Fixed-wing aircraft

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A fixed-wing aircraft, typically called an aeroplane, airplane or simply plane, is an aircraft capable of flight using forward motion that generates lift as the wing moves through the air. Planes include jet engine and propeller driven vehicles propelled forward by thrust, as well as unpowered aircraft (such as gliders), which use thermals, or warm-air pockets to inherit lift. Fixed-wing aircraft are distinct from ornithopters in which lift is generated by flapping wings and rotary-wing aircraft in which wings rotate about a fixed mast.

Most fixed-wing aircraft are flown by a pilot on board the aircraft, but some are designed to be remotely or computer controlled.


First attested in English in late 19th century, the word aeroplane derives from the French "aéroplane", which comes from the Greek "ἀήρ" (aēr), "air"[1] + "πλάνος" (planos), "wandering".[2][3] An ancient Greek term coined from these two words is "ἀερόπλανος" (aeroplanos), "wandering in air".[4]

In the United Kingdom and most of the Commonwealth, the term "aeroplane" is used. In the United States and Canada, the term "airplane" is applied to these aircraft. The form "aeroplane" is the older of the two, dating back to the mid- to late-19th century.[5] The spelling "airplane" was first recorded in 1907.[6]


Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.[7]

The dream of flight goes back to the days of pre-history. Many stories from antiquity involve flight, such as the Greek legend of Icarus and Daedalus, and the Vimana in ancient Indian epics. Around 400 BC, Archytas, the Ancient Greek philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, statesman, and strategist, was reputed to have designed and built the first artificial, self-propelled flying device, a bird-shaped model propelled by a jet of what was probably steam, said to have actually flown some 200 m.[8][9] This machine, which its inventor called The Pigeon (Greek: η Περιστέρα "hè Peristera"), may have been suspended on a wire or pivot for its flight.[10][11] One of the first recorded – still dilettante – attempts with gliders were those by the 11th century monk Eilmer of Malmesbury (recorded in the 12th century) and the 9th century poet Abbas Ibn Firnas (recorded in the 17th century); both experiments ended with lasting injuries to their pilots.[12] Leonardo da Vinci researched the wing design of birds and designed a man-powered aircraft in his Codex on the Flight of Birds (1502). In the 18th century, Francois Pilatre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes flew in an aircraft lighter than air, a balloon. The biggest challenge became to create other craft, capable of controlled flight.

Sir George Cayley, the founder of the science of aerodynamics, credited as the first person to separate the forces of lift and drag which are in effect on any flight vehicle, in 1799 he set forth the concept of the modern aeroplane as a fixed-wing flying machine with separate systems for lift, propulsion, and control.[13][14] Cayley was building and flying models of fixed-wing aircraft as early as 1803, and he built a successful passenger-carrying glider in 1853.[15] In 1856, Frenchman Jean-Marie Le Bris made the first powered flight, by having his glider "L'Albatros artificiel" pulled by a horse on a beach. On 28 August 1883, the American John J. Montgomery made a controlled flight in a glider. Other aviators who made similar flights at that time were Otto Lilienthal, Percy Pilcher and Octave Chanute.

In the 1890s, Australian inventor and aviator Lawrence Hargrave conducted research on wing structures and developed a box kite that lifted the weight of a man. His box kite designs were widely adopted and became the prevalent type of aircraft until 1909.[verification needed] Although he also developed a type of rotary aircraft engine, he did not create and fly a powered fixed-wing aircraft.[16]

An article in the Bridgeport Sunday Herald claimed that on 14 August 1901, in Fairfield, Connecticut, Gustave Whitehead reportedly flew his engine-powered Number 21 aeroplane for half a mile at 15 m height. No photographs were taken, but a sketch of the plane in the air was published with the article.[citation needed][17][18]

The Wright brothers made their first successful test flights on 17 December 1903. Their flights are recognised by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the standard setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics and astronautics, as "the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight".[19] By 1905, the Wright Flyer III was capable of fully controllable, stable flight for substantial periods.

On 12 November 1906, Santos-Dumont made what Brazilians say was the first airplane flight unassisted by catapult[20] and set the first world record recognised by the Aéro-Club de France by flying in less than 22 seconds.[21] This flight was also certified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).[22][23]

World War I served as a testbed for the use of the aircraft as a weapon. Initially seen by the generals as a "toy", aircraft demonstrated their potential as mobile observation platforms, then proved themselves to be machines of war capable of causing casualties to the enemy. The earliest known aerial victory with a synchronised machine gun-armed fighter aircraft occurred on July 1, 1915, by German Luftstreitkräfte Leutnant Kurt Wintgens. "Fighter aces" appeared, described as "knights of the air"; the greatest (by number of air victories) was the German Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron. On the side of the allies, the ace with the highest number of downed aircraft was René Fonck, of France. All-metal-structure aircraft took their first steps into reality during the World War I era, through the work of Hugo Junkers in the creation of the Junkers J 1 in 1915.[citation needed]

Following the war, aircraft technology continued to develop. Alcock and Brown crossed the Atlantic non-stop for the first time in 1919, a feat first performed solo by Charles Lindbergh in 1927. The first commercial flights took place between the United States and Canada in 1919. The turbine or the jet engine was in development in the 1930s; military jet aircraft began operating in the 1940s.

Aircraft played a primary role in the Second World War, having a presence in all the major battles of the war: Pearl Harbor, the battles of the Pacific, the Battle of Britain. They were an essential component of the military strategies of the period, such as the German Blitzkrieg or the American and Japanese aircraft carrier campaigns of the Pacific.

In October 1947, Chuck Yeager was the first person to exceed the speed of sound, flying the Bell X-1.[citation needed]

Aircraft in a civil military role continued to feed and supply Berlin in 1948, when access to rail roads and roads to the city, completely surrounded by Eastern Germany, were blocked, by order of the Soviet Union.[citation needed]

The Cold War played a large role in the production of new aircraft, such as the B-52.[citation needed]

The first commercial jet, the de Havilland Comet, was introduced in 1952. The Boeing 707, the first widely successful commercial jet, was in commercial service for more than 50 years, from October 26, 1958 to June 22, 2010. The Boeing 727 was another widely used passenger aircraft, and the Boeing 747 was the world's biggest commercial aircraft between 1970 and 2005,[citation needed] when it was surpassed by the Airbus A380.


Some varieties of aircraft, such as flying wing aircraft, may lack a discernible fuselage structure and horizontal or vertical stabilisers, however the structure of a fixed-winged aircraft usually consists of the following major parts:

  • A long narrow, cylindrical, spherical, odd shaped, form, called a fuselage, usually with tapered or rounded ends to make its shape aerodynamically smooth. The fuselage carries the human flight crew if the aircraft is piloted, the passengers if the aircraft is a passenger aircraft, other cargo or payload, and engines and/or fuel if the aircraft is so equipped. The pilots operate the aircraft from a cockpit located at the front or top of the fuselage and equipped with windows, controls, and instruments. Passengers and cargo occupy the remaining available space in the fuselage. Some aircraft may have two fuselages, or additional pods or booms.
  • A wing (or wings in a multiplane) with an airfoil cross-section shape, used to generate aerodynamic lifting force to support the aircraft in flight by deflecting air downward as the aircraft moves forward. The wing halves are typically symmetrical about the plane of symmetry (for symmetrical aircraft). The wing also stabilises the aircraft about its roll axis and the ailerons control rotation about that axis.
  • At least one control surface (or surfaces) mounted vertically usually above the rear of the fuselage, called a vertical stabiliser. The vertical stabiliser is used to stabilise the aircraft about its yaw axis (the axis in which the aircraft turns from side to side) and to control its rotation along that axis. Some aircraft have multiple vertical stabilisers.
  • At least one horizontal surface at the front or back of the fuselage used to stabilise the aircraft about its pitch axis (the axis around which the aircraft tilts upward or downward). The horizontal stabiliser (also known as tailplane) is usually mounted near the rear of the fuselage, or at the top of the vertical stabiliser, or sometimes a canard is mounted near the front of the fuselage for the same purpose.
  • On powered aircraft, one or more aircraft engines are propulsion units that provide thrust to push the aircraft forward through the air. The engine is optional in the case of gliders that are not motor gliders. The most common propulsion units are propellers, powered by reciprocating or turbine engines, jet engines or even rocket motors, which provide thrust directly from the engine and usually also from a large fan mounted within the engine. When the number of engines is even, they are distributed symmetrically about the roll axis of the aircraft, which lies along the plane of symmetry (for symmetrical aircraft); when the number is odd, the odd engine is usually mounted along the centreline of the fuselage.
  • Landing gear, a set of wheels, skids, or floats that support the aircraft while it is on the surface.