An airplane or aeroplane (informally plane) is a powered, fixed-wing aircraft that is propelled forward by thrust from a jet engine or propeller. Airplanes come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and wing configurations. The broad spectrum of uses for airplanes includes recreation, transportation of goods and people, military, and research. Commercial aviation is a massive industry involving the flying of tens of thousands of passengers daily on airliners. Most airplanes are flown by a pilot on board the aircraft, but some are designed to be remotely or computer-controlled.

The Wright brothers invented and flew the first airplane in 1903, recognized as "the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight".[1] They built on the works of George Cayley dating from 1799, when he set forth the concept of the modern airplane (and later built and flew models and successful passenger-carrying gliders).[2] Between 1867 and 1896, the German pioneer of human aviation Otto Lilienthal also studied heavier-than-air flight. Following its limited use in World War I, aircraft technology continued to develop. Airplanes had a presence in all the major battles of World War II. The first jet aircraft was the German Heinkel He 178 in 1939. The first jet airliner, the de Havilland Comet, was introduced in 1952. The Boeing 707, the first widely successful commercial jet, was in commercial service for more than 50 years, from 1958 to at least 2013.

Etymology and usage

First attested in English in the late 19th century (prior to the first sustained powered flight), the word airplane, like aeroplane, derives from the French aéroplane, which comes from the Greek ἀήρ (aēr), "air"  and either Latin planus, "level" or Greek πλάνος (planos), "wandering"  "Aéroplane" originally referred just to the wing, as it is a plane moving through the air. In an example of synecdoche, the word for the wing came to refer to the entire aircraft.

In the United States and Canada, the term "airplane" is used for powered fixed-wing aircraft. In the United Kingdom and most of the Commonwealth, the term "aeroplane"  is usually applied to these aircraft.



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 in Greece, Archytas 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 flown some 200 m (660 ft)  This machine may have been suspended for its flight.  

Some of the earliest recorded attempts with gliders were those by the 9th-century poet Abbas ibn Firnas and the 11th-century monk Eilmer of Malmesbury; both experiments injured their pilots. 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 1799, George Cayley set forth the concept of the modern airplane as a fixed-wing flying machine with separate systems for lift, propulsion, and control. Cayley was building and flying models of fixed-wing aircraft as early as 1803, and he built a successful passenger-carrying glider in 1853  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  Then Alexander F. Mozhaisky also made some innovative designs. In 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.

Sir Hiram Maxim built a craft that weighed 3.5 tons, with a 110-foot (34 meter) wingspan that was powered by two 360-horsepower (270 kW) steam engines driving two propellers. In 1894, his machine was tested with overhead rails to prevent it from rising. The test showed that it had enough lift to take off. The craft was uncontrollable, which Maxim, it is presumed, realized, because he subsequently abandoned work on it.  

In the 1890s, Lawrence Hargrave conducted research on wing structures and developed a box kite that lifted the weight of a man. His box kite designs were widely adopted. Although he also developed a type of rotary aircraft engine, he did not create and fly a powered fixed-wing aircraft.

Between 1867 and 1896 the German pioneer of human aviation Otto Lilienthal developed heavier-than-air flight. He was the first person to make well-documented, repeated, successful gliding flights.

Early powered flights

Clement Ader constructed his first of three flying machines in 1886, the Éole. It was a bat-like design run by a lightweight steam engine of his own invention, with 4 cylinders developing 20 horsepower (15 kW), driving a four-blade propeller. The engine weighed no more than 4 kg/kW (7 pounds per horsepower). The wings had a span of 14 m (46 ft). All-up weight was 300 kg (650 lb). On 9 October 1890 Ader attempted to fly the Éole. Aviation historians give credit to this effort as a powered take-off and uncontrolled hop of approximately 50 m (160 ft) at a height of approximately 20 cm, (8 in)  Ader's two subsequent machines were not documented to have achieved flight 

The Wright brothers flights in 1903 are recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), the standard setting and record-keeping body for aeronautics, as "the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight"  By 1905, the Wright Flyer III was capable of fully controllable, stable flight for substantial periods. The Wright brothers credited Otto Lilienthal as a major inspiration for their decision to pursue manned flight 

In 1906, Alberto Santos-Dumont made what was claimed to be the first airplane flight unassisted by catapult  and set the first world record recognized by the Aéro-Club de France by flying 220 meters (720 ft) in less than 22 seconds  This flight was also certified by the FAI 

An early aircraft design that brought together the modern monoplane tractor configuration was the Blériot VIII design of 1908. It had movable tail surfaces controlling both yaw and pitch, a form of roll control supplied either by wing warping or by ailerons and controlled by its pilot with a joystick and rudder bar. It was an important predecessor of his later Blériot XI Channel-crossing aircraft of the summer of 1909.  

In Romania the aircraft, A. Vlaicu nr. 1, was finished in 1909, and was test flown on June 17, 1910. From the first flight the airplane had no need of changes. The plane was made from a single aluminum spar 10 m (33 ft) long which supported the entire aircraft, making it very easy to fly. Ten planes were made for the Romanian Air Force, being the second-ever military air force in the world.

World War I served as a testbed for the use of the airplane as a weapon. Airplanes demonstrated their potential as mobile observation platforms, then proved themselves to be machines of war capable of causing casualties to the enemy. The earliest known aerial victory with a synchronized machine gun-armed fighter aircraft occurred in 1915, by German Luftstreitkräfte Leutnant Kurt Wintgens. Fighter aces appeared; the greatest (by number of Aerial Combat victories) was Manfred von Richthofen.

Following WWI, aircraft technology continued to develop. Alcock and Brown crossed the Atlantic non-stop for the first time in 1919. The first international commercial flights took place between the United States and Canada in 1919 

Airplanes had a presence in all the major battles of World War II. They were an essential component of the military strategies of the period, such as the German Blitzkrieg, The Battle of Britain, and the American and Japanese aircraft carrier campaigns of the Pacific War.