From the legend of Icarus, whose attempt at staying airborne ended up in tragedy,andthe infamous journey of the Wright brothers toward powered flight—to a present world wherepilotless drones and fly-by-wire aircraft systems take center stage, humankind’s fascination with flight has definitely come a long way.
The origin of our species’desire and efforts to take to the skies isn’t clear. However, legends from various early civilizations like the Greeks, Indians, and Chinese contained stories of men using artificial wings made of real bird feathers, stiff cloaks or capes, and other similar devices as they jumped off towers and other high places in their attempts to fly.
From there, various aircraft and flying machines such as man-carrying kites, ornithopters, hot air balloons, airships or dirigibles, gliders, monoplanes, and biplanes have led to the modern propeller planes, jets, rotorcrafts, aerostats, and drones that we know today.
Warfare and Beyond
In 1903, when the brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright flew their aircraft over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, powered flight became an established technology rather than being an idle dream of a few.
Soon after, aircraft were used for military purposes, mainlyfor reconnaissance and bombing purposes. Italy became the first country to do such during the Italian-Turkish war in 1911, and other countries followed suit almost immediately. World War I saw the extensive use of aircraftin defensive, offensive, and exploration capabilities, and both the Allies and Central Powers used airplanes and airships to bomb key locations of their opponents.
The period between the two World Wars became the jumping point of commercial flight endeavors, with experienced fighter pilots from World War I showing off their skills as barnstormers and air show pilots and racers. With the large cash incentives that were offered to these show pilots, many individuals were encouraged to show off their flying abilities. For instance, apartfrom being the first female pilot to achieve records in transatlantic flights, airwoman Amelia Earhart was one of the most popular pilots in the barnstorming and air show circuits.
It was not long after this that pilots began taking paying passengers for short flights, and old warplanes were being used to transport people and to ship cargo, both locally and internationally. The pace of development and production of aircraft, navigation systems, and other flight-based technologies also picked up during this time.
Aviation in the Modern Age
Today, both commercial and military aviation make use of big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) to compute for optimal flight routes and schedules, predict and keep aircraft repair and maintenance schedules, and coordinate air traffic from various airports around the world, among others. With the help of real-time replication of data, both air and ground crews can access weather information, flight rights on territories, no-fly zones, fuel prices, and other important details to develop safe and fuel-efficient flight plans. Commercial airlines also make use of IoT and data replication systems to efficiently book flights, coordinate transfers, and even reschedule trips when necessary, without the risk of overbooking or overcrowding runways with too many planes.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), colloquially referred to as drones, have also found more applications in the military in the digital age. Where before they lacked guidance capabilities and had vulnerable communications links, UAVs today now have more sophisticated systems that allow them to make independent flight decisions, record reconnaissance data, and deploy weaponry as needed.
Civilian UAVs such as the quadcopter are also becoming more popular, with recreational and professional photographers and videographers making use of these drones to take aerial shots and footage. Scientific research has also benefited from modern aviation, as they use UAVs for aerial observation and remote gathering of data.
Aviation has brought mankind closer to each other. It has been a vehicle for trade, tourism, learning, civil services, and law enforcement, just to name a few. With these various applications, aviation may very well be considered as one of the most important and successful technological developments that mankind has accomplished and continues to improve.