Reach for the Sky

Flight is a Dream as Old as Man

Flight has been a dream of mankind's far before man understood what flight was exactly. The fascination of flight captured a variety of innovative people since 3500 BC, where the first evidence of human interest in flight was displayed on a coin that featured King Etena of Babylonia riding on an eagle's back. Many early flying machines would model animals capable of flight, which resulted in many serious injuries and death. 1000 BC the Chinese invented kites that were designed to carry men. These kites were used to scout troops. In 1488 to 1514 Leonardo de Vinci made first design of flying machines using bird wings as reference, but was unable to implement designs due to the designs being ahead of their time.

The 1700s brought about a new approach to flight: balloons. 1709 Father Bartolomeu de Gusmao presented King John V with a model of a hot air balloon. Joseph and Jacques Montegolfier constructed the first unmanned balloon flight under fuelled propulsion, second balloon flight with farm animals as passengers, and third (and manned) flight that travelled 36 kilometers and the altitude of 3,500 meters all within the year 1783. Air balloons continued to travel farther, carry more passengers, and capable of accepting multiple lighter-than-air gases as fuel over the 1700s.

The 1800s began to shape aircraft as the world knows them today. 1799 Sir George Cayley introduced the concept of a fixed-wing aircraft and proceeded to make world's first successful model glider in 1804. Henri Giffard was the first to pilot an airship under the power of a steam engine. 1865 Matthew Boulton patents a design for ailerons (used to control lateral balance) as a control surfaces. Horatio Phillips of England presented a wing designed with a curved airfoil shape, used in all modern wing designs, in 1884. 1890 the first steam powered, bat-winged monoplane called Eole flew about 160 feet, but was incapable of sustaining controlled flight. Samuel P. Langley whom, at the time, was the third Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (and had a rather large following) successfully demonstrated the launch of a descent sized, steam powered model aircraft that could fly three quarters of a mile over the Potomac River.

The Fathers of Aviation

1987, Milton Wright brought home rubber band powered toy helicopter for his two sons Wilbur and Orville Wright. The toy helicopters, designed by French aeronautical experimenter Alphonse Penaud, "Flew across the room till it struck the ceiling, where it fluttered a while, and finally sank to the floor." The toys did not last long, but left a standing impression upon the brothers. Though they outgrew their years of playing with toys, their interest in flight never left.

1893, in the midst of American bicycle craze, brothers Wilbur and Orville open a small bicycle rental and repair shop: The Wright Cycle Company. Their shop served them well, providing a comfortable life and creative outlet for their interest in mechanics, their focus turned to two events of 1896: the death of Otto Lilienthal, whom was known for his experiments in gliding, and the Launching of powered models by Samuel Langley.

The Wright Brothers began their quest for flight in 1899 when Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Institution to acquire publications on aviation after. The brothers were surprised that so many great minds had not come up with a successful flying machine and took matters into their own hands. The Brothers began their approach to the world of aviation rather ingeniously. Their mechanical experience in bicycles aid them in their pursuit, and their company provided sufficient funds for their costs. Though bicycles and air planes do not share obvious traits, Wilbur and Orville designed their aircraft with pre-existing concepts used to construct balance such as the importance of balance and control, the need for strong but lightweight structures, the chain-and-sprocket transmission system (chain meshes with sprockets creating a rotary motion) for propulsion, and craft design with wind resistance and aerodynamic shape. The Brothers would run tests and preform experiments to collect data that they would interpret, then refine their designs based on those results. This trial and error method continues to be a key component in the development of modern aircraft to this day.

1900 the Brothers began focussing on their design, paying attention to the curve of the wing profiles, how the area of the wing is effects lift, and what materials are best construct a glider. The 1900 glider did not get good lift due to the size of the wings and the curve of the airfoil. 1901 the brothers fabricated a glider that was much bigger than its predecessor giving the Brothers hope for better performance but were disappointed with the consistent lack of lift and were presented with new control problems. The frames and layout of both gliders were similar: wire-braced biplane structure with canard elevators and unbleached muslin material for the wing. William Tate and his Half-brother Dan would often help the Brothers, assisting with launches at the wing tips. The 1901 gliding trials ultimately resulted in confusing feedbacks. The once stable elevator cause over-sensitivity problems the Brothers did not understand. The Brothers had designed both gliders based off calculations using the accepted lift and drag equations, Otto Lilienthal's aerodynamic data, and Smeaton's coefficient, but neither glider produced enough lift based off those equations so the Brothers again took matters into their own hands. Weight of the craft, wind speed, and wing surface were easily measured but the coefficients of lift and drag and Smeathon's coefficient were computed by others. The brothers could then focused their design based off the new data.

December 1901, the Wright Brothers had all the data and resources build a successful flying machine, but opted to build one last glider to ensure that all the data collected on design could be translated to a full scale machine in addition to addressing their mysterious control problems. The third glider's improvement was immediately evident and could nearly maintain level flight. The addition of a vertical rudder balanced out the elevator (after the rudder became moveable to coordinate its position with the wing-warping), and the nearly vertical kite lines indicated a better lift to drag ratio. All three Wright Brother gliders originally started as just large kites that were unmanned, but the third glider was the first fully controllable aircraft, and the brothers flew it full time as a glider. The final glider allowed the Brothers practice in the air, taking somewhere between 700 and 1,000 glides during September and October of 1902. These flights would commonly reach altitudes of 500ft with a few reaching over 600 feet.

1903, the Wright brothers were ready to invent the airplane. Though they had already come so far, the Brothers recognized there was still work to do, mainly in the propulsion system. On December 17, 1903, the world changed forever all within 12 seconds. The aircraft heavier than air parted from the Earth's surface maintaining stable flight and forward motion. 1904 the Wright brothers made a statement to the Associated Press regarding their Kitty Hawk flights where they confirmed they had achieved their ultimate goal and stated in closing "We packed our goods and returned home, knowing that the age of the flying machine had come at last." The brothers continued to improve on their design in the years to follow, ending their experimental phase in the fall of 1905 when Wilbur made an incredible flight that last 39 minutes. In that time Wilbur was able to circle the presentation field 30 times totalling 24.5 miles travelled. The Wright brothers then turned their attention to patents and finding customers for their product, and did not fly at all in 1906 and 1907. The Wright brothers travelled around the world credited as the fathers of aviation, and though they definitely had help, they alone were the first to open the doors to a whole new world for man to explore: the sky.

The Father of Navigation

1906 through 1907 aviation was still very new to the world, but growing fast with stiff competition. The faster the 1909, Dr Elmer Sperry Sr. decided to turn his attention an urgent emerging problem: control of the aircraft during flight. 1913 Dr. Sperry reports development of first gyrocompass, a non-magnetic compass that points to the true north. Dr. Sperry continued to invent multiple small gyros, including the gyro-scope, that helped the pilot control yaw, pitch, and roll. The instruments gave real-time orientation of the plane in relation to the Earth, allowing the pilot to use instrumental feedback as a reference to fly the plane without visual cues outside the cockpit. Dr. Sperry then created a mechanism which detected low airspeed. If triggered, the low airspeed indicator would automatically put the aircraft into a glide.

Dr. Sperry focussed on his gyroscope design by collaborating with a variety of scientific individuals and committees through 1914 when he deemed the complete gyroscope ready to patent. During this time, WWI broke out, requesting Dr. Sperry's innovative inventions to make their premature debut in Navy warships. Eventually, Dr. Sperry designs the first gyrostabilizer for an early mono plane. The gyro was 30lbs, which was way too big and threw off\ the airplanes flight capabilities. Upon failure, Dr. Sperry stated: "Of all the vehicles on Earth, the airplane is that particular beast of burden which is obsessed with motions, accelerations and strong centrifugal moments, all in an endless variety and endless combination."

Dr. Sperry's son, Lawrence Sperry, retrofits his father's complete gyroscope to his Curtiss C-2 biplane, recapturing Dr. Sperry's interest in the gyro. Dr. Sperry equipts another flying boat with an improved gyrostabilizer in which Navy Lieutenant Patrick Bellinger logged 58 flights. Though impressed, Navy leaders did not find the device an adequate replacement to an experienced pilot's judgement and response. Dr. Sperry continued to improve the gyrostabilizer, mounting gyro instruments to a single platform that could provide a horizontal reference position.

1914 Lawrence Sperry takes off in Paris at an aviation safety presentation to demonstrate the relevance of the gyro instruments. Lawrence's machanic walked out on the wing on of the Curtiss C-2 biplane and Lawrence let go of the controls. The airplane maintained stable and level flight through the whole demonstration, winning the aviation safety competition. The gyro instruments were later used to launch the first successfully guided missile, which would change the face of war. WWI ended before mass production, but would be used in WWII, along with the early autopilot demonstrated by Lawrence.

Dr. Sperry's contributions to the world of naval and aeronautics earned him the reputation as the father of navigation. Lawrence Sparry was claimed to have started the Mile High Club because of his amazing performance at the aviation safety competition.

Fly-By-Wire

The early autopilots were designed to take the bulk of long haul trips off the shoulders of pilots so they could focus on just as important tasks such as navigation, but the autopilots constant required the attention of flight crew because all instruments had to be manually changed by a person. Early autopilots were as good as a cruse control, and remained that way until the dawn of the microprocessing age. Microprocessors revolutionised the world of aviation. Microprocessors were small enough to fit in the cockpit and had more computing power than supercomputers in the 80s, bringing about the Fly-By-Wire digital control system. FBW replaced the traditional mechanically operated flight controls. With FBW the pilot's, or autopilot's, controls are transmitted digitally to a group of flight computers which immediately interpret and analyses the input data and evaluates the aircraft speed, weight, atmospheric conditions and other variables to reach optimal flight control deflections. All of this is possible through the development of digital flight computers and microprocessors enabling on-board automatic flight systems to be implemented economically, safely and reliably.

Flight computers take all the information collected from the planes external environment, current state of aircraft pilot's orders and move the control surfaces to follow the desired flight path while making sure the plane maintains well with in its structural/mechanical capabilities providing quality flight. Advanced voting and consolidation algorithms detect and isolate failure in the event of a actuator malfunction. FBW produces fast digital actuation, which produces faster feedback to the control surfaces significantly, and excellent example of this speed in action is the Lockheed F117 stealth fighter. Without it's FBW system it wouldn't be able to fly more than 1/10 of a second. In commercial aviation FBW systems enable the use of smaller tail surfaces with dramatic reduction in both weight and drag.

The development of FBW technology has allowed the world of aviation progress in leaps and bounds. Thousands of of lives have been saved, all thanks to automation. An example of FBW technology in action is the Hudson River ditching in New York. After a a double bird strike flamed out both engines, an Airbus 320 touched down in the Hudson River with no casualties, the FBW system was accredited a key component in the emergency landings success.

Airborne Software

Airborne software is becoming the most common on-board automation in both military and commercial aviation. Airborne software is composed of millions of line of code that is designed to take control of almost every function of the aircraft. Airborne software was first introduced to a commercial aircraft in 1968 on the intertial navigation system of a Boeing 707. Since then, airborne software has become increasingly more popular and developing rapidly with every new generation of microprocessor computing power increasing. To put Airborne software into perspective, the Lockheed F35 fighter is planned to have 8.6 million lines of code written in C and C++ to ensure complete integration between the flight control system and the battle field.

The FAA has developed standards and certification with airborne software, which is easily maintainable as their loadable systems can be easily upgraded or replaced. Along with the advancements in flight control, onboard sensory systems have become nearly fail safe with the additions of Electronic Engine Control (EEC), Air Data Monitor (ADM), Cargo Smoke Detector System (CSDS), Primary FLight Computer(PFC), Global Positioning System Sensor Unit(GPSSU), Satellite communications (SATCOM) system and more. These newer systems and sensors exist purely to complete understand the state of the aircraft at any time.

Airborne collision avoidance software is a particularly important portion of airborne software: the TCAS (Traffic ALert and Collision Avoidance System). This system alerts pilots to nearby traffic to avoid mid-air collisions that, though they are extremely rare, can happen.