Airplanes rank among the most marvelous and useful inventions ever created. Man has dreamed of taking to the skies since the dawn of time. Many of us alive today don’t realize how incredibly lucky we are to live in the tiny sliver of history in which this dream has not only come true but has become routine.
As common as airplanes are, it can be easy to lose sight of just how incredible the engineering is that has gone into them. Modern airplanes all share a number of parts and design aspects, each the product of immense thought as well as trial and error. Although there are many different aircraft designs, the ones with which we are most familiar, such as general aviation and commercial airplanes, all share very similar features.
Every airplane has wings. The wingspan of modern planes can range anywhere from just a few feet, as on a piper cub, to the incredible 290-foot wingspan on the Antonov An-225. What many people don’t know, however, is that wings are far more than simple planks that catch fast-moving air like sails. Wings are designed in a very specific way. When viewed from the side, wings appear to have a teardrop shape. This is designed to create lift. Through careful consideration of physics, the shape of the wing creates high-pressure airflow on the bottom and low-pressure airflow on the top. When airspeed reaches a critical point, this allows the plane to lift off the ground, in the case of the An-225, sometimes carrying as much as 2 million pounds of weight!
All planes have a power source. This is usually either a gasoline or jet engine. Gasoline engines have been powerful enough to provide sufficient thrust for large commercial aircraft since the 1920s. But jet engines produce truly prodigious power. The dawn of the jet age saw planes reach a size that had never before been imagined. The fuselage of a 747, in fact, is longer than the entire distance of the Wright Brothers’ first flight!
The fuselage is the compartment where cargo and passengers reside. Smaller and older planes may have fuselages of varying shapes. A fuselage can be small enough to just barely fit a single pilot or large enough, as in the case of the Airbus A380, to serve as a flying mansion.