One of the biggest inventions of 20th century, the airplane has added a new dimension to our lives. It was an important invention that opened new vistas for advanced developments in the field of aviation.
The invention of airplanes changed the way we travel and also made traveling very comfortable. Airplanes gave us the opportunity to explore different parts of the world. Tackling emergency situations like floods became easier. Airplanes are also an important part of the defense services. The aircraft that we see today can be classified into two types i.e. fixed-wing aircraft and rotatory-wind aircraft. Earlier, in the 18th century, hot air balloons were developed for flight. It was in 1783 that the Montgolfier Brothers built a hot air balloon for the first time. The lack of thrust needed to power the aircraft and absence of navigation tools were the major problems associated with hot air balloons. However, this didn’t stop people from working in the field of airplane development, and eventually, the airplane was invented.
Who Invented the Airplane?
The Wright Brothers from USA invented the first airplane. Wilbur and Orville, the Wright Brothers were born on 16th April, 1867 and 19th August, 1871 respectively. They didn’t continue their education after high school and instead decided to open a bicycle repair shop. They used to study the experiments and research taking place in the field of airplane development. Their interest and passion for airplanes led to the development of the first heavier-than-air plane.
First Airplane to Fly
The Wright Brothers, Wilbur and Orville began working on the idea of building airplanes in 1899. They finally succeeded in flying the first airplane on 17th December, 1903. It was a historic day, since many attempts to manufacture an airplane had earlier met with failure.
The period between 1799 and 1809 was important from the point of view of airplane development. The fundamental concepts of aerodynamics were laid by Sir George Cayley, an English baronet. He put forth the idea of inclined planes which were supposed to have rigid wings (for ‘lift’) and a separate propelling mechanism (for ‘thrust’). The basic idea behind developing such planes was to provide a flat surface in order to provide the necessary lift for flying.
The work of Otto Lilienthal, a German aeronautical engineer proved to be an inspiration for the Wright Brothers. The hang gliders built by Lilienthal completed many successful flights. However, they lacked a control system fuel-power facility. During these flights, Lilienthal had to swing his torso in order to guide the glider in a particular direction. Lilienthal died in a glider crash in 1896. Wright brothers took up the study of flight and airplanes seriously after this tragic incident.
Hiram Stevens Maxim’s Flying Machine
The flying machine built by Hiram Maxim had a wingspan of 34 m and a total length of 44 m. Two compound 360 hp steam engines were used to power this machine. With all the bulky parts incorporated in the design, this flying machine weighed around 3.5 tons. Tests conducted on this machine revealed that it was aerodynamically unstable and could not be properly controlled. This led to Maxim giving up on his attempts to make the flying machine.
First Airplane Invented
Wilbur and Orville Wright tried to overcome the limitations of Mr. Lilienthal’s hang glider. They also used the concept of inclined planes in their first airplane. They fitted the plane with a 12 horsepower petrol engine and two propellers. The aircraft they had developed was a biplane with two main wings, positioned one above the other. The two wings helped provide a greater lift to the plane. At last, on 17th December, 1903, the first flight of their airplane took place at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in USA; it lasted for 59 seconds. Attaining a height of 120 feet, the plane covered a distance of 852 feet. In all, four flights were taken on that day. Out of these four, the above-mentioned flight was the best. Kitty Hawk was chosen for the flight due to its windy weather and sandhills – which would have acted as cushions in case of a crash.
The wing-warping method was used by Wright Brothers in their first flight. In the wing-warping technique, the wingtips are arched slightly. It facilitates the rolling motion of airplanes and also helps maintain the balance. The plane developed by Wright Brothers had a three-axis control. It rotated along three different axes and in three motions as follows.
- Pitch: This motion of the airplane helps in raising and lowering the nose.
- Roll: Rotation takes place along the longest axis of the plane in this motion.
- Yaw: In this motion of airplane, the horizontal axis is rotated.
The rudder attached at the tail end of the plane served the purpose of navigation. Today’s modern aircraft also follow these fundamentals that were set by the Wright Brothers.
Substantial work in the field of airplane development took place in the 19th century. However, there was a lot of interest among people regarding airplanes from the times of Leonardo da Vinci. Before the fundamentals of aerodynamics were discovered, airplane enthusiasts followed the ornithopter tradition. An ornithopter is a machine which makes use of the flapping mechanism of wings of birds. It works only in the development of small flying machines. However, lifting and propelling a bigger airplane is not possible with this technique. Though airplane was invented in 1903, it became popular only after the government of America used it for the Air-Mail service. Thereafter, airplanes gained popularity and were used for many different purposes.
Today’s airplanes have become technologically advanced and possess a sophisticated design. The recently launched ‘Airbus 380’ is the biggest passenger airplane. It has a capacity to carry 853 passengers and travel at a speed of 900 km/hr. The Antonov An-225 Mriya is the heaviest aircraft in the world. From the invention of the airplane in 1903 to the development of spaceships of today, the aviation sector has undergone a sea of change. The credit, of course goes to the mavericks, the Wright Brothers. This incredible journey of airplane development pays a tribute to the great Confucius who rightly said, “A journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.”