December 8, 2023

Planes are a staple in American society. Many people have benefited from aerial transportation, whether they are flying to see distant loved ones or taking a lavish vacation.

Since November is Aviation History Month, Dr. Daniel Prather, professor of aviation science, looked back on the progression of this noteworthy industry and highlighted some key points in its development.
“Aviation history is only 120 years old,” Prather said. “In that time, we went from the Wright brothers’ first flight to supersonic flight, and even to outer space.”

In this short window, aircraft efficiency increased exponentially.

Yonatan Hornkohl, junior aviation major, said fossil fuel engines are nearing perfection, while new fuel sources such as hydrogen and electricity are being tested rigorously.

“(Scientists) have slowly but surely incorporated more electrical energy in aviation to lower emissions and make less of an environmental impact,” said Seth Guthrie, senior aviation major.

Guthrie said that the advent of aviation changed the way our country is protected.

“From the First World War to where we are now is a night and day difference,” Guthrie said.

Prather expanded on this security dynamic, stating that the bombing of Hiroshima, which contributed to the Japanese surrender in World War II, would not have been possible without the developments in aviation that were made during that time. Soon after, the groundbreaking 1949 flight of the Haviland Comet introduced commercial flights to the world. People then had access to more efficient long-distance travel.

“Commercial transportation allows us to connect people across the globe to different environments safely and efficiently,” Guthrie said. “The engineers developing such projects allow pilots to transport people and items in better ways than ever before.”

During the latter half of the 20th century, America’s aircraft technology reached new levels of speed and efficiency. Prather, reflecting on the evolution of traveling, referenced the maiden flight of the Concord in 1969, which marked the first aircraft to reach supersonic speeds.

“In the past, civilizations rarely traveled far from home because it was only done on foot,” Prather said. “Today, we can travel around the world in a relatively short time period.”

Today, scientists are working toward making planes as autonomous as possible to eradicate human error.

“Aircraft can now be equipped with more powerful technology, allowing them to fly more precisely and come lower to runways while flying in clouds,” Hornkohl said.

“This technology is at the point where planes can, with specific approach routes, fly and land with minimal pilot input.”

Another way scientists are working to improve air travel is by creating planes that can reach hypersonic speeds, which is five times the speed of sound.

Prather said that these aircraft will eventually transport humans around the world in record time.

“Most commercial airliners that are flying today generally fly at speeds of 500-600 mph,” Prather said. “Hypersonic flight is over 3,800 mph. In simple terms, a hypersonic aircraft could fly from Atlanta to London in 90 minutes.”

From the inception of the Wright brothers’ plane to today, the aviation industry continues to be a symbol of ingenuity and innovation worldwide.

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