Interests, attempts, and experimentation to develop powered flights started way back 2000 years ago. Since then, several innovations have taken place that has seen us witness different types of airplanes down this development history.
This interest started with the Greek legend of Icarus. The Greeks never did much until the 9th century when Andalusian inventor Abbas Ibn Firnas designed a simple glider that had no notable impact.
During this time, Leonardo da Vinci also researched the flying of birds and designed flying objects. An English Engineer, George Cayley, also played a role in the early development of airplanes. He investigated and documented the forces of flight and the concept of fixed-wing machine systems for lift, propulsion, and control.
In 1886, a French aviator Clement Ader built a steam-powered airplane but didn’t go above 50 meters. It was until 1903 when Wilbur and Orville Wright (Wright Brothers) flew the first powered airplane on December 17th, 1903, near Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. This was the first sustained and controlled heavier than air-powered flight.
Their first attempt flew 37 meters and stayed airborne for 12 seconds. A third attempt was in 1905. The craft lasted 37 minutes airborne and covered 37 kilometers. This craft had a large fuel tank and engine coolant to facilitate prolonged operation.
It was until 1908 when Charles Furnas became the first passenger in the first passenger airplane. Since then, several innovations have taken place in the aviation industry, leading to different airplanes existing today.
In this article we cover;
Commercial airplanes are types of airplanes mainly for business reasons. They transport passengers and cargo to make a profit. Some of the commercial planes include;
The Turboprop airplanes consist of one or more turbine engines. These gas turbines link to the gearbox and help to turn the propellers. They come in different sizes and have got a carrying capacity of 6-8 passengers in a single flight.
Often, the interior of these planes is configured like an office where meetings can be held when on the flight. This means they are much bigger than piston-engine airlines.
Turboprops are much cheaper than private jets because they have low operating costs since they burn less fuel. Turboprops can fly to an altitude as high as 35,000 feet.
They are slower in speed compared to jets and can only cover a distance of 600 to 1000 miles in a single flight. They are effective for aviation airports with short runways. Some manufacturers of Turboprops include;
Piston airplanes are smaller than turboprop airlines. Additionally, they have one or two pistons that link to the propeller to help provide thrust during takeoff and flight.
These types of airplanes use 100 Octane low leaded fuel and are effective for short-distance flights of probably 300 to 400 miles. They can fly to an altitude as high as 15,000 feet.
Piston crafts are suitable for small airports that do not have traffic control towers for navigation. They can land safely and without the control and navigation towers. They are also suitable for short airport runways.
The interior of a Piston plane looks like that of a normal SUV or car with seats arranged in rows of two. It can carry 1 to 6 passengers on a single flight. Some manufacturers of piston airlines include;
Jets comprise one or more gas turbine engines that aid them in thrust and flight. They usually use Jet A type of fuel. Jets originated from Britain in 1928. In 1936, a German, Ernst Heinkel, pioneered the construction of the first jet plane which was a perfect version of a jet than those from Britain.
Jets are types of airplanes that have exceptional flight speed, power and can achieve maximum efficiency when at high speed. They can move at speeds faster than sound (supersonic speed) and are capable to cover a distance of 610 miles in one hour of flight at maximum speed.
Because of this power, they are capable to fly at an altitude as high as 49,000 feet and can cover a distance of 1000 miles of flight.
Jets range in size from those that can carry a smaller number of passengers as small as 6 to those that can carry hundreds of passengers. They range from small cabins to large cabins and can make international flights between continents.
Some have got interiors which look like small offices to hold meetings during flights. Small jets can land in small airports, but there are also large jets that require bigger airports to enable them to land safely. Some manufacturers of jets include:
- Dassault Falcon Jet
- Emivest Aerospace
There are four categories of jets. They include;
Other names for light jets are entry-level jets or personal jets. They offer the best alternative to Turboprops. These jets were also previously called microjets. They are small in size. Business individuals who are time conscious prefer them to reach destinations quickly for business deals.
They can carry 4 to 8 passengers on a single flight. Light jets have a maximum takeoff weight of 10,000 pounds or 4,540 kgs. Light jets are single-pilot operation types of airplanes. These types of airplanes are therefore effective for small distances and light luggage flights. Some light jets include;
- Embraer Phenom 100
- Cessna Citation M2
- Honda Jet
Mid Size Jets
Midsize jets are much bigger than light jets and turboprops. They also have better speed than the two. They are effective for both short and long flights. Midsize jets have low operation costs.
The mid-size jets have enclosed apartments and fully stand-up cabins preferred by wealthy passengers for privacy reasons. They have a maximum takeoff weight of between 21,000 to 41,000 pounds. These types of jets include;
- Hawker Beechcraft 800XP
- Embraer Legacy 500
- Cessna Citation Sovereign
- Bombardier Learjet 35
- Bombardier Learjet 60XR
The Jumbo jets are the “pinnacle of air luxury.” Jumbo jets offered a wide range of jets with much greater space. They have been for both short and long-range flights. Jumbo jets can carry passengers and luggage to a maximum takeoff weight of 240,000 pounds.
Private jumbo jets are only for the wealthiest and offer a wide range of luxurious options, like dining, entertainment rooms, etc. Some jumbo jets include;
- Global 6000
- Dassault Falcon 7X
- Gulfstream G550
- Gulfstream GIV
- Bombardier Challenger 604
Regional jets are types of airplanes that are narrow in design and are turbofans or turboprop-powered. They are short-haul planes for short-range flights. That means they cannot do transatlantic or intercontinental flights. Regional jets have a limited capacity of up to 150 passengers.
Regional jets are feed liners or commuter planes because they feed larger planes with passengers. Most of these planes are only economy class. But sometimes they can have an isolated business class cabins separated from the rest of the cabin using a curtain.
Narrow Body Airplanes
These planes are single-aisle types of airplanes. They have a cabin diameter of 3 to 4 meters and can allow between 2 to 6 seats per row. Seat formation in economy class is 3×3, 2×3, 2×2, 1×2, or 1×1. With additional cabins, there will be fewer seats per row.
For premium economy or business class, some will have the same number of seats per row, leaving the middle seat vacant to give passengers more room. Narrow-body airplanes can carry up to 300 passengers in a single flight. The single-aisle allows passengers to walk around but not with much freedom.
These types of airplanes have lavatories in them and also ample space for flight attendants to attend to passengers. The planes have got luxurious interiors for travelers and they include;
- Airbus 318
- Airbus 319
- Boeing 757-300
Some manufacturers of narrow-body planes include;
- De Havilland
- McDowell Douglas
Wide Body Airlines
Widebody airlines are large. They are as large as 5 to 6 meters in diameter and have enough space for passengers to move freely within the cabin. Every cabin class has a different seat formation and arrangement.
A standard economy class cabin has 7 to 10 seats in a single row, three columns, and two aisles. In most cases, the formation of an economy class cabin will be 2x3x2 or 3x3x3, or 3x4x3.
The first-class cabin will have fewer seats with a formation of 2x2x2 while the business class cabin may have a 2x3x2 row formation. These planes can have two or more cabins in the formation of;
- One economy class and one or more business classes
- A first-class or premium economy class cabin
Widebody airlines can carry 200 to 800 passengers in a single flight. They are also luxurious since they have enough space for free movement, cargo holds, lavatories, and flight attendant sections. They operate both long and short hauls.
Widebody airlines can be categorized into standard and large (“jumbo jet”) bodies. Some are often double-decker with two floors of seats. They are for both commercial passenger and cargo services. Typical manufacturers include;
- McDonnell Douglas
Regional, Short-Haul, Federline Aircrafts
Regional planes are types of airplanes that can carry up to a hundred passengers in a single flight. They are turbofans or turboprop-powered. Short-haul planes are a smaller version of the large carriers.
Often, they are feeder carriers to larger planes and operate in routes that are suitable for smaller aircraft. Their primary purpose is to serve the demand of offering services in remote cities where large carriers cannot operate.
Often they connect smaller cities to the large airports in large cities by ferrying passengers from smaller cities to the major hub airports. Regional aircraft are usually in demand in case the large carriers require their services.
Commuter liners are light flights for short-haul air travel. They are domestic flight airlines and operate smaller aircraft that can carry up to 19 passengers.
They serve passengers who commute between work and home and operate between small regional airports and major airports. Therefore, are named air taxis or feeder liners. Examples of these flights include;
- Beechcraft 1900
- Fairchild Metro
- Jetstream 31
- Embraer EMB110
- Cessna Caravan
- Pilatus PC-12
- Embraer ERJ145
- Bombardier CRJ200
In the USA, commuter flights are found on the following flight routes;
- San Francisco to Los Angeles (20 minutes flight)
- San Diego to Los Angeles (1-hour flight)
- Burbank Bob Hope to Oakland (1hour 15 minutes’ flight)
Commuter airlines on these routes include;
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- United Airlines
Airbus is a European-based aircraft manufacturing company headquartered in The Netherlands. Airbus also has registered operational services in France, Germany, and Spain. The Airbus was pioneered in 1970 and since then has been dealing on large passenger planes.
The A300 Airbus was the first to ever fly and was the first craft with a twin-aisle and a twin-engine. Since then, they have developed even the smaller passenger airlines like A310 that came shortly after the A300.
Other varieties of the Airbus are; A318, A319, A350, A220, A380, and A321. Some of these varieties consist of 2 engines and 2 aisles while others have 4 engines, a double-decker two-floor cabin that has twin aisles each.
The Concorde is undoubtedly the most iconic airplanes to ever exist in aviation history. Its iconic features included speed, sound, pointed nozzle, luxury, and extravagance it had. British-French Concorde airline manufacturers engineered the existence of the Concorde.
This airplane operated between 1976 to 2003 when its operations halted because it was inefficient, unprofitable and the thunderous sound it produced when flying over cities.
The Concorde’s speed was twice the speed of sound. It could cover 1,354 miles an hour, hence became one of the two planes to have achieved supersonic speeds after the Tupolev Tu-144 that also achieve supersonic speed (faster than the speed of sound).
This iconic aircraft could carry 92 to 128 passengers in a single flight. Currently, plans are underway to revive the services of this iconic airplane since small startups and even NASA is geared to bring it back.
Cargo planes are types of airplanes that have a larger scope than any of the other types because they are a conversion of the subtypes. As stated, the Boeing 747 can be converted into a cargo plane if desired. But Boeing also manufacturers jets specifically for cargo, such as the Boeing Dreamlifter.
The Dreamlifter hauls up to 65,000 cubic feet of cargo. This is only defeated by the 78,000 cubic feet of the Airbus Beluga XL. At the bottom of the range, Cessna makes cargo planes on a small propeller-driven aircraft design. This aircraft can carry 340 cubic feet or 12 passengers.
As stated, the propeller-driven airplanes will reach remote areas with smaller airstrips. This makes them busier than the larger flights because they can fill a lot of voids in the chain of distribution. Airplanes age better when used because the aluminum, otherwise, deteriorates.
This was another airplane that achieved supersonic speed status. It could go at a speed of 1200 miles per hour, a speed that was almost twice that of sound. The Tupolev, though, wasn’t as iconic as the Concorde, but it came much close to matching the Concorde’s features.
The plane was produced by the Soviet Union in 1968, but its commercial operations began in 1977. The Tupolev didn’t last long in crisscrossing the airspace. Unfortunately, its operations came to a halt a year later in 1978, since it had become inefficient and unprofitable.
Since then, the Tupolev TU-144 has been used by NASA to do their supersonic research. The space program has used the plane to train pilots of Buran Spacecraft.
Amphibious aircraft can take off and land in freshwater lakes and seas. Some planes can even be fitted with keels that are reinforced to handle a landing on terrain covered by snow or ice. Tourism to remote areas may also require the use of amphibious aircraft. Some models of amphibious aircraft also have retractable wheels that allow them to land on ordinary landing strips.
Helicopter aircraft or chopper belongs to rotorcraft. Horizontally spinning rotors help and aid the helicopter to lift and thrust. These aircraft have the advantage of taking vertically, horizontally, and flying both backward and forward or laterally.
Unlike the other fixed-wing aircraft, these types of airplanes benefit from taking off and land at several places and flying even in congested areas. The engine depends on the size, purpose, and function of the chopper.
Today, the helicopter help in military, cargo, construction, rescue, tourism, aerial observation, and the government. The size of the chopper hence mostly depends on the usage.
Military aircraft are mainly used for military use. They are fixed-wing or rotary-wing types of aircraft. The military aircraft are largely operated by legal or insurrectionary armed service and are used for surveillance, attacks, or transport.
These planes are classified into combat and non-combat military planes. They include;
- Marine crafts
- Navy crafts
- Airforce crafts
Combat aircraft attack and destroy the enemy. They are developed and procured only by the military.
Non-combat aircraft carry defense weapons and offer support operations to the military. They are developed by the military or civilians.
Types of military aircraft include;
Bombers are military aircraft for attacking and destroying the enemy through combat. They are also for escort missions for bombers and other military aircraft. These are the most common type of aircraft in combat zones.
Military tactics involve offensive and defensive techniques and these aircraft are best suitable for such tactics. Bombers can carry an enormous amount of armaments, such as cannons, guided missiles, bombs, machine guns, and rockets used to maim the enemy.
Fighter military aircraft can attack the enemy from a distance without the enemy detecting an impending attack prior. Fighter jets include;
- F-22 Raptor
- F-15 Eagle
Bombers are large military aircraft. They are larger, heavier, and are not easily maneuverable. They are often brimmed with artillery such as bombs, nuclear bombs, torpedoes, cruise missiles, and rockets that they deliver using gravity.
Bombers can be fitted with one or several engines. Those with single engines are controlled by a single pilot, while those that use more than one engine are controlled by a crew. They also have a distinctive feature that makes them attack the enemy unaware.
One of the notable unforgettable instances where the bomber B-52 Stratofortress caused major destruction was in 1945 when the first-ever nuclear bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, Japan.
Bombers are divided into different categories that include;
- Light bombers
- Medium bombers
- Heavy bombers
- Dive bombers
- Torpedo bombers
Maritime patrol aircraft are military operation planes with fixed wings. Just like the name suggests, they are mainly used by the navy for marine warfare.
They are used for marine patrol for submarines, ships and are also used for rescue operations. These types of airplanes include;
- Boeing P-8 Poseidon
- Boeing 737-800
- Kawasaki P-1
Just as their name suggests, these types of military combat aircraft can be used for several roles. Multi-role aircraft can be fighters and bombers at the same time. These aircraft can perform several military missions.
This category also includes aerial fuel tankers like the KC-135 Stratotanker that can fuel other aircraft even while on the flight. The multi-role combat aircraft have existed since World War II, where they were used to serving multiple purposes like attacks, supplies, and evacuation missions.
Examples of multiple aircraft include;
- F-15E Strike Eagle
- F/A-18 Hornet
- F-35 Lighting II
Military transport aircraft are mainly used to offer a supply of food, troops, and weapons during warfare. These aircraft can offer support through airdropping the supplies or loading and offloading.
Air dropping the supplies eliminates the need for landing and is very effective in rough fighting terrains where there is no safe landing point for aircraft.
The cargo can be dispatched from or to a flying plane using pellets or parachutes. The pellets or parachutes are loaded with the supplies then dropped to the military on the ground.
Most popular military transport aircraft include;
- C-17 Globemaster III
The technological advancements in the aviation industry to date have developed some astonishing innovations leading to the different types of airplanes we see today. These technological innovations are not meant to end anytime.
There are still lots that are yet to be accomplished with the production of airplanes, especially to ease traveling around the world and also make it luxurious and more profitable.
The primary goal is to connect people between different continents by reducing the flight time to be as short as possible. It’s encouraging that a small idea born in 1903 by Wright Brothers has had a significant impact on the world.