In this guide, we will discuss all the various technological leaps and innovations that have pushed aviation to where it is today.
When you think about airplanes, you would commonly picture an aircraft with a loud and powerful engine that leaves a trail of condensation behind – and if you ponder upon this vision, you will realise that airplanes have largely remained the same for decades.
However, the truth is that the landscape of aviation is ever-changing and numerous technologies are being adopted to promote and improve aviation. This adoption, though, is slow since these technologies need to pass numerous quality and safety checks, but the good news is that with the current line-up of future technologies, we might be seeing the next phase of aviation very soon.
In this guide, we will discuss all the various technological leaps and innovations that have pushed aviation to where it is today, and we will also look into some future technologies that are pushing the boundaries of light aircraft design and aviation.
Light Aircraft Design - Origins and Future
If you could summarise the technologies required to fly a light aircraft (or any aircraft), they would come down to three things:
- Aerodynamic Design
Light aircraft have been the foundation for aviation ever since the first successful manned flight by the Wright brothers in 1903. The original plane, affectionately named Kitty Hawk, was built with lightweight wood and was flown using a powerful and compact engine.
This design was seen as a breakthrough because it was capable of not only sustaining flight but it could also be piloted by a person who could control the direction of the plane as it flew. Believe it or not, controlling the plane was seen as a much bigger feat than anything else because up until that point, several aircraft designs could technically achieve flight, but they were unmanned.
Most early designs were usually anchored to the ground so that the plane wouldn’t go off and crash into urban territories. Some of these planes had whacky designs too, but in the end, it was the Wright Flyer that took the main stage as everyone came to accept their design as the most efficient at the time.
The second most important factor that made aviation possible was the combustion engine. This engine was a breakthrough for several reasons and is what pushed humanity forward in the context of transportation. Before this engine, humans relied on either steam engines or animal-powered machinery. Obviously, animal-powered engines fell out of favour very quickly, which is why steam engines became the go-to machine to produce mechanical energy.
Steam engines work by burning fuel (coal or wood) and then using the resulting heat to boil water. The steam is focused through pipes which produces pressure and this pressure is used to turn gears or other mechanical parts.
Steam engines powered trains and other parts of industries for many years but when it came to powering aircraft, it was clear that we needed a more compact and efficient type of engine.
This is where combustion engines come in. Combustion engines have been around in some form or the other for several years, but the idea and work behind them truly started to ramp up with the advent of mass-produced cars. Instead of steam, these engines worked by making small “explosions” in a highly controlled manner. The resulting pressure created by these explosions was harnessed using mechanical parts that would produce mechanical energy. Unlike steam engines, combustible engines were much more compact and highly efficient – two things that made them perfect for aircraft.
The third technological leap was in building a mechanism for control. As mentioned above, there were several attempts at building aircraft, but these designs were difficult to manoeuvre and were nearly impossible to land without crashing. This is where the Wright brothers came in!
Using their years of observations and experimentation with different aircraft designs and control mechanisms, the brothers were able to create a three-axis control system that would allow the plane to move left to right and even up and down. This was seen as a revolutionary design and is what allowed their aircraft to land back successfully and safely.
After these three leaps, aviation cemented itself as the pinnacle of human ingenuity. We had finally unlocked the secrets to flight using a combination of science and engineering – and we had barely scratched the surface as there was a lot more work to be done in the field of aviation!
The Future of Light Aircraft
The world of aviation has changed a lot since 1903! Today, there are a slew of incredible technologies that are helping us push the boundaries of aviation for the better. The 20th century saw a huge boost in interest in aviation. After the first successful flight, it didn’t take long for people to collectively work towards even better designs.
During World War I and II, the private aviation industry became stagnant, however, aircraft had huge implications and applications for the military. In fact, you can even say that the nearly profuse use of airplanes in both wars was one of the reasons behind the exponential growth in aviation technology.
For example, the humble radio was redesigned and made better so that it could work with airplanes. In the same way, aircraft engines were also incrementally updated to be more efficient. These new engines not only made aircraft fast, but they also unlocked a whole new line of aircraft designs like passenger jets, fighter jets, and more.
After it became apparent that aircraft could be used as the next big thing in transportation, almost every aviation-related company started to work on commercialising this technology to turn a profit – and this is where things really took off for aviation.
Light aircraft also saw a similar boost in interest during this time as well since all the technology developed for commercial aircraft trickled down to the light aircraft industry as well. See, after World War II, planes and parts were abundant and there was no real use for several military aircraft.
Many engineers and aviation enthusiasts took it upon themselves to start a culture surrounding light aircraft by building relatively inexpensive and efficient light aircraft using these spare parts– and this initial interest also provided the foundations for the idea behind flight clubs too!
Light aircraft play a major role in aviation not only because of how accessible they are compared to commercial aircraft but also because they are primarily used for training future pilots. This is why you will find light aircraft to have more or less the same technologies used in larger aircraft! Let’s look at some of these technologies and how they are changing the landscape of aviation.
Evolving Aviation – Electric Planes and More
The biggest leap in aviation seems to be focused on electric planes – and for good reason! If you think about it, the electric engine is doing now what combustible engines once did for the aviation industry. The concept of electric engines isn’t new, but it is, however, the first time that this technology is being seriously considered for the future.
Electric engines are cleaner, relatively safer, more efficient, noiseless, and very powerful. They may even help reduce costs associated with depreciating parts of maintenance. Thankfully, we already have a strong case for these types of engines owing to the steady increase in demand for electric cars!
Electric engines work by powering magnets that produce the required mechanical energy. These engines are powered by batteries instead of fossil fuels which makes them not only cleaner for the environment but also highly efficient.
The primary factor that made electric engines possible was the advances in battery technology. Batteries are inherently heavy and large – two factors that once made them incompatible with aircraft designs. However, owing to the boost in the sales of mobile phones that are primarily powered using lithium-ion batteries, engineers have been able to incrementally improve the technology behind these batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are the default choice for powering electronics and several big companies are pouring money into researching and developing better ways to produce these batteries to make them lighter, compact, and more efficient.
Today, after several decades of innovation, it seems like the future is truly going to be electric! Thanks to breakthroughs in battery technology, we have been able to power not just cars but light aircraft as well.
Here are some of the benefits of electric light aircraft and the technologies behind them:
Noiseless and Reduced Emissions
There is only one thing on an aircraft that contributes towards global emissions: the engine. The fuel burned by non-electric planes adds to air pollution in the environment and it is estimated that around 2.4% of global CO2 emissions come from aviation alone. This is why it has become important to address these issues by shifting to another form of energy: electricity.
Electric planes are not only noiseless, but they contribute less to global emissions than typical aircraft. Not only is this beneficial for the environment, but it can also help bring in even more customers by adopting a more efficient and safer form of transportation in the future!
Improvements in Range
“Range anxiety” is a common term that is frequently used when talking about electric vehicles – and this concept is even more pressing for aircraft. In the early years of development, there was a serious conversation about the range that electric engine systems can provide versus combustion engines.
Fortunately, thanks to the numerous improvements and advancements in battery technology, engineers have developed higher-capacity batteries that can not only maintain a charge but can also charge up relatively quickly too. There are several other technologies, like regenerating electricity through braking or descending that further improve the range and battery performance of electric aircraft.
Building the Infrastructure for Electric Planes
Electric planes require special charging stations where aircraft can replenish their battery reserves. In the past, due to slow charging technology, these batteries would take a long time to fully charge, making them a not-so-great choice over conventional aircraft.
However, today, electric aircraft are seeing a holistic improvement, even when it comes to the charging infrastructure. Electric planes can now charge faster than ever before, with some models even supporting fast charging that can effectively cut the charging time in half!
Several airports are now adopting their infrastructure to support the arrival of electric planes as well and while this technology will take a few years to be viable for mass transit, you can bet that the future is going to be electric and electric aircraft will completely change the way we travel and enjoy aviation!
Take, for example, Pipistrel, a Slovenian light aircraft manufacturer that is pushing the envelope when it comes to light aircraft! Pipistrel has already introduced their Velis Electro, the first ever certified electric-powered aeroplane, fully approved for pilot training in Day VFR operations.
While electric planes may be front and centre for the future of aviation, there are plenty of other technologies in the works that may completely evolve how we perceive flight – of these many technologies, a low-hanging fruit seems to be hydrogen-powered aircraft!
Imagine an aircraft that is powered using nothing but the building blocks of water. Hydrogen-powered aircraft may seem like a pipedream but there is real work being put into this technology and there have been promising results that may indicate that we may eventually shift towards this technology in the future.
Another exciting area in aviation technology is related to space travel, or more precisely, low-orbit tourism. Several big companies, like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, are working behind this technology and we may shortly see a boom in space tourism where companies use electric planes to take passengers on a joy ride like never before.
The future of aviation is full of possibilities and there is no better time to learn how to fly than now. If you want to step into the world of aviation and get your fill of thrill-seeking fun, then we encourage you to enrol in a flight school to learn how to fly light aircraft!
WHY CHOOSE SHERBURN AERO CLUB
Sherburn Aero Club, which has been operational since 1964, is the ideal place for most of your training and flying needs. It is one of the largest flying clubs in the North of England and also one of the largest in the country.
For those who wish to experience the thrill of a flight for fun or to help fuel their aviation dreams, Sherburn offers experience flights for the newbie, as well as the veteran in various types of light aircraft.
The flight experience option is also available for people who wish to take to the skies for special occasions, even if they aren’t into aviation in the long run.
If you wish to begin your career in aviation or wish to take to the skies as a hobby, Sherburn’s flight training school offers private and commercial licences, along with pilot medicals to ensure a smooth journey going forward.
With a large fleet of new aircraft and an airfield refurbishment with new runways, hangars, and an extended clubhouse, we cater to brand-new flyers who have just started their journey to the skies, as well as seasoned flyers who have been operating aircraft for decades.
Sherburn offers a dedicated day-long Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FRTOL) course for those wishing to get the certification, running the first Sunday of every month.
In addition to that, if you are looking for a hangarage for your own aircraft, need servicing or repairs, want to buy a new aircraft or aviation equipment, or are just looking to enjoy and watch the aircraft, Sherburn Aero Club is the place to be.
Call us at 01977 682 674, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message us via our online contact form for more information on light aircraft, training requirements, licencing procedures, as well as experience flights and pilot training at Sherburn.