Aircraft design and performance has undergone a dramatic change since the end of the Second World War. The period 1920-1930 was critical to aviation as there were significant structural changes in aeronautics in regard to streamlined metal aircraft which had distinctive feature such as multiple engines, retractable landing gear, variable pitch propellers and aluminum body construction. A primary remise that support such changes was the gradual shift to new building material, whereby structural design shifted towards metal structures. Jet propulsion and all-metal structures were amongst the two primary advancements achieved in aeronautics since the end of the Second World War (Warren, 2004).
The transition from wooden and into all-metal structures enabled the critical structural design changes that were experienced in aeronautical engineering (Warren, 2004). The inevitable and gradual shift into metallic structures enabled aircrafts to achieve high performance given that this enabled endurance of stresses experienced at high speeds and when moving larger payloads. It would be impossible to achieve similar performance levels of F-1s and Boeing 747 if they were constructed from wooden components.
Wooden planes were impeded by weight concerns, as it was a major factor in efficiency of aircrafts. Aircraft design is based on strength to weight and power to weight parameters as chief design factors. Wood was initially the only structural material to develop airplanes. In addition, wooden frames were not effective in guaranteeing strength, control and weight given that wood is not malleable. In addition, wooden planes were relatively heavy, which rendered them ineffective due to gravity (Warren, 2004).
Significance of the Problem
Power, weight, and strength are critical factors in structural design of airplanes, which influenced the need to utilize materials that would enable efficient and safe operation of new aircraft. Wood at the time was the only feasible element that could be used in the development of structural surfaces for aircrafts, while guaranteeing strength and control over weight of the elements incorporated in structural designs (Warren, 2004). The Second World War, similar to other conflicts, played a critical role in influencing the technological advancements that were witnessed during the period in aviation. There was a demand to develop stronger, faster, and effective aircraft that could enable militaries to explore the emergent aerial techniques.
New technology enabled the development of two critical components in aeronautics namely monocoque fuselage and cantilevered wings. Cantilevered wings utilized rib-and-spar arrangements, with this design enabling the main spar to be self-supporting beam. The strength and rigidity of the spar could support flight loads present on each wing. Monocoque design was developed before the First World War, with early attempts utilizing circular wooden frames (Warren, 2004). The monocoque fuselage and the cantilevered wing were two main critical innovations that emerged during the First World War and refined after the Second World War. These structural design advancements enabled the emergence of wire-braced and fabric developed plane, which was a unique type of aircraft at the time.
Metal played a critical role in the ensuing structural revolution that took place in the aviation industry. Two aircrafts, Boeing 247-D and Douglas DC-3 developed in 1933 and 1935 respectively, were representations of the significant developments achieved in aeronautics. These two aircrafts were modern in appearance and design; hence, the selection as appropriate examples to illustrate the developments achieved in the aviation industry (Vasumathi & Murali, 2013). Fusing both wood and metal alloys would have enabled a rapid shift towards adoption of innovations witnessed across the aviation industry. It would have enabled engineers to overcome costs associated with use of metal as a fabric in the development of aircraft.
Essentially, focusing on elements may render the study of mechanical aspects as immaterial and ineffective. Studies emphasize the need for assessment of technological developments achieved over the 20th century, with elements such as wood being considered as regressive and outdated, whereas metal may be described as progressive and modern (Vasumathi & Murali, 2013).
Accomplishment of Research Learning Outcomes
Existing literature identifies the role of conflict in the subsequent technological advancements that were achieved in aeronautics (Vasumathi & Murali, 2013). In addition, the study illustrates the salient technical aspects in regard to the origins of metallic components in construction of aircrafts. , which provides insights in the cultural background related to engineering design and material use.
In addition, it is important to note that a wooden airplane at some point in time would have been simply been considered as revolutionary and modern when compared to modern metallic airplanes (Vasumathi & Murali, 2013). Furthermore, the study highlights the critical role of new technologies in enabling industries such as aeronautics to overcome barriers to efficiency, performance, and effectiveness in delivery of safe means of travel to users.
Jakab, P. L. (1999). Wood to Metal: The Structural Origins of the Modern Airplane. Journal of Aircraft 36, 6, p.914-918.
Warren, H. (2004). The Royal Aircraft Establishment during World War II some personal reminiscences. Journal of Aeronautical History 2012, 04, p.48-64.
Vasumathi, M. & Murali, V. (2013). Effect of alternate metals for use in natural fibre reinforced fibre metal laminates under bending, impact and axial loadings. Procedia Engineering 64 p.562– 570
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