Transportation Deployment Casebook/2018/A History of Aeroplanes?


The aeroplane is the main mode of aerial transportation in modern society An aeroplane is a vehicle with weight greater than that of the air that has fixed wings and is powered by one or more engines that enable it to fly through the air. It is propelled by a screw propeller or high velocity jet and is supported by the dynamic reaction of the air against its wings. The wing and propeller design are determined by the properties of physics to allow the aircraft to overcome gravity through the correct combination of lift and drag forces. Engines with high power to weight ratios and materials that are both light and strong are critical design elements.

There are four main soft and hard technological aspects of the aeroplane’s design. First and foremost, an in-depth understanding of relevant physics is needed when considering the drag forces due to friction and the lift forces that help the aircraft overcome gravity. Without such an understanding, there would be no lift-off. In terms of hard technology, the internal combustion engine and propeller were needed to provide automated thrust. The Wright brothers were able to develop wings that could replace the contained gas after conducting a large number of tests in a wind tunnel. The final piece is the ability to manoeuvre the aeroplane. Again, the Wright brothers achieved this by warping the wings and the tail using a rudder and flaps. This mode was one of a select few in the aviation industry and its main advantage over other modes was its speed. Even during its birth stage, the aeroplane was able to outperform airships, as well as holding an enormous amount of development potential.

Aeroplane MarketEdit

Aeroplanes carry passengers and freight around the world in relatively short timeframes, capitalising on the speed advantage over other modes of transport. Passenger and freight transport are the main markets for aeroplanes, which are preferred to other modes for non-luxury transport and high-value freight, due to their speed. At times, it may be the only means to reach a particular destination. Aeroplanes today are comfortable, efficient and fast.

Despite needing correct alignment of runways for take-off and landing, aeroplanes do not need construction of things like tracks or roads for the entire distance travelled, so infrastructure requirements are minimal when compared with other transport options, such as road and rail. Air transport is also accessible in remote as well as urban areas and physical barriers such as sea, mountain and forest do not obstruct the routes, as long as take- off and landing space exists.

Apart from travel and cargo, the markets for aeroplanes include such things as medical transport, search and rescue operations, weather observation, surveying, crop dusting, firefighting, aerial photography. They also have uses in the entertainment industry in terms of things like air shows, parachuting sky diving and joy flights.

Aeroplanes also play a huge role in the military in terms of aerial combats, targeted ground attack missions to destroy strategic targets, surveillance, reconnaissance and the transport of military equipment and personnel.

Background and Contemporary Transportation ModesEdit

The development of different modes of transport dates back to approximately 3500 BC, when the first wheeled carts were developed and when horses were first trained to pull carts in approximately 2000BC.

Flight has long been a desire of the human race. Records of this date back to ancient times and across many civilisations. Many stories of ancient Gods involve capabilities of flying and stories, such as that of Daedalus and Incarus represent the human desire for flight, but our inability to do so. As far back as 559 AD, the Chinese Emperor’s son, was forcibly strapped to a kite and set airborne from a tower in an unsuccessful attempt to master flight and in 1492, Leonardo da Vinci is known to have designed a “flying machine”, but it would be many more years before his dream came to fruition.

The hot-air balloon was the first mode of transport to achieve manned flight in 1783. This was a huge step forward, showing that, as humanity’s understanding of the world expanded, flight was a possibility.

The design of the steam engine, which came at the end of the 17th century provided a means of automated propulsion for the first time. Even though the steam engine took a while to gain momentum, its widespread implementation and diverse designs gave insight into how engines worked and how they could be used for upgrading modes of transport. However, all attempts to use steam engines as sources of power for flight were unsuccessful due to the weight of the engine.

In the early 1900’s, when aeroplanes were first developed, the main modes of transport in society were steam trains and ships and the newly emerging automobiles. By the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century, internal combustion engines were beginning to gain a greater place in the market and a lot of work was being done to improve them. The automobile industry was conflicted as to whether internal combustion engines or electric vehicles were the best option to power vehicles. The internal combustion engine provided more horsepower in the end and ended up as the preferred method of vehicle propulsion. improved design and technological developments allowed for greater power for weight ratios, which eventually made them suitable for powering aeroplanes.

Design and BirthEdit

Inspired by the concept of gliders, the Wright brothers built the first successful powered aeroplane and conducted the first powered flight in 1903. Although not the first to build experimental aircraft, they were the first to invent aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible The duo dropped out of high school and worked with a variety of machinery, including bicycles. It was this work that developed their mechanical skills and their work with bicycles, in particular, that influenced their design.

The brothers envisaged turning an aeroplane to be similar to turning a bike, in that the vehicle banks into the turn instead of abruptly changing direction. They did some early work with gliders, trying to figure out how to accomplish this and discovered the benefits of wing warping as a solution. They also encountered problems with lift. After investigating, they found that traditional values for a coefficient in the lift equation would end up exaggerating the lift, which explained their problems. To accurately determine the lift of each wing, the brothers built a wing tunnel and tested many different wing designs to gain accurate values for the lift each would provide.

The addition of a rear mounted vertical rudder helped to eliminate turning problems, which was made moveable after some experiments to allow the aircraft to safely end turning manoeuvres. The further development of three-axis control allowed the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium.

The development of their propeller design was a result of detailed wind tunnel testing of different designs. They decided on twin “pusher” propellers, just over 8 feet long which counter-rotated to cancel torque. They were made with three laminations of glued spruce.

The development of a lightweight engine resulted in utilisation of some unique ideas Things such a cast aluminium engine block, to minimise weight, a primitive carburettor and using gravity to feed fuel into the engine. The engine was designed by their shop mechanic in close consultation with the brothers.

The aeroplane did not gain instant momentum and airships, had held almost a total monopoly of air travel. The rise of the aeroplane and subsequent demise of the airship, did not come until the Great War. During the war, the Germans had commissioned almost 100 airships for military operations. They were vastly outperformed by the manoeuvrability, speed and efficiency of aeroplanes, highlighting its advantages, as well as its future potential. The Hindenburg incident contributed further to the rise of aeroplane flights, which soon took the market lead as the faster, yet less comfortable option.

Immediately after the Great War, there was limited advancement. QANTAS ran its first passenger flight in 1922, as well as its first mail delivery service. The plane used for these trips was a leftover fighter plane from the war which could carry the driver and up to two passengers. The transport of mail was adopted by many airlines as a way of funding passenger trips.


The second World War saw a heavy focus on aerial combat, which prompted involved nations to improve the current design. The greatest improvement was made by the Germans in 1936, with the invention of the Heinkel He 178, the first jet aircraft. Due to the impractical nature of the design, it was not widely used. Building on this design in WW2, the Germans designed the Messerschmitt Me 262 in 1943, the first operational jet fighter. As eth fastest fighter of its time, the Messerschmitt was recognised as a vast improvement on the traditional propeller design, which prompted other nations to follow this path of development.

The original designs for aeroplanes were small and lightweight, limiting large cargo hauls and passenger trips. The main services provided were short-range taxi services and joy rides for thrill seekers.

It wasn’t until the development of improved materials in terms of lighter weight and stronger metals, better and more accurate manufacturing processes, improvements in jet engine design and fuels as well as computer technology and electrical developments that the aeroplane was able to progress to what it is today.

Passenger planes became bigger and moved from seating only two passengers, to being able to seat hundreds. This made passenger trips more profitable, leading to improved services, which would attract more customers, an example of a positive feedback loop. This trend continues to this day.

A similar situation unfolded in terms of freight. As aeroplanes became able to handle larger loads, freight aircraft were born, allowing for fast movement of mainly high-value goods. Much of this development was spurred on by the war efforts. Due to the large expenses incurred in aerial freight transportation, this service was only available to important goods or goods that required fast forms of transportation initially. Even with the further advancements in air freight, this is still the case today, as most goods with a low cost per unit volume are transported via container shipping methods, which is considerably cheaper.

The other initial niche in the market for the aeroplane, was the military. The aeroplane was invented a decade before the Great War, which saw the first widespread use of aeroplanes. The wars verified the efficiency and potential of the aeroplane as a military vehicle, sparking many of the large developments in aeronautical transport during the 20th century. Aeroplanes were used for many military purposes in the 20th century, such as; reconnaissance, aerial strikes against land units/bases and naval units, vital cargo transport, personnel insertions and many more.

Without the incentive for development provided by the military, the progress of air transport would have been slower. The large number of applications and the versatility of the mode has led nations to continue funding design development for aeroplanes, both in terms of improved engine mechanics, improved materials and major advances in electrical systems, computer technology, tracking systems and safety systems. These developments quickly make their way into the commercial market and improve the entire system.

Policy IssuesEdit

The Wright brothers patented their design as soon as they could and in as much detail as they could. They also pursued any infringement upon this patent with vigorous legal action. For this, the brothers were regarded as greedy by others. One such lawsuit, involving Glenn Curtiss, lasted from 1909 until 1914. During this time, the Wright brothers spent much of their efforts on fighting the lawsuit, as opposed to furthering their design. Despite Curtiss creating a large company to develop and manufacture aircraft, as well as others following his lead, the growth of aeroplanes in America was severely stunted.

As a result of this, during the Great War, America was forced to use a French design for their aeroplanes, as their own design was too far behind. In some countries, the government had a heavy involvement. In the US, the government followed the railroad model closely in terms of policy. They saw the two as being similar as they both performed transport tasks and were similar in operation. Policies from railroads, such as set passenger fares carried over to aeroplanes. The capping of passenger fares hurt the industry in its early stages. If the plane was not operating at capacity, which was often the case early on, the trip would not be profitable. As a solution to this, planes often took freight to subsidise costs, yet it was still not profitable. The problem was solved when planes began to transport postal cargo, as transporting mail came with large government subsidies, helping improve profitability. Policies regarding labour disputes were taken directly from other transport systems, such as railroads, which already had a valid system in place. There were also policies regarding servicing small communities. A minimum level of service was to be provided to small communities which were required to be included in the route. These regulations served to protect existing businesses from new arrivals.

The usage of aeroplanes in commercial sectors started to take off after WW2. The discovery of jet powered engines gave way to larger planes with larger capacity, leading to the further development of economies of scale. In the Australian domestic sector, routes between the capital cities of each state and territory quickly opened. Internationally, corridors opened between major hubs, connecting countries like never before. Tourism was the controlling factor in determining where and how the industry grew in most cases, as it was arguably the main reason for international air travel and still is today. The tourism focus led to transportation hubs being selected as locations for airports, as these locations provided good connectivity to other popular locations.

In Australia, QANTAS began international flights in partnership with Imperial Airways in 1935, which proved to be a profitable venture. Towards the end of the war, the kangaroo route was born and the kangaroo logo was used as it became an internationally famous symbol. After WW2, QANTAS rapidly expanded its international sphere of influence, especially as the airline was removed from the domestic market in 1946 by the Trans-Australia Airlines. The company aimed to connect Australia to all the major nations of the world. With advances in technology and engineering, this goal became more and more achievable as time went on.

The privatisation of aeroplane transportation was fairly standard worldwide by the early 1990’s. This led to competition in the business, which was often encouraged by governments, as well as a susceptibility to government policy. QANTAS was fully privatised in 1995, three years after attaining rights to conduct domestic flights. Previously, the airline had almost entirely conducted international flights, setting some world records and maintaining a steady flow of business. As almost all of the airline’s mileage was international, most of policies and regulations they were bound by were concerned with landing , maintenance, air traffic control and safety.. Due to harsh regulations preventing new airlines setting up business, competition was scarce in Australia. The main domestic competitor for QANTAS collapsed in 2001, giving the airline a monopoly. This was short-lived, however, as Virgin Blue expanded into the market, providing competition. This competition sparked the need for growth and constant improvement to the quality of service. An example for such growth was Jetstar, a cut-price airline that was a subsidiary for QANTAS, deployed to compete with Virgin. Similar events had been playing out in the international market over the entire course of aeroplane history, but on a much grander scale, with many more factions and complicated alliances.

Quantitative AnalysisEdit

The aim of the quantitative analysis is to provide an overview of the modal life cycle. The three phases of the life cycle, (birth, growth and maturity), need to be understood, so that the S-curve depicting the life cycle of aeroplanes can be drawn. This curve can be estimated using the equation:

S(t) = K/[1+exp(-b(t-t0)]


 S(t) is the status measure, (in this case, the number of aeroplane passengers)

 t is time in years

 t0 in the year in which 0.5K is reached

 K is the saturation status level

 b is a coefficient

This equation simplifies to:

-b(t – t0) = ln(K/S(t) – 1)

The data provides values for S(t) and t, against which estimated values for K are trialled in a Regression Analysis within Excell. Once K is found, dividing the y-intercept by -b will yield t0.


The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has been collecting data on aviation since 1970. The data sets contain information about several areas of transport such as freight and passenger trips. For this analysis, the data on the number of passengers traveling per year worldwide will be used. This data was accessed at The World Bank [1], along with subsequent data specific to Australia and Great Britain. Unfortunately, this data had the oldest entries that could be found, despite civil aviation dating back to the first decade of the 20th century. This issue will be dealt with later.

Figure 1 below shows a plot of the world passenger data, along with an exponential trendline, to show an easily identifiable relationship.

Figure 1

As can be seen in the plot above, there is a sustained growth occurring over time. The data also fits a curve that is increasing exponentially at an increasing rate, suggesting that aeroplanes, as a mode, are yet to even make it to the second half of their growth phase. That would mean that there has not yet been a mature phase for this mode. Figures 2 and 3 show the same style of data, but focus on only Australia and Great Britain respectively.

Figure 2
Figure 3

The data in Figures 2 and 3 exhibit the same behaviour as that of Figure 1, proving the validity of the theory that aeroplanes are still in the growth phase.

The Regression Analysis was only conducted on the data set contained in Figure 1, as this data represents the world as a whole. The results of the analysis are shown in Table 1 below.

K t0 b R^2
World 16000 2040.374867 0.052846 0.982325968

Figure 4 below shows an approximate extrapolation of the data for Australia. Australia was chosen, as it required the fewest number of years to extrapolate while also following the same trend as the other data sets. This extrapolation completes the birth phase of civil aviation in Australia.

Figure 4


As the modal utilisation is still growing substantially, it is doubtful that aeroplanes have reached maturity yet. A general upward trend can be observed, in the Figures above, in the number of passengers traveling using aeroplane services, indicating that the mode is still growing. This is backed up by the results of the regression analysis and data plots above.


1. The World Bank: International Civil Aviation Organisation 2018, viewed May 4 2018,

2. Garrison, WL & Levinson, DM 2014, THE TRANSPORTATION EXPERIENCE, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

3. ‘Wright Brothers’, Wikipedia, wiki article, viewed May 4 2018, Wright_brothers

4. ‘History of QANTAS’, Wikipedia, wiki article, viewed May 4 2018, History_of_Qantas

5. ‘Jet Aircraft’, Wikipedia, wiki article, viewed May 4 2018, Jet_aircraft

6. Britannica 2018, Concorde, The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, viewed May 5 2018,

7. QANTAS, Sydney, viewed May 6 2018,

8. Aeroplane, Definition of aeroplane in English by Oxford Dictionaries 2018, viewed May 4 2018,

9. Aeroplane definition and meaning, Collins English Dictionary 2018, viewed May 4 2018,

10. Airplane, Definition, Types, Mechanics & Facts, 2018, Viewed May 4 2018,

11. Advantages and Disadvantages of Air Transport – Tutorial – Vskills 2018, viewed May 4 2018,

12. What are the Chief Uses of Airplanes?, 2018, viewed May 8 2018, › Vehicles › Airplanes & Helicopters

13. TRANSPORT TIMELINE, viewed May 8 2018,

14. Historical Development of Air Transport – Springer 2016, viewed May 7 2018,


Figure 5: all raw data used in the results section