|Aviation history studies the development of mechanical flight from the first attempts of launching paper kites and gliders up to flights equipped with engines which are heavier than air and also more recently, its development.
The dream of mankind about flight, probably, was realized for the first time in China, where the flying of a person, tied to (in the form of punishment) paper kites was described in the 6th century BC. Later, the first glider flight on a hang-glider was accomplished by Abbas Ibn Farnas in Al-Andalus in the 9th century BC. Even dreams about flight found expression in several projects of Leonardo Da Vinci (15 AD), but he did not try to realize them. The first serious attempts of flying a person were realized in Europe at the end of the 18th century.
Tethered air balloons filled with hot air, were modernized in the first half of the 19th century and used in on a considerable scale in a number of wars of the mid-century; the use of them in the Civil War in the USA, when balloons were used for surveillance during battle at Petersburg received huge popularity.
Experiments with gliders served as the groundwork for building devices heavier than air and in the beginning of the 20th century, progress in engine-making technology made engine-fit guided flight possible. From now on, aircraft designers tried very hard to create devices which could fly faster, further and above and could have simpler controls. The important factors influencing the progress in aircraft technology:
Control: Initially, gliders were controlled by moving the body (Otto Lilienthal) or wing warping (Wright brothers). Modern airplanes use various means of mechanization— ailerons, yaw rudders and elevators. In some military airplanes (for example, a fighter aircraft Su-27), aerodynamic stability is ensured by a special system and flight without the system is actually impossible. Aerodynamic instability provides a higher maneuverability of flying machine, inaccessible to the aerodynamically stable airplane.
Power: Aviation engines have become lighter and more effective from Clement Ader’s steam engines to piston, jet and rocket engines.
Material: Originally, flying machines were made of fabrics and wood, and then started using specially treated fabrics and steel tubes, completely aluminum designs (during World War II) and today, to a larger extent only composite materials are being used.
In the beginning of the 21st century, the tendency to create remotely operated or completely autonomous transport vehicles was given importance in the development of subsonic aviation. A variety of pilotless flying machines was created. In April 2001, the pilotless plane RQ-4 Global Hawk flew from the Edwards airbase in the USA to Australia nonstop and without refueling. It is the longest flight between two points ever made by a pilotless plane. The flight time was 23 hrs and 23 min. The first completely autonomous transatlantic flight of a computer-operated plane took place in October 2003.
The beginning of the 21st century saw the discontinuation of the Concorde services in commercial aviation. Supersonic flights appeared to be commercially unviable, as crossing the sound barrier without negative consequences was possible only over an ocean. Besides, Concorde consumed a large quantity of aviation fuel and could transport a limited number of passengers.