Aircraft Evolution: How an Industry Took Flight

On that December day in 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright could not have known what lay ahead in aircraft evolution. Even in the decade after that famous flight, there was little science or engineering that went into the development of planes, and many of these early planes either flew poorly or not at all. Now fast-forward to the modern era, a time when planes not only fly well, but transport people around the globe on a daily basis.

The Beginning of Aircraft Evolution

aircraft evolutionAmong their many accomplishments, the Wright Brothers invented wind warping, which combined with yaw control, helped them control their aircraft. Using data obtained from experiments performed in the wind tunnel they built, they designed and carved wooden propellers. They then added a low-powered combustion engine to supply power to the plane. These factors enabled them to be the first men to fly on December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, N.C. The Wright brothers continued to dominate aircraft evolution from 1903 to 1910. By 1914, planes had evolved to the point that they became instrumental during World War I.

World War I

Government laboratories greatly affected aircraft evolution, as the European nations realized the defense possibilities available through the use of aircraft. During World War I, engineers worked to design planes that would be successful in battle with little thought given to the comfort of the plane. The first aerial combat occurred in August 1914 when Allied and German pilots began shooting at each other with pistols and rifles, which were very ineffective. The first planes used during World War I were monoplanes, which were not fast or easily maneuvered, but allowed for a machine gun to be mounted and synchronized with the engine so that bullets passed between propeller blades.

World War II

Aircraft evolution increased rapidly after World War I, as governments realized the potential airplanes offered as a form of defense. Before the war, extensive manufacturing, engineering and research in the airplane industry created another aircraft evolution. Manufacturers focused on higher performance, speeds and altitudes, along with better maneuverability and handling. Planes became all metal, with retractable landing gear, wing flaps and enclosed crew compartments. During the war, heavy and light bombers, fighters, reconnaissance and transport planes made up the majority of the aircraft used. It was during this war that the air transport industry began to take shape.

Transport Industry

The first aircraft built specifically for cargo was the German Arado Ar 232, but only a few were built. In 1939, a version of the Junkers Ju 90 military transport aircraft included the first rear-loading ramp, an important innovation in cargo aircraft. Cargo aircraft evolution continued with the C82 Packet, which featured a removable cargo area, and the creation of the turboprop.

Jet Airplanes

Today’s aircraft is highly developed over the propeller-driven aircraft of previous generations, using turbojet and turbofan technology. Jet engines enable planes to be bigger, fly faster, and transport more passengers and cargo than any previous aircraft. After the popularity of the cargo plane, manufacturers realized that aircraft could be used to transport passengers, and the aircraft evolution to create bigger and better passenger planes began. Today, passenger flight is mainstream, with planes that are reliable, safe, and that endure all types of conditions.

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