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Airplane Parts and History

An airplane is a fixed wing aircraft capable of flight and powered by propellers or jets, and aviation is the design, manufacture, use, or operation of aircraft. Centuries before the first flight at Kitty Hawk by the Wright Brothers in the Wright Flyer, mankind dreamt of soaring with the birds. Famous inventors, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Roger Bacon and Sir George Cayel created various forms of aircraft, all of which presented a number of distinct engineering problems with regard to structure, aerodynamics, propulsion and control. However, it wasn’t until 1903 that mankind achieved flight when the Wright Brothers achieved that success, forever changing the world. Not a single person had flown a powered aircraft when the 20th century began, however, by the century’s end it had become relatively common for millions. The first piloted, powered and controlled flight lasted 12 seconds and carried one man 120 feet. Today, non-stop transcontinental commercial flights lasting approximately 15 hours carry hundreds of passengers half-way around the world in aircraft that use highly complex and computerized navigational systems in skies filled with nearly 50,000 airplanes each day. The airplane has, indeed, made the world smaller and changed the way we live. It has also had a profound impact on the world’s economies, cultures and even our wars.

Airplane History

The first types of aircraft created were unpowered and used gravity as their power sources, somewhat like a car coasting downhill with its engine off. In the 5th century, B.C. the first aircraft was created in the form of a kite. In the 13th century, an English monk named Roger Bacon performed research on flight, which revealed the fact that air could support craft, much like water supports boats. In the 16th century, Leonardo da Vinci began studying the flight of birds. Through his research, he designed the “airscrew,” the parachute and the ornithopter, which was a machine that had mechanical wings resembling a bird. Leonardo da Vinci’s aircraft designs required a large amount of human power in order to generate flight, making them highly impractical. However, the airscrew led to the invention of the propeller and the parachute had a tremendous impact on aviation, even to this day. Soon after, Sir George Cayel created the first glider that took flight, however; it was unmanned and not motorized, making it difficult to control. During 1890, the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright studied previous inventions and began building their own, improved gliders near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. In 1899, they made a large two-winged kite and through their experiments with it, learned how to develop a rudder and wing flaps in order to steer a plane while in flight. In 1903, the Wright brothers made their first powered airplane, called the "Wright Flyer," which was a biplane or two winged airplane that had a 12 horse power engine. The airplane’s wings were made of wood and covered with cotton cloth. On December 17th of that year, they made their first successful attempt at flight, in which their airplane rose by its own power and carried a man. The aircraft soared at an altitude of 10 feet, traveled 120 feet and landed 12 seconds after takeoff without sustaining damage. In 1908, the Wright Brothers made a new airplane that successfully flew for more than one and one-half hours. In 1911, Calbriath Rodgers made the first flight across the United States that lasted 80 days, when he endeavored to fly from Sheepshead Bay, New York to Long Beach, California. During his trek, he crashed 70 times and had to replace nearly every part of the plane before reaching his destination. The Wright Brothers inspired the world and sparked worldwide efforts to build better aircraft. The early 20th century saw a multitude of new aviation developments that included new airplanes and innovative technologies. During World War I, the airplane became a highly effective tool for the military. Additionally, the airplane was used as an early form of airmail, which led to the airplane being used for commercial applications in the years to follow.

Different Types of Airplanes

The different types of modern airplanes include commercial transport planes and jets, general aviation planes, military planes, sea planes and special purpose planes. Commercial transport planes, sometimes referred to as “airliners” are those that carry passengers and cargo. Jets have either two, three or four engines, while those that have four are more powerful than the majority of airliners or commercial transport planes. Four-engine jets have the capability to carry the most passengers and require the least amount of runway to take off. General aviation planes have one engine and between two and six seats and are generally used for short-distance transportation, recreation or for farming. Military airplanes are used to support military-based missions, such as hauling supplies and equipment, carrying soldiers to bases and the battlefield, and for attack and protection. Sea planes include amphibian-type aircraft, float planes and flying boats. Amphibian planes are shaped like frogs, have the ability to be used on land or water and have the capability to fly without wings. Float planes use float platforms, as opposed to traditional wheels, and flying boats are shaped like the hull of a boat, giving them the ability to float easily on the water. Special purpose airplanes are those used to perform tricks in flying shows, for farming or for putting out forest fires. Aeroplanes are generally used to spray and fertilize farming crops and those used to fight forest fires by the Department of Interior are generally called “fire bombers,” “water bombers” or “air tankers.”

Parts of an Airplane

An airplane is a vehicle that is powered by an engine, travels forward by use of its wings and is heavier than air. Parts of an airplane include the fuselage, cockpit, landing gear, wings, propeller, flaps, ailerons, rudder, horizontal stabilizer and elevator. The fuselage is the airplane’s body or main portion of the aircraft, which houses the cargo, crew and passengers. The cockpit is the area in which the pilot and co-pilots operate the aircraft. The landing gear supports the airplane while being driven on the ground prior to takeoff and located directly underneath the aircraft. The wings are located on both sides of the aircraft, and provide the lift and support needed for takeoff and flight. The propellers are rotating blades near the front of the engines, which act as pulling agents while the airplane is in flight. Flaps are movable sections within the wings that move in response to the aircraft’s direction, movement and speed. Ailerons are outward, movable sections of the wings that move in opposite directions and allow the aircraft to turn. The rudder is the vertical, movable portion of the aircraft’s tail, which manages lateral movements. The horizontal stabilizer is located near the fuselage and is used to balance the aircraft. The elevator is the movable section of the tail that enables the aircraft to move up or down.

Famous Aircraft

Famous aircraft includes the Enola Gay, Glamorous Ginnie, Bell Aircraft Company Model X-1, Voyager, Bell 206 N3911Z, Lady Be Good, Flight 19, Fokker Dr. 1 Triplane, U-2 Liberator, Piper Saratoga II HP, Beech Bonanza, Supermarine Spitfire, Rolls Royce Merlin Engine, Hawker Hurricane, P51 Mustang and the Space Shuttle. However, four of the most famous aircraft, include the Wright Flyer, Spirit of St. Louis, Spruce Goose and Memphis Belle. The Wright Flyer was the first engine-powered and manned aircraft created by brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright. It was a pivotal invention in aircraft development and aviation because it was the first ‘real’ airplane, meaning it was the first heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight that was self-powered, while carrying a pilot on board and landed without suffering damage or injury. The Spirit of St. Louis was flown by Charles Lindbergh across the Atlantic Ocean and received its namesake from his supporters who funded its creation. It was a basically a version of the Ryan M-2 strut-braced plan (a monoplane), powered by a J-5C engine built by Wright. Lindbergh wasn’t able to see directly ahead of him while flying due to the fuel tanks being located in front of the cockpit. Therefore, he had to use a periscope mounted on the left side of the airplane to see while flying. The Spruce Goose was built by one of the most famous aviation developers and manufacturers, Howard Hughes. The Spruce Goose was a seaplane and the largest aircraft of its time, composed almost entirely of wood. The Memphis Belle was a B-17F bomber built by the Boeing Aircraft Company that completed 25 successful combat missions over Hitler’s Germany during World War II, while keeping her entire crew alive. The Memphis Belle dropped in excess of 60 tons of bombs and flew 148 hours and 50 minutes, while covering more than 20,000 combat miles.

How the Airplane Changed Warfare

Some of the most rapid and technologically innovative developments in aviation occurred in the early 1900s in response to the First World War. The airplane changed warfare because it revolutionized the way in which the military performed investigations; carried supplies, equipment and soldiers into combat; and conducted reconnaissance missions. The airplane drastically enhanced the military’s ability to survey and explore enemy activities and gain intelligence from the air without risking the lives of troops in battle. Improved aircraft technologies resulted in rapidly changing weapons, such as heavy artillery and bombs that provided the capability of defending, protecting and saving more lives. Eventually, smaller and lighter machine guns were used until synchronized firing was developed and the true fighting aircraft or “fighter ace” was developed. During World War II, the airplane became the pivotal tool used in warfare and after the war, the majority of basic aviation technology had been developed, which included jet propulsion, aerodynamics and radar.

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