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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fixed-wing aircraft
Boeing 737-300, a modern passenger airliner
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Categories of Aircraft
Supported by Lighter-Than-Air Gases (aerostats)
Unpowered Powered
Balloon Airship
Supported by LTA Gases + Aerodynamic Lift
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Hybrid airship
Supported by Aerodynamic Lift (aerodynes)
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Unpowered fixed-wing Powered fixed-wing
hang gliders
• Powered airplane (aeroplane)
powered hang gliders
Powered paraglider
Flettner airplane
Ground-effect vehicle
Powered hybrid fixed/rotary wing
Mono Tiltrotor
Mono-tilt-rotor rotary-ring
Unpowered rotary-wing Powered rotary-wing
Rotor kite Autogyro
Gyrodyne ("Heliplane")
Powered aircraft driven by flapping
Other Means of Lift
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Flying Bedstead

A fixed-wing aircraft, typically called an airplane, aeroplane or 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). Fixed-wing aircraft are distinct from ornithopters in which lift is generated by blades and rotary-wing aircraft in which wings move relative to the aircraft.

In the United States, Canada and many other regions, the term "airplane" is applied to these aircraft. In Britain and many other regions, the term "aeroplane" is used. The word derives from the Greek αέρας (aéras-) ("air") and -plane.[1] The form "aeroplane" is the older of the two, dating back to the mid-late 19th century.[2] The spelling "airplane" was first recorded in 1907.[3]

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



Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.[4]

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 meters.[5][6] This machine, which its inventor called The Pigeon (Greek: Περιστέρα "Peristera"), may have been suspended on a wire or pivot for its flight.[7][8] 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.[9] 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 Francois d'Arlandes flew in an aircraft lighter than air, a balloon. The biggest challenge became to create other craft, capable of controlled flight.

Le Bris and his glider, Albatros II, photographed by Nadar, 1868

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 airplane as a fixed-wing flying machine with separate systems for lift, propulsion, and control.[10][11] Cayley was building and flying models of fixed-wing aircraft as early as 1803, and he built a successful passenger-carrying glider in 1853.[12] 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

The first self-powered aircraft was created by an Englishman by the name of John Stringfellow of Chard in Somerset, who created a self-powered model aircraft that had its first successful flight in 1848. Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian living in France, built the first practical dirigible balloons at the end of the nineteenth century. In 1906, he flew the first fixed wing aircraft taking off unassisted, 14-bis, which was of his and Gabriel Voisin's design. A later design of his, the monoplane Demoiselle, became a popular ultralight aircraft.[13]

The Wright Brothers made their first successful test flights on 17 December 1903. This flight is recognized 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".[14] By 1905, the Wright Flyer III was capable of fully controllable, stable flight for substantial periods. However, only in 1908, their airplane could be able to take off unassisted.

World War I served as a tes.tbed 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. "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.

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.

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

The Cold War was a large role in the production of new aircraft, such as the B-52

The first commercial jet, the de Havilland Comet, was introduced in 1952. A few Boeing 707s, the first widely successful commercial jet, are still in service after nearly 50 years. The Boeing 727 was another widely used passenger aircraft, and the Boeing 747 was the world's biggest commercial aircraft between 1970 and 2005, when it was surpassed by the Airbus A380.



The Tupolev Tu-160, a supersonic, variable-geometry heavy bomber
The P-38 Lightning, a twin-engine fixed-wing aircraft with a twin-boom configuration.
A Sukhoi Su-27UB of the Russian Knights aerobatic team showing two vertical stabilizers
An F-16 Fighting Falcon, a US military fixed-wing aircraft
The Mexican unmanned aerial vehicle S4 Ehécatl at take-off

Some varieties of aircraft, such as flying wing aircraft, may lack a discernible fuselage structure and horizontal or vertical stabilizers, 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 stabilizes 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 stabilizer. The vertical stabilizer is used to stabilize 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 stabilizers.
  • At least one horizontal surface at the front or back of the fuselage used to stabilize the aircraft about its pitch axis (the axis around which the aircraft tilts upward or downward). The horizontal stabilizer (also known as tailplane) is usually mounted near the rear of the fuselage, or at the top of the vertical stabilizer, 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 centerline of the fuselage.
  • Landing gear, a set of wheels, skids, or floats that support the aircraft while it is on the surface.


A number of controls allow pilots to direct aircraft in the air. The controls found in a typical fixed-wing aircraft are as follows:

  • A yoke or joystick, which controls rotation of the aircraft about the pitch and roll axes. A yoke resembles a kind of steering wheel, and a control stick is just a simple rod with a handgrip. The pilot can pitch the aircraft downward by pushing on the yoke or stick, and pitch the aircraft upward by pulling on it. Rolling the aircraft is accomplished by turning the yoke in the direction of the desired roll, or by tilting the control stick in that direction. Pitch changes are used to adjust the altitude and speed of the aircraft; roll changes are used to make the aircraft turn. Control sticks and yokes are usually positioned between the pilot's legs; however, a sidestick is a type of control stick that is positioned on either side of the pilot (usually the left side for the pilot in the left seat, and vice versa, if there are two pilot seats).
  • Rudder pedals, which control rotation of the aircraft about the yaw axis. There are two pedals that pivot so that when one is pressed forward the other moves backward, and vice versa. The pilot presses on the right rudder pedal to make the aircraft yaw to the right, and on the left pedal to make it yaw to the left. The rudder is used mainly to balance the aircraft in turns, or to compensate for winds or other effects that tend to turn the aircraft about the yaw axis.
  • A throttle, which adjusts the thrust produced by the aircraft's engines. The pilot uses the throttle to increase or decrease the speed of the aircraft, and to adjust the aircraft's altitude (higher speeds cause the aircraft to climb, lower speeds cause it to descend). In some aircraft the throttle is a single lever that controls thrust; in others, adjusting the throttle means adjusting a number of different engine controls simultaneously. Aircraft with multiple engines usually have individual throttle controls for each engine.
  • Brakes, used to slow and stop the aircraft on the ground, and sometimes for turns on the ground.

Other possible controls include:

  • Flap levers, which are used to control the position of flaps on the wings.
  • Spoiler levers, which are used to control the position of spoilers on the wings, and to arm their automatic deployment in aircraft designed to deploy them upon landing.
  • Trim controls, which usually take the form of knobs or wheels and are used to adjust pitch, roll, or yaw trim.
  • A tiller, a small wheel or lever used to steer the aircraft on the ground (in conjunction with or instead of the rudder pedals).
  • A parking brake, used to prevent the aircraft from rolling when it is parked on the ground.

The controls may allow full or partial automation of flight, such as an autopilot, a wing leveler, or a flight management system. Pilots adjust these controls to select a specific attitude or mode of flight, and then the associated automation maintains that attitude or mode until the pilot disables the automation or changes the settings. In general, the larger and/or more complex the aircraft, the greater the amount of automation available to pilots.

On an aircraft with a pilot and copilot, or instructor and trainee, the aircraft is made capable of control without the crew changing seats. The most common arrangement is two complete sets of controls, one for each of two pilots sitting side by side, but in some aircraft (military fighter aircraft, some taildraggers and aerobatic aircraft) the dual sets of controls are arranged one in front of the other. A few of the less important controls may not be present in both positions, and one position is usually intended for the pilot in command (e.g., the left "captain's seat" in jet airliners). Some small aircraft use controls that can be moved from one position to another, such as a single yoke that can be swung into position in front of either the left-seat pilot or the right-seat pilot (i.e. Beechcraft Bonanza).

Aircraft that require more than one pilot usually have controls intended to suit each pilot position, but still with sufficient duplication so that all pilots can fly the aircraft alone in an emergency. For example, in jet airliners, the controls on the left (captain's) side include both the basic controls and those normally manipulated by the pilot in command, such as the tiller, whereas those of the right (first officer's) side include the basic controls again and those normally manipulated by the copilot, such as flap levers. The unduplicated controls that are required for flight are positioned so that they can be reached by either pilot, but they are often designed to be more convenient to the pilot who manipulates them under normal condition.


Instruments provide information to the pilot. Flight instruments provide information about the aircraft's speed, direction, altitude, and orientation. Powerplant instruments provide information about the status of the aircraft's engines and APU. Systems instruments provide information about the aircraft's other systems, such as fuel delivery, electrical, and pressurization. Navigation and communication instruments include all the aircraft's radios. Instruments may operate mechanically or electrically, requiring 12VDC, 24VDC, or 400 Hz power systems.[15] An aircraft that uses computerized CRT or LCD displays almost exclusively is said to have a glass cockpit.

Basic instruments include:

  • An airspeed indicator, which indicates the speed at which the aircraft is moving through the surrounding air.
  • An altimeter, which indicates the altitude of the aircraft above mean sea level.
  • A Heading indicator, (sometimes referred to as a "directional gyro (DG)") which indicates the magnetic compass heading that the aircraft's fuselage is pointing towards. The actual direction the aircraft is flying towards is affected by the wind conditions.
  • An attitude indicator, sometimes called an artificial horizon, which indicates the exact orientation of the aircraft about its pitch and roll axes.

Other instruments might include:

  • A Turn coordinator, which helps the pilot maintain the aircraft in a coordinated attitude while turning.
  • A rate-of-climb indicator, which shows the rate at which the aircraft is climbing or descending
  • A horizontal situation indicator, shows the position and movement of the aircraft as seen from above with respect to the ground, including course/heading and other information.
  • Instruments showing the status of each engine in the aircraft (operating speed, thrust, temperature, and other variables).
  • Combined display systems such as primary flight displays or navigation displays.
  • Information displays such as on-board weather radar displays.

Design and construction

The Blohm & Voss BV 141 had an unusually asymmetric design.

Most aircraft are constructed by companies with the objective of producing them in quantity for customers. The design and planning process, including safety tests, can last up to four years for small turboprops, and up to 12 years for aircraft with the capacity of the A380.

During this process, the objectives and design specifications of the aircraft are established. First the construction company uses drawings and equations, simulations, wind tunnel tests and experience to predict the behavior of the aircraft. Computers are used by companies to draw, plan and do initial simulations of the aircraft. Small models and mockups of all or certain parts of the aircraft are then tested in wind tunnels to verify the aerodynamics of the aircraft.

When the design has passed through these processes, the company constructs a limited number of these aircraft for testing on the ground. Representatives from an aviation governing agency often make a first flight. The flight tests continue until the aircraft has fulfilled all the requirements. Then, the governing public agency of aviation of the country authorizes the company to begin production of the aircraft.

In the United States, this agency is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and in the European Union, Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). In Canada, the public agency in charge and authorizing the mass production of aircraft is Transport Canada.

In the case of the international sales of aircraft, a license from the public agency of aviation or transports of the country where the aircraft is also to be used is necessary. For example, aircraft from Airbus need to be certified by the FAA to be flown in the United States and vice versa, aircraft of Boeing need to be approved by the JAA to be flown in the European Union.

Quieter aircraft are becoming more and more needed due to the increase in air traffic, particularly over urban areas, as noise pollution is a major concern. MIT and Cambridge University have been designing delta-wing aircraft that are 25 times more silent (63 dB) than current craft and can be used for military and commercial purposes. The project is called the Silent Aircraft Initiative, but production models will not be available until around 2030. [1]

Small aircraft can be designed and constructed by amateurs as homebuilts. Other homebuilt aircraft can be assembled using pre-manufactured kits of parts which can be assembled into a basic aircraft and must then be completed by the builder.

There are few companies that produce aircraft on a large scale. However, the production of an aircraft for one company is a process that actually involves dozens, or even hundreds, of other companies and plants, that produce the parts that go into the aircraft. For example, one company can be responsible for the production of the landing gear, while another one is responsible for the radar. The production of such parts is not limited to the same city or country; in the case of large aircraft manufacturing companies, such parts can come from all over the world.

The parts are sent to the main plant of the aircraft company, where the production line is located. In the case of large aircraft, production lines dedicated to the assembly of certain parts of the aircraft can exist, especially the wings and the fuselage.

When complete, an aircraft is rigorously inspected to search for imperfections and defects. After approval by inspectors, the aircraft is put through a series of flight tests to assure that all systems are working correctly and that the aircraft handles properly. Upon passing these tests, the aircraft is ready to receive the "final touchups" (internal configuration, painting, etc), and is then ready for the customer.



There are three main statistics which may be used to compare the safety of various forms of travel:[16]

Deaths per billion journeys
Bus: 4.3
Rail: 20
Van: 20
Car: 40
Foot: 40
Water: 90
Air: 117
Bicycle: 170
Motorcycle: 1640
Deaths per billion hours
Bus: 11.1
Rail: 30
Air: 30.8
Water: 50
Van: 60
Car: 130
Foot: 220
Bicycle: 550
Motorcycle: 4840
Deaths per billion kilometres
Air: 0.05
Bus: 0.4
Rail: 0.6
Van: 1.2
Water: 2.6
Car: 3.1
Bicycle: 44.6
Foot: 54.2
Motorcycle: 108.9

It is worth noting that the air industry's insurers base their calculations on the "number of deaths per journey" statistic while the industry itself generally uses the "number of deaths per kilometre" statistic in press releases.[17]

Environmental impact


Fixed-wing aircraft can be sub-divided according to the means of propulsion they use.


Aircraft that primarily intended for unpowered flight include gliders (sometimes called sailplanes), hang gliders and paragliders. These are mainly used for recreation. After launch, further energy is obtained through the skillful exploitation of rising air in the atmosphere. Gliders that are used for the sport of gliding have high aerodynamic efficiency. The highest lift-to-drag ratio is 70:1, though 50:1 is more common. Glider flights of thousands of kilometers at average speeds over 200 km/h have been achieved. The glider is most commonly launched by a tow-plane or by a winch. Some gliders, called motor gliders, are equipped with engines (often retractable) and some are capable of self-launching. The most numerous unpowered aircraft are hang gliders and paragliders. These are foot-launched and are generally slower, less big, and less expensive than sailplanes. Hang gliders most often have flexible wings which are given shape by a frame, though some have rigid wings. This is in contrast to paragliders which have no frames in their wings. Military gliders have been used in war to deliver assault troops, and specialized gliders have been used in atmospheric and aerodynamic research. Experimental aircraft and winged spacecraft have also made unpowered landings.


Smaller and older propeller aircraft make use of reciprocating internal combustion engines that turns a propeller to create thrust. They are quieter than jet aircraft, but they fly at lower speeds, and have lower load capacity compared to similar sized jet powered aircraft. However, they are significantly cheaper and much more economical than jets, and are generally the best option for people who need to transport a few passengers and/or small amounts of cargo. They are also the aircraft of choice for pilots who wish to own an aircraft.

Turboprop aircraft are a halfway point between propeller and jet: they use a turbine engine similar to a jet to turn propellers. These aircraft are popular with commuter and regional airlines, as they tend to be more economical on shorter journeys.


A Ukrainian An-225 Mriya is the world's largest fixed-wing aircraft

Jet aircraft make use of turbines for the creation of thrust. These engines are much more powerful than a reciprocating engine. As a consequence, they have greater weight capacity and fly faster than propeller driven aircraft. One drawback, however, is that they are noisy; this makes jet aircraft a source of noise pollution. However, turbofan jet engines are quieter, and they have seen widespread usage partly for that reason.

The jet aircraft was developed in Germany in 1931. The first jet was the Heinkel He 178, which was tested at Germany's Marienehe Airfield in 1939. In 1943 the Messerschmitt Me 262, the first jet fighter aircraft, went into service in the German Luftwaffe. In the early 1950s, only a few years after the first jet was produced in large numbers, the De Havilland Comet became the world's first jet airliner. However, the early Comets were beset by structural problems discovered after numerous pressurization and depressurization cycles, leading to extensive redesigns.

Most wide-body aircraft can carry hundreds of passengers and several tons of cargo, and are able to travel for distances up to 17,000 km. Aircraft in this category are the Boeing 747, Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Boeing 787 and Airbus A350, Airbus A300/A310, Airbus A330, Airbus A340, Airbus A380, Lockheed L-1011 TriStar, McDonnell Douglas DC-10, McDonnell Douglas MD-11, Ilyushin Il-86 and Ilyushin Il-96.

Jet aircraft possess high cruising speeds (700 to 900 km/h, or 400 to 550 mph) and high speeds for take-off and landing (150 to 250 km/h). Due to the speed needed for takeoff and landing, jet aircraft make use of flaps and leading edge devices for the control of lift and speed, as well as thrust reversers to direct the airflow forward, slowing down the aircraft upon landing.

Supersonic jet

Supersonic aircraft, such as military fighters and bombers, Concorde, and others, make use of turbines (often utilizing afterburners), that generate the huge amounts of power for flight faster than the speed of the sound. Flight at supersonic speed creates more noise than flight at subsonic speeds, due to the phenomenon of sonic booms. This limits supersonic flights to areas of low population density or open ocean. When approaching an area of heavier population density, supersonic aircraft are obliged to fly at subsonic speed.

Due to the high costs, limited areas of use and low demand there are no longer any supersonic aircraft in use by any major airline. The last Concorde flight was on 26 November 2003.


Helios in flight

A solar-powered aircraft generates the needed energy by means of solar cells.


An aircraft is said to be 'unmanned' when there is no person aboard the aircraft and control is achieved remotely or via other means such as gyroscopes or other forms of autonomous control. The aircraft is controlled only by remote controls or other electronic devices.


Bell X-1A in flight

Experimental rocket powered aircraft were developed by the Germans as early as World War II (see Me 163 Komet), and about 29 were manufactured and deployed. The first fixed wing aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight was a rocket plane – the Bell X-1. The later North American X-15 was another important rocket plane that broke many speed and altitude records and laid much of the groundwork for later aircraft and spacecraft design. Rocket aircraft are not in common usage today, although rocket-assisted takeoffs are used for some military aircraft. SpaceShipOne is the most famous current rocket aircraft, being the testbed for developing a commercial sub-orbital passenger service; another rocket plane is the XCOR EZ-Rocket; and there is the Space Shuttle.


A ramjet is a form of jet engine that contains no major moving parts and can be particularly useful in applications requiring a small and simple engine for high speed use, such as missiles. The D-21 Tagboard was an unmanned Mach 3+ reconnaissance drone that was put into production in 1969 for spying, but due to the development of better spy satellites, it was cancelled in 1971. The SR-71's Pratt & Whitney J58 engines ran 80% as ramjets at high speeds (Mach 3.2). The SR-71 was dropped at the end of the Cold War, then brought back during the 1990s. They were used also in the Gulf War. The last SR-71 flight was in October 2001.


The Boeing X-43A, shortly after booster ignition

Scramjet aircraft are in the experimental stage. The Boeing X-43 is an experimental scramjet with a world speed record for a jet-powered aircraft – Mach 9.7, nearly 12,000 km/h (≈ 7,000 mph) at an altitude of about 36,000 meters (≈ 110,000 ft). The X-43A set the flight speed record on 16 November 2004.

See also


  1. ^ "Aeroplane", Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition, 1989.
  2. ^ Lawrence Hargrave was one of the aviators to use the term "aeroplane" from an early date. "Is the air ship found?" New York Times, January 3, 1892.
  3. ^ Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary
  4. ^ Thompson, Silvanus. "Wikiquote Lord Kelvin", Letter to R. B. Hayward (1892), as quoted in Energy and Empire : A Biographical Study of Lord Kelvin (1989) by Crosbie Smith and M. Norton Wise
  5. ^ Aulus Gellius, "Attic Nights", Book X, 12.9 at LacusCurtius
  6. ^ ARCHYTAS OF TARENTUM, Technology Museum of Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece
  7. ^ Modern rocketry
  8. ^ Automata history
  9. ^ White, Lynn. "Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition." Technology and Culture, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1961, pp. 97–111 (97–99 resp. 100–101).
  10. ^ "Aviation History". Retrieved 2009-07-26. "In 1799 he set forth for the first time in history the concept of the modern airplane. Cayley had identified the drag vector (parallel to the flow) and the lift vector (perpendicular to the flow)." 
  11. ^ "Sir George Cayley (British Inventor and Scientist)". Britannica. Retrieved 2009-07-26. "English pioneer of aerial navigation and aeronautical engineering and designer of the first successful glider to carry a human being aloft. Cayley established the modern configuration of an airplane as a fixed-wing flying machine with separate systems for lift, propulsion, and control as early as 1799." 
  12. ^ "Cayley, Sir George: Encyclopædia Britannica 2007." Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 25 August 2007.
  13. ^ Alberto Santos-Dumont
  14. ^ FAI NEWS: 100 Years Ago, the Dream of Icarus Became Reality posted 17 December 2003. Retrieved: 5 January 2007.
  15. ^ 400 Hz Electrical Systems
  16. ^ The risks of travel
  17. ^ Flight into danger – 7 August 1999 – New Scientist Space


  • In 1903 when the Wright brothers used the word "aeroplane" it meant wing, not the whole aircraft. See text of their patent. U.S. Patent 821,393 – Wright brothers' patent for "Flying Machine"
  • Blatner, David. The Flying Book : Everything You've Ever Wondered About Flying On Airplanes. ISBN 0-8027-7691-4
This article incorporates information from the equivalent article on the Portuguese Wikipedia.

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Tips for flying article)

From Wikitravel

Departures board at Cologne/Bonn airport
Departures board at Cologne/Bonn airport

This article is a travel topic.

Commercial aeroplane flight is one of the most common forms of international travel. These are some tips for making your flights safer, more comfortable, and more enjoyable.

For a guide to the standard procedures, rules, and other basics of travelling by air (some of which have changed in recent years), see Fundamentals of flying. See also First and business class travel, Discount airlines.


Choosing an airline

There are several airline quality ratings (like [1]) that can help you understand how different airlines operating on your chosen route compare in levels of service, timeliness and comfort.

Multiple airports

Most major cities have more than one airport. Try selecting flights that the less known or smaller airports to depart out of or arrive in as they are more likely to have cheaper fares than the larger, more known airports. For example, if you wish to depart out of the Bay Area, consider flying out of Oakland International Airport (OAK) instead of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). In cities like London, larger airports like Heathrow cater for full service carriers, with lounges and airbridges, whilst the newer Luton and Stansted airports serve short haul budget carriers, with less shops, paid lounges and are further away from downtown. Also, more budget carriers operate out of these smaller airports. Some ticketing systems allow you to search using a code that covers more than one airport: see Metropolitan Area Airport Codes for more information.

If you're not sure what time you can make it to the airport, book the last flight of the day. This way you can always try to fly "standby" on earlier flights if you get to the airport earlier than expected, as long as the conditions on your ticket permit this (budget tickets may not).

Domestic vs International Flights

As domestic flights are usually significantly cheaper than international flights for the same distance travelled, if you are in a city near an international border and wish to get to a destination in a neighbouring country, you can usually save quite a bit by crossing the border by land and flying from that country. For example, if you're in San Diego and need to get to Mexico City, you can cross the border to Tijuana by land and take a flight from Tijuana. Similarly, if you are in Hong Kong and need to get to Beijing, you can cross the border to Shenzhen and fly from there. People in Ottawa and Montreal can use Syracuse N.Y. for flights to American cities and Toronto residents can fly out of Buffalo instead of Lester B. Pearson.

The cost of budget travelling

While it is a good idea to save on air fare, you could face trade-offs in choosing budget carriers or the cheapest tickets off mainline carriers. Some of them include

  • more restrictions when it comes to changing travel plans
  • lower baggage allowance
  • less amenities (at least the free ones) on board
  • paid food and beverages
  • absence of check-through facilities
  • no mileage accrual

Finally, unless the promo or point-of-sale is based in the European Union, you should take note that the advertised price usually does not include taxes and other surcharges.

It will be up to you to find the right balance between costs of air fare and the amenities. The old saying goes: you get what you pay for. For more advice on budget travelling, please see the article Discount airlines.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

When calling an airline or travel agency to make changes, the fastest way to find your ticket is to tell the reservations agent that you will give them your Passenger Name Record (PNR), and spell it out with the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliet Kilo Lima Mike November Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Uniform Victor Whiskey X-ray Yankee Zulu). This is much easier than trying to spell out your last name, and you will gain some instant respect for sounding like a pro.

The major advantage of an electronic ticket (e-ticket) is that because your flight details are in the airline's computers, the e-ticket can't get lost, forgotten, or stolen. Your travel plans can also be altered without the need to print and deliver a new ticket. If your airline offers online or self-service kiosk check-in, you can use these to print boarding passes, thus saving time at the airport.

The major disadvantage is that your flight details are in one specific airline's computers, so other airlines cannot access them. This is not a problem 99% of the time, but can be a major headache if a flight cancellation requires you to switch to a flight with another airline. If this happens, get an "endorseable" paper ticket from the original airline as backup before heading over to the other airline's counter. Likewise, for complex itineraries involving multiple airlines (like round the world flights), you should opt for a paper ticket, especially since inter-airline e-ticketing agreements are not that common yet.

Not all destinations offered by major airlines are e-ticket eligible. But for the destinations that are e-ticket eligible, your airline may levy a surcharge if you choose to purchase a paper ticket.

Carry-on only travel

If you do not really need loads of luggage and will be away from home for a very short time, it may be worth considering taking carry-on only. This saves time at your destination because you don't have to wait to claim your checked luggage, and certainly carry-on luggage is less prone to getting lost or stolen. It might also save you money because many airlines charge a fee for each checked bag. Check with your airline to make sure that your bag fits within their size/weight restrictions for carry-ons, and whether your purse or laptop counts toward the limit of how many bags you can carry (or see our List Of Airline Baggage Limits to help you compare airlines). Also, with tight security restrictions on what kinds of items you can take with you into the passenger compartment (particularly nothing that could be used as a weapon and liquids in anything except small bottles), a carry-on-only strategy may not be practical so it is also useful to check the airport which you will departing out of to see restrictions in addition to the ones implemented by the airline you will be using.

If you want to travel with carry-on only but also have luggage that should be checked-in, you can use a company that provides a luggage delivery service.

Online check-in

Besides the traditional check-in at the airport (see the Checking In section), your airline can allow you to check-in online from anywhere with internet access. They usually open at least 24 hours before your scheduled flight. By checking-in online, you can select your preferred seat in advance, quote your frequent flyer number for mileage accrual, inform the airline how many bags you are intending to check-in thus saving time at the airport. Furthermore, everybody else who is part of your traveling party can also be checked-in along with you.

Online check-in procedures, features, benefits and requirements vary per airline and possibly per airport of departure. For instance, some airlines may offer only online check-in and only if you are departing from certain airports so be sure to check with your airline if online check-in is available from your departure airport. In relation to that, some airlines will allow the printing of a boarding pass at home while other airlines will still require passengers to claim it at the airport. Another example is that for some airlines such as Southwest that do not assign seats, passengers are allowed to board earlier if they have checked-in in advance. Also, some airlines will make this option available only to electronic ticket holders while others will invite paper ticket holders to take advantage of this option as well.

If your airline does not let you print your boarding pass from where you are, be ready to note down or print all the other pertinent information given to you at the end of the online check-in process as they will be used to facilitate the rest of the check-in process at the airport.

The airline will usually provide a special lane for those who checked-in online; be sure to use it for faster service.

Don't know where to print your boarding pass? An emerging trend in the issuance of boarding passes is having electronic boarding pass. Some airlines such as American Airlines, Air Canada and KLM already offer this service to passengers flying selected routes. All you need is a WAP or WiFi-enabled mobile device (such as a Blackberry, iPhone, iTouch) and depending on the airline's system, you can check-in online or via your mobile device. You will receive a link to your electronic boarding pass or sometimes the boarding pass itself via SMS, MMS or e-mail on your mobile device (consult your mobile device manual on how to save SMS, emails). The boarding pass will contain a barcode which will be scanned at the checkpoints and gate. If you are on a "domestic" flight, you will only need to bring the mobile device containing the boarding pass in addition to your ID as required documents.

Other remote check-in methods

Some airlines and stations also offer alternative ways to check-in. Singapore Airlines for instance will allow you to check-in via telephone, fax, SMS or via a designated point in downtown Singapore. Lufthansa also offers SMS check-in.

If you are departing out of Hong Kong and taking the MTR Airport Express train, you can enjoy the convenience of a typical check-in (see the Checking In section) at the Hong Kong or Kowloon station. However, you will need to have already purchased an Airport Express ticket to enter the check-in area as there are faregates used for entry. Once you are done, you can just take the train and proceed directly to passport control upon arrival at the airport. This is very useful if you still have a lot of things to do in downtown Hong Kong but don't want to worry about carrying and transporting your luggage by yourself to the airport or leaving them somewhere. A similiar system exists in Kuala Lumpur, with the KLIA Ekspres train leaving from KL Sentral Station.

Choosing a good seat

See Fundamentals of flying#Choosing your seat for an introduction to choosing a good seat. However, in addition to the choice of window seats (good views), aisle seats (more freedom to move) and middle seats (lacking the advantages of either window or aisle seats) there are several other considerations for choosing a slightly more comfortable economy class seat.

How close you sit to the front or back end of the plane is a mixed bag of benefits and drawbacks. In most jet aircraft, seats in back experience more cabin noise; the difference can be significant enough to cause discomfort, and it's one of the reasons why first class is always located in the front. However, the advantage of sitting near the front can be canceled by screaming infants, who ironically tend to be seated in this zone for its presumed quietness. In wide-body aircraft, rear economy window seats will provide you with a better view than in the front of the economy section, where the view is obstructed by the wings. The effects of turbulence are weakest near the leading edge of the wing, in the middle of the aircraft. Finally, US National Transportation Safety Board data from accidents in which some passengers survived and others did not, indicate that seats at the rear of the plane are statistically safer.

Airplanes also have "ordinary" seats that are less or more desirable for some reason:

  • seats at the tail end of the plane often have no middle seats, which gives you more room to spread out
  • seats just before the exit row and at the end of a section may not recline
  • seats next to the toilets may be smelly and have lots of people trooping up and down to them
  • seats next to the galleys may be noisy especially when flight attendants prepare and roll-out the meals
  • certain rows may have the electronics for the seat-back entertainment under the seat, stealing leg room. check the sites listed below to identify them

It is possible to simulate the comfort of first class by securing a row of unoccupied seats in the middle section of larger aircraft, and raising the armrests to form a makeshift bed. Ask the gate agent to review the cabin plan immediately after the flight closes: if the agent says seats "XX C-D-F-G" are available, you've just found four contiguous seats in row XX. Try to be one of the first ones to board, and "secure" the seats with open newspapers or magazines--the object is to make the row seem uninviting until the doors close and seat assignments are more-or-less frozen. If you want to sleep, fasten your seatbelt over your blankets so that it's visible; otherwise, you'll be pestered by the flight attendents should the "fasten seatbelt" sign turn on mid-flight. Seating arrangements vary greatly between airplanes and airlines, so you'll need to consult detailed seat maps to figure out the good and bad ones. There are a few online sites that provide detailed maps for in-service aircraft and can help when choosing the best seat:

  • SeatExpert [2]
  • SeatGuru [3]
  • Seatmaestro [4]

If you know what type of aircraft on which you are traveling, you can look up the seat map on all of these sites. SeatExpert also offers a unique feature that allows you to find a seat map by entering your flight information (airline, flight number, date of departure). SeatGuru also helps to find out what aircraft type you'll be flying [5] (although it gives little help beyond US airlines).

Sometimes aircraft scheduled to fly on a certain day for a certain flight may be substituted for another aircraft at the last minute. Therefore it is a good idea to take a look at all possible aircrafts and their respective configurations to find out the number of your preferred seat. Furthermore, an airline may have a certain kind of aircraft with different configurations. For example, the front row in one of Airline X's A330s may be row 1 but in another kind of A330 of Airline X it could be row 11 even if the front row of both A330s are of the same service class. It is also worth knowing if the an airline's aircraft is 2nd hand or leased from another airline as the seat design may have significant differences from in-house aircrafts.

Before leaving

To save time, please ensure that you pack only what is absolutely necessary for your trip as having really bulky or plenty of luggage can cause a security hassle, as well as additional costs if you want to check them in.

Most airlines usually allow you to bring your own food so in case you have a feeling food isn't going to be great or will cost you extra, there shouldn't be any harm in bringing your own home made meals (or even snacks).

See Packing list

At the airport

If you want to reduce stress get to the airport at least an hour before the recommended time. (Check with your airline. In the US, the recommended time is usually 1 hour before takeoff for domestic flights, 2 hours for international. In some countries, it may be up to 3.) You will have to worry while standing in long queues for check-in, security, emigration, and more security. It also gives you a buffer for delays on the way to the airport.

If for some reason you are delayed and you're worried about missing your flight or the flight status indicates that you are in danger of missing your flight, find a member of your airline's staff or talk to staff at the security gate. If you are really in danger of missing your flight, they can arrange for speedy check-ins and for you to be moved up in queues. But they won't notice if you don't tell them. Calling for late-passenger instructions while you are on your way to the airport can also help. The plane will not wait for you; but it might wait if you're one of 50 connecting passengers on a delayed flight.


Check-in for domestic flights can usually done on the airline website up to 24 hours in advance of departure. If you have no baggage you can just proceed directly to your gate and flight with your printed boarding pass. If you have baggage, drop it at the bag drop. Removing old tags from your bag before proceeding to the bag drop will speed up this process.

If you can't check-in online, the check-in kiosks at the airport are much the same, and issue a boarding pass for you. You then need to go to the bag drop if you have more than carry on luggage.

If you have to check-in manually, be prepared for longer queues. Have your documentation ready before you get to the counter.

Express/expedited security lanes

To avoid the delays associated with normal security checks, some airports offer express security lanes for frequent travellers who have pre-registered, or sometimes for passengers who have paid an additional fee.

In cases of heightened security, the expedited security check lanes may be suspended or closed.

Lounge Access

Even if you don't hold a first/business class ticket or are a member of the premium tiers of your frequent flyer programme, there are ways for you to obtain lounge access. For example, Priority Pass allows you to gain access to lounges at most major airports at payment schemes convenient to your travelling needs.


Often a boarding order is specified by the gate attendants, usually boarding business class, passengers with special needs, and passengers at the back of the plane first. When no boarding order is given it may help if those seated at the back were to board first, but this doesn't usually happen, and aisle blockages are common. To estimate where your seat is, check your airline's website for seatmaps or ask staff at the gate. Regardless of the boarding order given, you are always free to remain in the boarding lounge until the final call for the plane. If you choose to spend the least time possible in a cramped aircraft cabin, just wait in the boarding lounge until you see the last person at the gate, and join the end of the queue.

Special meal requests

Special meals are are a variation from the standard food offered by the airline. They generally match a variety of dietary or religions requirements, such as kosher, halal, vegetarian, diabetic, Low salt etc. Children's meals are often also available as special meals.

Special meals are offered by some airlines, often they can be ordered as part of the online booking process, or subsequently by managing the booking online. Special meals always need to be ordered at least 24 hours in advance, and the chances of getting one at check-in or when on the plane are slim (although it can never hurt to ask, as occasionally there are special meals on the plane from people who failed to board).

Special meals are usually served before other meals, this can be especially useful for children's meals. They can be of higher quality, but can also by lacking in some aspects, for example it is not uncommon for people ordering a vegetarian meal to get a vegan meal such as plain vegetables and rice (rather than that spinach and ricotta pasta they may have been hoping for).

Jet lag

Jet lag is a form of disorientation and fatigue caused by abruptly switching to a different sleeping/waking schedule and different daylight hours. Some people are affected more than others, but it tends to happen when crossing two or more time zones in a single flight (which first became commonplace with the development of commercial jet air travel, hence the term).

It doesn't follow that the greater the time difference between your origin and destination, the greater the jet lag. Often a short 4-5 hour difference that causes you to wake at 2am can be more fatiguing, and take longer to overcome than a complete reversal of day and night.

The basics to remember without going to too much effort, are to get a good night's sleep before your plane trip, and to sleep as much as possible during your plane trip. Ignore timezones, movies and entertainment, and just sleep whenever you can. When you arrive at your destination, forget your origin timezone and exist solely by the destination time.

Attempt to have a normal day in terms of the time zone you've flown into. If you land at 7AM, for example, you will probably have been served breakfast on your flight, so head to your accommodation (ask if they can mind your luggage (if you aren't travelling light), and go and see some of the sights, making sure to get daylight and fresh air. You'll feel tired, particularly by the mid-afternoon, but keep pushing on until an early dinnertime. Eat dinner and then go to bed. You should be tired enough for a good night's sleep.

Avoid planning long drives on your first day, as that is an easy way to get fatigued.

For short stays you can try to ignore the difference in time zone, and maintain the same sleeping schedule as you would according to the time "back home", perhaps keeping lights on to simulate daylight and pulling shades to simulate night. This is less practical for longer stays, or when travelling several time zones from home which would place you far out of synch with local hours. You can also try to slowly adjust your sleep schedule in advance of a long-distance trip. For example, before flying from California to Germany, you might start a week ahead of time, going to bed and waking up an hour earlier each day. These techniques are harder then they sound. Most peoples lives and travels have a multitude of distractions and activities which make shifting from the local timezone very difficult. Going to bed an hour earlier than normal is easy, but getting to sleep an hour earlier each night for 5 nights is nearly impossible.

The most important book ever written for the international traveler about preventing jet lag was Overcoming Jet Lag by Charles F. Ehret, Ph.D. and Lynne W. Scanlon, published by Berkley Publishing Group. Dr. Ehret's research was underwritten by The U.S. Government and used by The U.S. Army Rapid Deployment forces so they could be "fighting ready" no matter how many times zones they crossed to get to their destination. With Dr. Ehret's permission, that outdated and out-of-print book was rewritten, revised, and republished in October 2008 by Back2Press Books with a new title: The Cure for Jet Lag by Lynne Waller Scanlon and Charles F. Ehret, Ph.D.. The new edition contains multiple flight plans -- eastbound, westbound, zigzag, one landing, multiple landings and corresponding 3-Step Systems for each flight pattern. It also contains a chapter on "old" remedies used by international travelers like Henry Kissinger and Lyndon Johnson, some of which work fairly well, but none of which are comprehensive. Dr. Ehret did not subscribe to using any drugs to prevent jet lag. He felt not only that they were unnecessary but also that the body had to work over-time to get rid of the foreign substances in the body. This just added another negative element complicating jet lag.

Excess baggage

Airlines generally offer discounted cargo rates to passengers, but this must be arranged prior to departure and the destination of the goods your want to ship as cargo must match the destination on your ticket. The biggest drawback is that you need to deliver and collect the goods from the airport's cargo terminal. There is also no guarantee when your excess luggage will arrive as excess luggage is sent on a "space available" basis only. There is also unforeseen charges to consider when picking up in the form of clearance charges, handling fees and in certain circumstances customs duties.

Sea mail or sea freight is much cheaper than air freight, let alone excess baggage rates. It can be a good way to get some baggage back home when you don't need it any longer, or even to send some baggage ahead for longer trips. See individual country listings for information reliability of postal service at your destination, however.

Luggage delivery services provide an alternative. Luggage is delivered by a specific date, normally between 48hrs and 5 days and a door-to-door service is provided so you don't have to go to the cargo terminal either at drop-off or to pick-up your luggage (port-to-port). All paperwork is provided to you and customs procedures are managed. The price is cheaper than airline cargo rates.

If you have a lot of baggage, consider flying business class or even first class. The ticket will cost more, but with most airlines you get a larger luggage allowance.

If you are a frequent flyer with status, you often get an increased baggage allowance when flying with your airline. However, be careful of codeshare flights, which can see you paying steep excess baggage flights when the plane you board is operated by another carrier.

Deep vein thrombosis

Economy class passengers on long flights are prone to this, which is essentially blood clots forming in the veins, especially those in the legs. While such an occurrence is rare, one should still take precautions to minimize it. If your flight is 5 hours or longer, consider leaving your seat for a walk along the aisle every 2 hours or so. Even a trip to the washroom and back is better than nothing. First and business class passengers need not worry about this as there is generally more room for such passengers to exercise their legs sufficiently for this not to happen.

Flying with children

Children can get restless and irritable while flying and in airports. There are strategies you can follow to ensure your children enjoy the trip.

  • Arrange entertainment. The best way is to bring a portable DVD player, books, or anything else they can use to stay occupied with themselves. Be creative. iPods and PSPs also play video these days, and are much easier to carry than a DVD player and DVDs. Kids don't seem to mind the fact that the screen is 1" square. The batteries last far longer than a DVD player for a longer flights.
  • Have something to suck on while ascending and descending. Don't give it to the child when you get onto the plane - wait until you leave the runway, or it will be finished before you take off. Similarly, wait until well into the descent.
  • Bring favorite snacks for fussy eaters. If children don't like the airplane food and get hungry, irritability can increase.
  • Aim for a window seat for the child, and sit by the window at the airport. Airports are a hive of activity, usually enough to keep any child occupied for a little while.
  • Get an airport book. There are many picture books for young children that name the many things at the airport. For older children at a large airport, an airplane identification chart can pass some time.
  • If you are flying with a baby or young/loud child, consider bringing a bag of earplugs and offering them to your fellow passengers. They will certainly appreciate your consideration.

Consider safety. If you are traveling with a child who is less than three, have them sit on an approved child carrier, not on your lap. In the unlikely event of an emergency, a lap child may impede your ability to brace. Be aware of whether there is an oxygen mask for infants on the aircraft/row.

Anticipate delays. Even the shortest flights can be delayed. Ensure you have sufficient food, clothes, nappies, entertainment, to avoid turning a couple of hours delay into a nightmare.

This is a usable article. It touches on all the major areas of the topic. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

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