Questions tagged [aviation-history]

Questions about aviation history, starting from kites, balloons, airplanes, helicopters and rockets.

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113 votes
13 answers
40k views

Why does it take so long to develop modern military jets?

In the 1960's, it took three years to produce a flying prototype of an aircraft that flew faster than anything before, was built out of a novel construction material, used a new type of fuel, and was ...
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81 votes
14 answers
43k views

What is the slowest fixed-wing airplane?

It's easy to find information about the fastest airplanes, in different categories (e.g. X-15, SR-71, the Concorde etc), but what is the slowest one? Which powered, manned airplane is capable of ...
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58 votes
9 answers
18k views

Why was the P-51 Mustang not adopted by the U.S. Navy?

I've heard from many WWII aviation hobbyists and WWII vets that the P-51 was essentially the pinnacle of U.S. piston-engine fighter design; it was fast, maneuverable, long-range, well-armed, allowed ...
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57 votes
13 answers
15k views

Have any large aeroplanes been landed — safely and without damage — in locations that they could not be flown away from?

And, what was done with them subsequently?
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52 votes
9 answers
21k views

Why don't aircraft use nuclear propulsion?

Nuclear propulsion research for aircraft was abandoned during the 50's. Why wasn't it revived ever?
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51 votes
3 answers
12k views

The F-16s that were scrambled to intercept United 93 did not have time to arm the jets, so the pilots were going to “ram it” how does that work?

The Wikipedia page says Two F-16 fighter pilots from the 121st Fighter Squadron of the D.C. Air National Guard, Marc Sasseville and Heather "Lucky" Penney, were scrambled and ordered to ...
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48 votes
3 answers
88k views

Why did the Ju-87 Stuka have a siren?

Why did the Ju-87 Stuka have a siren? Was this for purely psychological reasons or did it help the pilot in some way?
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48 votes
4 answers
5k views

Could the Wright brothers fly across the US today?

If the Wright brothers were still alive (and in very good health for their age), could they fly one of their aircraft across the United States today? Specifically, I'm looking at the Wright Model B, ...
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45 votes
4 answers
20k views

Why is the autopilot called "George?"

The autopilot of an airplane is frequently referred to as "George" (for example, in this answer). When did this nickname enter common usage, and what is its origin? Please cite sources if possible!
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44 votes
4 answers
17k views

Why was Concorde never sold as a private business jet?

Airliners like Boeing 747 and even Airbus 380 are at times considered as personal jets for extremely wealthy people. Looking from the side, Concorde was ideal for this role: while not very big, it ...
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42 votes
13 answers
9k views

Other than a swing wing, what types of variable geometry have flown?

We're well familiar with swing wings, on small and large aircraft from both the east and west. What other types of variable geometry have been tried?
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42 votes
3 answers
19k views

How did SR-71 spy, flying at 80,000 ft and 3500 km/h?

The SR-71 Blackbird is a famous supersonic reconnaissance/spy aircraft, undoubtedly one of the most amazing flying machines ever. Now, with the capabilities it had: Maximum speed: Mach 3.3 (2,200+ ...
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41 votes
3 answers
9k views

What is the largest plane ever to have been stolen by a single pilot?

This guy stole a few small planes like two c172s, a 182 and a Columbia 400. Also, in 2003 two persons stole a Boeing 727. Has there been other cases like this one where someone stole a large aircraft?...
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40 votes
3 answers
7k views

Is 3 crew cockpit safer than 2 crew?

Today, commercial aircraft cockpit is manned by 2 pilots, previously it was 3 to 5. Is safety compromised in any way?
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40 votes
4 answers
10k views

Why is paragliding not an old invention?

Paraglider looks like a rather simple device for me. It does not have a complex engine that needs lots of technology to be built. It also does not need a powered aircraft just to be launched. Looking ...
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39 votes
6 answers
36k views

Why don't passenger aircraft use the trijet configuration anymore?

As a kid I distinctly remember seeing aircraft like the bright blue KLM MD-11 having the prominent third engine on the tail. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KLM_MD_11_AMS.jpg However, I don'...
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39 votes
1 answer
7k views

Which aircraft had such a luxurious-looking navigator's station?

I'm reading the BBC's How Fiji changed the way we travel; The little Pacific island nation was the first to incorporate GPS into its aviation system – and in doing so forever changed the way we get ...
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  • 4,556
37 votes
5 answers
20k views

Why did the Junkers Ju-52 have corrugated external surfaces?

Every time I pass by Munich I have to pay a visit to the Deutsches museum, in particular to the aviation wing. Among the other aircraft on display, there is a Junkers Ju-52. A different photo taken ...
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37 votes
2 answers
2k views

How can I find my grandmother's OLD instrument rating documentation?

This is my grandmother, Nathalie Myrtle Brown: The big-eared kid she's posing with is my dad. She has a claim to fame in that she was the first female instrument-rated pilot in the state of Iowa, a ...
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36 votes
4 answers
12k views

Have jet engines ever "Sheared" off?

I have read that jet engines, at least the under-wing ones, are attached to the airplane by shear nuts and bolts so that in case of unstable forces in or on the engine, the engine would fall off to ...
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34 votes
4 answers
11k views

How were bullets fired through the propeller in the Focke Wulf 190?

In WWII there was a plane called the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. It was designed by an engineer called Kurt Tank. How is it possible that the Fw 190 fires through the propeller from 4 different places as you ...
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33 votes
11 answers
11k views

How could "aggressor" pilots fly foreign aircraft without speaking the language?

Context I watched a couple documentaries recently and found one where they were mentioning the training of American forces against Mi-24 that were captured and brought back to the US to test fly them....
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33 votes
5 answers
8k views

Why, until recently, were smooth nose sections not popular?

Why, until recently, were smooth nose sections not popular? By smooth I mean without a break between the nose and windshield. (The question focuses on airliners.) Seeing the Starliner (left) and DC-7 ...
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33 votes
4 answers
44k views

Why does an airplane captain sit in the left seat?

For almost every airline, the captain sits in the left seat, and the first officer on the right. We know that in most countries right-side traffic and some have left-side. During training, the ...
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33 votes
3 answers
8k views

Why did the B-29 have so much leftward torque at take-off?

In this book, The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes (p. 705), I read: [Paul Tibbets] eased the brakes [of Enola Gay] at 0245, the four fuel-injected Wright Cyclone engines pounding. “The ...
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32 votes
1 answer
6k views

Why did flying boats in the '30s and '40s have a longer range than land based aircraft?

I just learned that until shortly after world war 2, flying boats had a longer range than land based aircraft In the 1930s, a flying boat route was the only practical means of transatlantic air ...
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  • 433
32 votes
1 answer
5k views

Why did the DC-3 have wing sweep?

When looking at the silhouette of a DC-3, one can clearly see that the wings are swept. This design is from 1935, before the high-speed research work on wing sweep was ever implemented, and the DC-3 ...
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31 votes
12 answers
10k views

Is there an example of a classic aviation engineering moment when engineers had to discard all their work due to the wrong approach?

Is there any classic aviation/space engineering moment where the engineers had been working on a concept for months and then realised that their approach to the problem wasn't quite right and so had ...
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  • 477
31 votes
2 answers
10k views

Has a commercial or military jet bi-plane ever been manufactured?

Are there any, or have there ever been any commercial/military jet bi-planes? What would be some of the major advantages vs disadvantages if one was built? Electric radio controlled ducted fan model. ...
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31 votes
5 answers
5k views

In the early days of flight, were there any cockpit control schemes other than the modern one?

Back in the early days, what kind of control schemes were invented for aircraft, other than the modern one? (pedals to yaw, yoke to pitch and roll). I'm only interested in control schemes that can be ...
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31 votes
2 answers
7k views

What is the purpose of the glazed round area atop the Ju 87 Stuka G?

I haven't been able to find any pictures of this feature aside from models, nor any reference to what it is. I'm going to make a complete guess and suggest it's a searchlight for night-fighting to ...
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30 votes
5 answers
10k views

Why was the production of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird halted?

Why was production of Lockheed's SR-71 Blackbird halted, given that it was an advanced supersonic jet that was ahead of its time?
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  • 402
30 votes
3 answers
6k views

Has there ever been an aircraft with three sets of flight controls?

On every aircraft I know, there is either one set of flight controls if it is single-pilot operated, or two sets of flight controls allowing either the pilot or copilot full control. Has there ever ...
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29 votes
2 answers
8k views

In WW2 aircraft, where were gun cameras mounted, and did they suffer performance penalties?

During WW2, some aircraft had gun cameras that activated whenever the guns fired, so that people on the ground could evaluate performance and help with kill ratios and other statistics. These were ...
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29 votes
2 answers
15k views

Were there any instances of aerial combat between helicopters?

Were there any cases in history where two attack-helicopters like AH-64 and MI-24(for example) were involved in an air fight between each other?
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28 votes
3 answers
6k views

What aircraft was the Olmstead High Efficiency Propeller for? When and how was it used?

The AFResearchLab video AFRL Tech Museum Series: Propeller Development begins with the narrator standing in front of four propellers in a sequence transitioning from wood to metal, and what stands out ...
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  • 4,556
28 votes
4 answers
5k views

Did Wolfgang Langewiesche ever change his mind about rudder pedals?

I get the feeling that if aviation was a religion and had a holy book, that book would be Stick and Rudder. Mostly because it's often spoken of with great authority by people who have never read it. ...
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27 votes
3 answers
10k views

Would the Gee Bee be allowed to fly today, with so little forward visibility?

When looking at the Gee Bee: Source I wonder what the pilot is actually able to see, when rolling on the runway, when flying level, or trying to locate a possible emergency landing place. It seems ...
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27 votes
2 answers
12k views

Why do we call moving an aircraft on the ground "taxi"?

We all know what "taxi" means to general public -- a car which carries you from A to B in exchange for your paying a fare. "Taxi" also means to drive an aircraft on the ground. Why do we call it that?...
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26 votes
1 answer
3k views

When was the need for a truer Earth shape for aeronautical navigation realized?

Motivated by Federico's answer to Can a great circle be drawn between any two points on Earth? Earth is not a perfect sphere, and it can be argued that the degree of oblateness is negligible. So is ...
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26 votes
1 answer
3k views

Why are electric shavers specifically permitted under FAR §91.21

This struck me as a bit strange, 91.21 which covers electronic devices that can be used during IFR flight has some exceptions, one through three make logical sense (not really sure why portable voice ...
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  • 96k
25 votes
6 answers
3k views

Which airplane designs have the greatest longevity?

What airplane designs have been around the longest, from first flight through last retirement from active commercial or military service? My guess is that the DC-3 will win, since it has been around ...
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  • 41.9k
25 votes
4 answers
15k views

Why did WWII prop aircraft have colored prop tips?

Why do propeller aircraft from World War II and similar planes sometimes have the tips of the props colored? I see it on single engine planes like the P-51 as well as bigger, multi-engine planes such ...
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  • 2,263
25 votes
4 answers
4k views

Why is New York-London used in time measurement for aircraft?

Looking around aviation news and history, I see that many commercial aircraft are touted to have this or that much time fly between New York and London. What caused the route between these two cities ...
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24 votes
2 answers
6k views

How exactly did engineers come to the final design of jets like the F-16 or SR-71?

I ask this question because I read somewhere that SR-71 was designed in 60's with hand calculations and drafters and when engineers later tried to improve the design with modern computers they found ...
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  • 910
24 votes
2 answers
6k views

Can anyone identify what appears to be a crashed WWII German plane?

This photograph is in my family's photo collection. The only information with the photo is, "Cousin Bud Kohl - aircraft wreck." If anyone can identify the make and model it is greatly ...
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  • 1,211
24 votes
5 answers
6k views

What was the inflight entertainment in the early seventies?

In her 1970 song "This Flight Tonight", Joni Mitchell sings I'm drinking sweet champagne Got the headphones up high Can't numb you out Can't drum you out of my mind They're playing Goodbye ...
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  • 2,143
24 votes
3 answers
8k views

What is the largest taildragger in history?

Large, modern multi-engine airplanes do mostly have the 'tricycle' landing gear type. But it hasn't always be the norm. I remember at least one big plane with 'conventional landing gear', the German ...
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  • 10.4k
24 votes
2 answers
12k views

Is there an official record of the pilot with the most logged flight time?

We often hear about pilots with 10 or even 20 thousands hours. So I was wondering how much higher this number can go. Do we know which pilot has the most logged time? Is there any official number?
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  • 2,154
24 votes
1 answer
5k views

Was it possible to land a Boeing 707 with 300 feet cloud ceiling in the 70s?

In the movie Airplane! (1980), the main characters had to land a Boeing 707 in Chicago airport in low visibility. The dialog says the pilot "should be able to see the runway at 300 feet". Given the ...
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