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History of the Airplane and how it Changed the World

Info: 2723 words (11 pages) Essay
Published: 9th Aug 2019 in History

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There are many discoveries throughout history that changed the world in many ways, the internet, electricity, semiconductors, just to name a few. This paper will explore one of such discoveries that had significantly changed the world, the discovery of airplanes. The history of airplanes and how it evolved exponentially intrigued most aviation enthusiast in just over few decades. The impact of this discovery is felt in the lives of all human beings, be directly or indirectly. The inter-link of this effect can be felt almost in all industry types starting from travel and tourism, satellite and communication, business and commerce, etc. Airplanes are now the preferred solution for long distance travel and thousands of flights are operated in airports around the world every day, for example approximately 65 million passengers were transported through Heathrow airport alone in 2009 (European Commission, EroStats).

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Airplanes beginning

It all began following the letter that was written by Wilbur Wright in 1899. The letter was sent to the Smithsonian Institution; Wilbur was requesting information about flight experiments. After gathering the required information, the brothers Wilbur and Orville spent a lot of time in research. According to Marry Bellis (2010) “The Wright brothers spent a great deal of time observing birds in flight”. Due to the time spent on observing birds, the brothers noticed that the shape of the bird’s wing helped in increasing lift and birds also changed their wing’s shape in order to maneuver while flying. Based on the bird’s technique of flying, Wilbur and Orville started applying these techniques into their experiment to have control on their glider invention.

Many hours were put in research followed by testing period, The Wright brothers designed and built many gliders in order to implement their solutions for controlling their gliders. After many trial and errors, they built the first piloted glider in 1900. According to Marry Bellis (2010) “the Wrights successfully tested their new 50-pound Biplane glider with its 17-foot wing span and wing-wrapping mechanism, at Kitty hawk “. The wing wrapping mechanism is utilized the techniques of birds by changing the shape of the wing. The application in this type of wing was accomplished by arching the wings tips to either increase lift or maneuver the glider. It was then considered a big success at Kitty Hawk, the Wrights later built another glider with 22-foot wingspan weighing nearly 100 pounds. In this glider they used a front elevator to control it. However, this turned out to be a failure. The front elevator did not allow the wings in this glider to provide sufficient lift. The failure of this glider in 1901 caused huge disappointment for the brothers.

Despite the failure in their last glider “the Wrights reviewed their test results and determined that the calculations they had were not reliable” Marry-B (2010). In order to assure that they obtain accurate results Wilbur and Orville decided to build a wing tunnel. The wing tunnel enabled them to test many different shapes of wings and compare the lift force between different wing types and shapes. This method of wing testing provided the brothers with great understanding of wings and their performances and behaviors. It is also considered the turning point that led the brothers to their later achievement. Till now wind tunnels are used to test anything related to aerodynamics like planes, wings and cars. As a result of this testing method, the brothers designed and built a new glider with 32-foot wingspan and added a tail to their glider to stabilize and control it. Having this glider, the brothers were able to verify the wing tunnels results and added some minor modifications to their last design.

After the success of the last glider, the Wright brothers took their research and flying experiments to a higher level. Wilbur and Orville finally decided to design and manufacture a powered aircraft. This however required more research on how to gain thrust and oppose the drag force while providing sufficient lift simultaneously. The lift issue was resolved from previous experiments however the brothers had to do massive studying on propellers and motors. According to Mary B. (2010) ” after months of studying how propellers work, the Wright brothers designed a motor and a new aircraft sturdy enough to accommodate the motor’s weight and vibrations “. In 1903, the brothers tested their first heavier than air powered aircraft at Kitty Hawk North Carolina. The Wrights used a railway going downhill to give the aircraft enough wing speed for takeoff. After two failed attempts, Orville Wright successfully flew the powered aircraft for 12 seconds on December 17, 1903. The powered aircraft was known as the Flyer. Following this huge success the brothers managed to develop the Flyer design. In the following year, in 1904, the brothers tested the Flyer II model. According to “The Wright brothers”(n.a.) (n.d.) “by 1904 they had improved their 1903 design to the point that they were able to remain aloft of longer period of time while controlling their craft well enough to complete a circle-landing near the spot where they had taken off” (n.p.). The Flyer II was flown by Wilbur Wright, who was capable of remaining aloft for more than five minutes.

In addition, the Wright brothers did not stop their contribution to the Aviation industry after introducing Flyer II. They dedicated the rest of their lives in advancing aircraft designs. According to “The Wright Brothers” (2003) “Orville spent much of his time after Wilbur’s death trying to protect the patent rights to their aviation technology. He contributed little to the advancement of aviation designs after the 1920’s and died after suffering a heart attack in 1948 ” (n.p.).

Airplanes Development

During the Wright brother’s era, there was another ambitious aeronautical engineer, Donald Wills Douglas. Donald was the first to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts institute of technology (MIT) (UXL Newsmakers) (2005). After Donald graduated from MIT, he started his career at Connecticut Aircraft Company in 1915. In “that same year he joined Glenn L. Martins aircraft firm as chief engineer” (UXL Newsmakers) (2005). Eventually Donald started his own firm Douglas Company. He first wanted to manufacture an aircraft that was able to fly across the United States nonstop; this aircraft was known as the “Cloudster”. According to the UXL newsmakers (2005) “the Cloudster never made it fully cross-country, but it was the first plane capable of lifting a payload equal to its own weight” (N.P). The most famous among the Douglas’s designs are the DC series. For example the DC-3 in 1936, was considered to be a huge breakthrough in aircraft manufacturing. The DC-3 was capable of absorbing 21 passengers and cruising at speed of 190 mph. The “UXL Newsmakers” (2005) quoted “it was so successful that within 2 years after it first appeared, it was carrying 95 percent of the nation’s civil air traffic” (N.P). During world war II DC-3 and DC-4 were widely used for military transport. Later Donald developed the DC-4 design to come up with the DC-6 and DC-7. The DC-7 was the first aircraft that was permitted to fly nonstop from coast to coast. In the 1960’s, Douglas designed the jet propelled DC-8 before it ended up merging with McDonnell Aircraft Company in 1967. According to UXL Newsmakers (2005), “the site of original Douglas company plant is now the museum of flying” (n.p.).

On the contrary, the Douglas Company’s planes were not the first commercial airliners. In 1909 a German airline initiated which was considered to be the first commercial airline in the world. The airline was called Deutsche Luftschiffahrt Aktien Gesellschaft (DELAG). However the DELAG company did not use DC series airplanes. According to Asif Siddiqi (2010) “the company used one of the large airships built by Ferdinand Graf Von Zeppelin”(n.p.). The DELAG company carried passengers from 1910 to 1914 and stopped during World War I and then continued from 1919 to 1920. This airline was used for carrying wealthy citizens and foreigners to fly across German cities.

From the time the Write Brothers invented their first aircraft 1903 to the point when a public commercial flight was done was considered quite an achievement. It took only seven years from the Wright’s first Flyer I to come up with a commercial airplane. According to Bengtson Tom (2003) “It is interesting that 10 years after that historic first flight, only about two dozen of the world’s 3,700 aircraft where owned by Americans”. This shows how the whole world was interested in the aviation field and also how it developed so fast.

In addition, after the Wright Brothers big achievement, in 1908 a Bousson-Borgins aircraft was built by Aeroplanes Voisin it was powered by a Renault propeller engine, Christopher P Clark (n.p. 12-2005). However what really gave the aviation industry a boost was World War I. Since the war proved that aircrafts can be effective in war, governments rushed in improving airplanes in order to have up to date attacking techniques.

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There are many milestones that are to be considered when talking about airplane developments. After the Wright Brothers first flight many aeronautical engineers were interested in flying and started to improve in the Wright’s design. For example, “Glenn Hammond curtiss, who in the spring of 1910 completed a 243- kilometer public flight along the Hudson River from Albany, NY, to Manhattan” Seth Shulman (2002). One of the important milestones in aviation is introducing the jet engine. The jet propelled engine was introduced first by Sir Frank Whittle who was the first to register a patent for the jet engine in 1930. Another contributor to the jet engine is a German aircraft designer, Dr. Hans Von Ohain who introduced his model of the jet engine in 1934. However, according to Mary Bellis (2010) “Hans Von Ohain’s jet was the first to fly in 1939”. Although the jet engines were designed in different years yet both Han’s and Frank’s designs are similar in basic concept, yet differ in internal arrangement. The next milestone is a consequence of the jet engine, which is the first commercial jet plane. According to Tony Long (2007) “1952: A de Havilland Comet, flying for British Overseas Airways Corporation, becomes the first jet aircraft to enter commercial service, carrying passengers from London to Johannesburg, South Africa”.

Prior to introducing the first commercial jetliner, there was a remarkable advancement to aviation which is breaking the sound barrier. It was not until October 14, 1947 that mankind could fly faster than sound. Chuck Yeager an American Air Force pilot was the first man to fly faster than sound, in his XS-1 aircraft. According to Cathy Booth Thomas (n.d.) “His XS-1 had accelerated to Mach 1.06, or 700 m.p.h”. The Mach number is a ratio that is the speed of the aircraft divided by the speed of sound. Consequently aerospace and aeronautical Engineers were able to design a shuttle that landed on the moon in 1959. Breaking the sound barrier is considered to be huge breakthrough in aviation history and lead to other advancements other than the space shuttle. For example the Concorde aircraft which is a commercial airplane that can exceed the speed of sound. Figure 1 illustrates the major milestones of aviation and how quick it grew.

Airplanes impact on our world

Throughout history there were some major discoveries that were followed by a huge impact on the world like inventing the wheel, for example and computers, internet, and many more. The invention of airplanes is also considered as one of mankind’s huge step forward in many ways. The Wright Brothers did not only introduce the first powered aircraft, yet they also launched the world into the aviation field. The brothers first flew in December 17, 1903 and within a few decades aircrafts were used in wars, for transport over the world, and even reached the moon. Aircrafts have really affected our lives in many different ways. According to Heather Whipps (2008) “the brothers made four flights that day, the last one soaring 852 feet and lasting almost one minute, launching the world into aviation age for good”. However, it is unfair to give the Wright Brothers full credit for all these achievements, because airplanes developed like anything else each new achievement was building up on previous achievements.

Aircrafts are considered to be a highly tactical weapon in war. It is also number one for long distance traveling and is widely used. Many people today see air travel as a normal routine in their lives. However airplanes also have their drawbacks such as pollution.

Furthermore, airplanes have affected many aspects of our lives, more importantly it really changed the course of war. Before people used invade each other by guns and travel the long distance by ships with the whole army. Now, there is no need for the whole army just a fleet of airplanes can invade a whole country. However this is depending on whether or not the other country has anti-aircraft devices or not. Airplanes are now used for bombing and surveillance during war. According to Cody Hodge (n.d.) “the plane allowed us to drop a bomb on Hiroshima instead of having to invade the island”. It was because of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that lead to the United State’s victory in World War II, and if it wasn’t for airplanes it would not be possible to drop an atomic bomb. This is an example of how airplanes changed the world.

In addition, another aspect that was affected by airplanes is the pollution that is caused by airplanes all around the world. Airplanes are usually a source of different kinds of pollution. First is the most common which is air pollution, then comes noise pollution, and finally water pollution. Airplanes emit toxic gases while flying and especially during landing and takeoff. These gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, demolish the ozone layer leading to global warming. However, according to David Holzman (1997) “ground access vehicles such as passenger’s cars and buses just entering and leaving the airport often exceed airplanes as the dominant sources of air pollution at airports”. Another kind of pollution caused by airplanes is noise pollution. Usually airplanes are very loud during landing and takeoff, which it makes it uncomfortable and also unhealthy to live near an airport. Finally, airplanes also cause some water pollution. In winter there are chemicals used to de-freeze airplanes, in airports. After de freezing they dump these toxic chemicals into water ways which causes water pollution, (David Holzman) (1997).

With any new invention there are many advantages and disadvantages. Airplanes may have some disadvantages like harming people, pollution, and spreading diseases like SARS. However, the advantages overcome the disadvantages. Airplanes have really made the world an easier place to live in. now you can go across the world in just hours, while it took our ancestors months. Airplanes have also contributed to improving many economies and there are many jobs that would not be there if it was not for airplanes, like pilots and aircraft technicians. However, the disadvantages like pollution can be neglected since gas emissions in airplanes per passengers are low considered to car emissions per passenger. Furthermore, many consider that the designs of airplanes and what aviation reached so far are all credited to the Wright Brothers. Although the Wright Brothers were the first to fly a heavier than air aircraft, yet they also took the use of the knowledge that was already there from the Smithsonian Institution on lift and gliders. Airplanes development was on the same method engineers took what the Brothers have done and improved it like Donald Douglas, Chuck Yeager, and many others. Therefore it is not reasonable to credit what aviation has reached so far to the Wright Brothers.


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