How Have Airplanes Changed Over the Years?

Airplanes have changed in their size, engine systems, control systems, construction, and range and payload capabilities since the first powered aircraft took to the air in the early 20th century. Modern passenger airplanes are larger, faster, more powerful and also more fuel-efficient as compared to early aircraft.

Early airplanes often used wood and fabric for construction and featured two, or sometimes even three, wings. Between the two world wars, airplanes evolved into monoplanes and aluminum became the material of choice. While aluminum is still used for the majority of airplane construction, modern aircraft use a significant amount of composite materials. For example, the Airbus A350 XWB uses composites for 50 percent of its construction.

Early commercial planes, such as the DC-3, carried less than 50 passengers and had a range of less than 2,000 miles. However, newer passenger jets can carry many more. The double-deck Airbus A380 can be configured to carry over 800 passengers, and the Boeing 777-200LR can fly more than 9,000 miles.

Control systemsAirplanes use control surface, such asailerons, rudders and elevators, to control their roll, yaw and pitch in flight. Pilot controls were first transmitted to the surfaces by cable. Later, hydraulic systems came into play. Airbus introduced fly-by-wire systems in the 1980s, an industry standard in the early 21st century.

EnginesEngines used in aircraft have changed from reciprocating piston engines to more efficient jet engines. While the former powered aircraft by turning propellers, the latter may propel aircraft forward in a number of ways, including the use of propellers.