A Man with Wings: The Classification and Brief History of Aircrafts

By: James Monahan

By definition, an aircraft is a structure capable of carrying its weight and travel through air by the means of support from its own buoyancy or the dynamic action of the air against its surfaces. Aircrafts have been of great interest to anyone because man has always been fascinated with flying. With this great desire to soar the sky, there have been a number of attempts to build contraptions that will bring them closer to this goal.

From the moment Leonardo da Vinci, a great inventor and artist, wrote his vision of an aircraft in his notebooks, it was evident that man was determined to fly and build the contraption that will bring him closer to the sky.

There had not been few but several noted and documented attempts to build the world’s first functioning aircraft. Unfortunately most of the aircrafts designed and build did not even make it on air. The honor of being the first persons to put a heavier-than-air aircraft on flight goes to the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright.

The Wright Brother’s aircraft had a wingspan of 12 m (40 ft) and weighed 340 kg (750 lb) including the pilot. As the two brothers took turns in flying the plane, Wilbur, in the last of the flights, stayed in the air for 59 seconds and traveled 260 m (852 ft) at speeds a little under 16 km/h (10 mph).

In December 17, 1903, the message “Sent from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, after having successfully completed the world's first powered flights” by Wilbur Wright and Orville Wright confirmed their success of putting their aircraft design on flight.

From then on, several modifications and alterations of the Wright Brother’s original aircraft design were developed.

As of present, there are two main categories of aircrafts – heavier-than-air or aerodynes and lighter-than-air or aerostats.

Examples of aircrafts that are classified under heavier than air are helicopters and fixed-wing aircrafts such as airplanes. For fixed-wing aircrafts to fly it must have an engine that is motorized by the expansion of hot combustible products of fuel directly acting on the engine. With this power coming from the aircraft’s engine, the aircraft will then be accelerated at a very high speed while it moves it into the air.

However, there are some exceptions for this classification of heavier-than-air aircrafts. Some heavier-than-air aircrafts do not have engines such as the glider. To get ready for flight, a glider gains its thrust from winches (or machines that wind up ropes), gravity and thermal currents.

Lighter-than-air aircrafts utilize buoyancy or the upward force of an object immersed in air or gas. To be buoyant, lighter-than-air aircrafts such as hot air balloons and airships uses dense gases such as helium and hydrogen or hydrogen to move the air around the aircraft.

Further classifications of aircrafts depend on its usage.

Military aircrafts such as combat planes and fighter planes used for reconnaissance and surveillance is one category of aircrafts based on usage.

These types of aircrafts are not just widely used for national security nowadays but had been of great use during the World Wars. It is in World War I when bombers, or aircrafts mainly utilized to attack enemy vehicles, ships and aircrafts were first designed and employed.

In World War II, tankers, or aircrafts designed to refuel other aircrafts in mid-flight were used to increase fighter planes’ operational efficiency.

Commercial planes, private jets, carrier aircrafts, recreational hot air balloon flights and general aviation aircrafts are categorized under civilian aviation. This category comprises the vast majority of the aircrafts that set flight everyday and is the most common and well-know category of aircrafts.

Both civilian and military aircrafts are sub-classified into further categories.

When Henry David Thoreau, a famous American writer, said “Thank God men cannot as yet fly and lay waste the sky as well as the earth”, he may have been right at some points. However, without the advancement in this technology, we may have not experienced the convenience of flying and the thrill of being up in the air.

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James Monahan is the owner and Senior Editor of www.aircrafthub.com

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