Aeronautics Aviation General

A short history of aircraft and biplanes.

Any craft or vehicle capable of flying is an aircraft. From the simple hydrogen or helium balloons, kites we enjoyed as a child, and lanterns we flew in our festivals to gliders, fighter planes, and commercial aeroplanes, all examples of aircraft. Human advancement in aircraft started with understanding the simple physics of flight like understanding the warm air rises as we observe through chimneys and using it to develop hot air balloons. Later the development of designs heavier than air achieved the dream of making it airborne. Now we have a better understanding of aerodynamic forces acting, the effect of different wing shapes and so on. Though it didn’t happen overnight like always, advancement needs failures, sacrifices and innovation.

Wright brothers making Wright flyer-1

What is meant by aircraft?

Aircraft is any vehicle/craft which is capable of flight through the atmosphere. The aircraft are mainly of two types – lighter than air and heavier than air. The lighter-than-air flight started with aerial flight discoveries by the end of the 18th century.  It started with Jacques Etienne Montgolfier and Joseph Montgolfier’s experiments.

Jacques Etienne Montgolfier and Joseph Montgolfier’s experiments.

The simple understanding of hot air rising up lead them to experiment with testing by applying a fire beneath a paper plane with open bottom. On the success of the experiment, they made an attempt at another geometry ‘Balloon’ and later on they presented a hot air balloon in front of the public during one of the experiments their design was raised by eight men off ground. The first hot air balloon flight occurred on September 12 1783, Pilatre De Rozier launched the first hot air balloon, a flight with a sheep, rooster and duck in it. On April 3 1783 the On September.

First hot air balloon flight

Later on the 21st of November, he with Marquis d Arlandes made an aerial flight. 

The Chinese have been practising the lantern culture for years. The first records of human flight and hot air balloons start with Montgolfier balloons. The development of heavier-than-air aircraft occurred during the 20th and from the end of the 18th century.

Is the Wright Flyer the first aircraft?

Wright Flyer I was the first successful manned heavier-than-air aircraft of controlled and powered flight.

Flying or being airborne had always wondered humans. Flying kites by the Chinese for several years can be recorded as an example of the first man-made flights. In aircraft history the first attempts at flying were of tower jumpers – the people who would have made wings from wood, and feathers and strapped these wings to their hands and legs and tried to jump from cliffs –the cliff jumpers. Then came the next generation of people who would have designed some mechanical system which can be pulled by hand so that the wing would flap up and down – known as ornithopters. We can see designs of ornithopters among the work by one of the great minds – Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci- ornithopter

Still, there is no record of the successful flight of these designs. The first idea of modern configurations of aeroplanes – fixed wing, fuselage, tail, and the engine was introduced by Sir George Cayley in England in 1799. He was one of the first people to understand the aerodynamic forces behind flight. Still, the attempts done by Caley and others were unsuccessful. The historians call them chauffeurs; they were eager to get the aircraft into the air but didn’t put much consideration into how to control it once it was in the air. The next approach was to learn to fly before putting an engine inside it. This approach was introduced and used widely by Otto Lilienthal.

Sir George Cayley’s design of aircraft

He was the first person to design and flew gliders in history. During the time period of 1891 to 1896, he made flights of around 2000 and gained an airborne time of five hours.

He was famously known as the ‘flying man ’ tragically he died due to a crash during one of his flights on August 9, 1896, when he encountered sudden sharp guts of air and died the next day in the hospital. His work was an early guide for the Wright brothers. There are so many unsuccessful stories like that of Samuel P Langley. In the design of the Wright flyer, I got it all right. The Wright brothers were the first to understand the aircraft as a complete system and it is considered one of the greatest success stories in the field of technology. On December 17, 1903, Orville  Wright and Wilburt wright made the first flight which flew for 12 seconds and became the first manned powered controlled heavier-than-air aircraft.

wright brother’s first flight

Why were early aircraft biplanes?

A biplane is an aircraft with two sets of wings – an upper set and a lower set connected by both sides of the fuselage supported by struts and wires. The earlier design of aircraft including that of the Wright brothers were biplanes. One of the reasons is the strength they provide, one of the main design aspects of aircraft was lightweight, to achieve this the wings were fragile so the design of biplanes including struts provided more strength. The usage of more strength materials for aeroplanes was introduced much later. More understanding of drag was not done that much during that period. The construction of the first monoplane was done by the Romanian inventor Trajan Vuia, who made a flight of 12 m (40 feet) on March 18, 1906. Louis Blériot of France built a monoplane in 1907  and even crossed the English Channel in 1909 in Bleriot XI. The introduction of monoplanes showed that they can achieve more speed with the same engine than biplanes but at first the records of crashes of monoplanes were also high. During the World-War monoplanes were in service, used as ‘fighter guards or scouts’ because of the higher speed but still mostly biplanes and triplanes were used. Monoplanes provided them with the advantage of being used for dropping missiles. The first monoplane fighter was Bristol M.1 . The aircraft research and developments during the world war and afterwards helped the advancement of monoplane and widespread use of the design.

Bristol M.1

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