The development and increasing role of the aeroplane – and how to get personally involved
Of all the technological innovations which have shaped the 20th and early 21st Centuries, the aeroplane is probably the most dramatic. In peace and war, the rapid development of aircraft and air travel has shaped the way in which the world, and our perception of it, has changed in this very short period of our history.
It is widely accepted that the first heavier than air flight was only achieved as late as December 1903. The Wright Brothers’ understanding and development of a means of readily adjusting the three axes of flight – pitch, yaw and roll – was the fundamental breakthrough in making controlled flight a reality. Development thereafter was rapid.
The First World War provided a significant spur to the evolution of the aeroplane. Initially used only for reconnaissance and artillery spotting, aircraft were quickly equipped with machine guns as fighters and larger and more powerful engines as bombers and transports. Wood and canvas gave way to metal construction in the inter-war years, engines became lighter and more powerful with multiple engines becoming the norm for larger aircraft. In the Second World War, the use of air power changed the face of warfare beyond recognition. The immediate post-war years saw the development of the jet engine and the use of cabin pressurisation allowing aircraft to fly higher, faster and further, laying the preconditions for the rapid changes which continue to shape our world. Even the exploration of space, our solar system and beyond ultimately owes its development to that first tentative flight a few feet above a North Carolina field.