrobatics and capturing the newest flight record grew in popularity which phased out biplanes for monoplane development. Monoplanes were more maneuverable as they were much sleeker in design. As World War II started, instruments used in flight had already been invented. Aircraft was now used radar and the very first jet engine was in production.

Aside from military use, airplanes were also made civilian transportation easier and faster. Jet airliners came to be after the wars, as companies, such as Boeing and Pan Am, combined in order to transport millions of people all over the world. Transoceanic flights and the ability to cruise at high altitudes was a result of the improvement in engines, metal types, and aerodynamics. The design of airplanes remained consistent for the most part with the only major changes being made was by composite structures and newer electronic systems due to a higher need for more efficient communications, operating costs, and navigation.

Modern aircraft uses communication systems, autopilot systems, global positioning systems, and radars that are more technologically advanced. These new, improved technologies help pilots to navigate in busy airways and to fly safer when the weather is severe. Alert systems and autopilot are in place as a way to help the pilot as they provide flight assistance for when other tasks need to be completed. Turbine powered engine has increased the distance traveled, rate of climb, speed, and maneuverability in the aviation world. All larger transport aircraft is equipped with two or more engines to ensure the plane lands safely should one of the engines fail. Cabin pressurization was also a need which came to be at the time of the turbine powered engine. This system allows aircraft to ascent to high altitudes safely while at the same time maintaining lower altitude levels inside to keep the passengers comfortable.

To learn more about the history of the airplane as well as other information, visit the following links:

 

  • Important Advances in Aircraft Design – This is a brief overview of aeronautical history which goes over important advances in the design of aircraft.
  • Historical and Future Trends in Aircraft Performance, Cost, and Emissions – Here you can read more about the demand for air transportation, historical trends, and future trends in aircraft performance, cost, and emissions.
  • Inventing a Flying Machine – Read about how the Wright brothers designed the first airplane, how the constructed it and the fabric used, the propulsion system, flight controls, and the process of their patent.
  • Wood to Metal – Read about the modern airplane’s structural origins.
  • Helicopter Flight – This article provides some great information on the history of helicopters.
  • September 11: Bearing Witness to History – This website provides images of airplane fragments retrieved after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.
  • What Makes Airplanes Fly? – Read more on the applications, science, and history of aerodynamics.
  • United States Women in Aviation – This document discusses women in aviation through World War I.
  • When Lightening Strikes Aircraft – Here you can listen to an airline pilot (or read the transcript) as he discusses what effect lightning has on a flight.
  • Planes of Fame Air Museum – This is the website for the Planes of Fame Air Museum. You can read about the collections in the museum and learn about any upcoming events.
  • Milestones of Flight – The Smithsonian National Air and Space museum gives you a look at their ‘Milestones of Flight’ artifacts.
  • First Winged Airline – This article discusses the first airline that used winged aircraft.
  • How We Made the First Flight – Orville Wright discusses how he and his brother made the first flight.
  • Military Aircraft Nose Art – This article discusses the tradition of military aircraft nose art in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the first Gulf War.
  • Aerospace Industry – Here you can read about the history in the aerospace industry.
  • Federal Aviation Administration – This is the website for the FAA where you can find a lot of valuable information on various subjects as it relates to flying and aircraft.
  • Turbulent Skies – Here you can read about the history of commercial aviation.

 

 



 

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