Commercial aviation has made so much progress since those risky flights were made by the precursors of this industry. Nowadays, boarding a next generation aircraft is more affordable due to the emergence of low fare airlines that reduced ticket costs and increased the number of seats on airplanes. It is also more reliable, comfortable entertaining and faster even in the longest journeys. Technology and digital electronics in airplanes and airports changed pilots routines, people s comfort, luggage management systems and flight safety
The history of worldwide aviation is marked by myths (The Flight of Daedalus and Icarus); by landmarks (precursor flights of the Wright brothers), by heroic deeds (crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by Charles Lindbergh), by crashes (the most serious one occurred in 1977 in which 583 people died when two airplanes -Boeing-747 from Pan American and KLM in Tenerife- collided), by technology, and today, by digital electronics. This science is both used in aircrafts (designs, operation, aerial navigation and communications) and airports and their service areas.
The 1930s involved a quantum leap in commercial aviation. Concomitantly with the ignition of the first piston engines (later, the turbo-propeller ones would come to life), airplanes became bigger; the number of passengers increased and journeys became longer. Also, intercontinental routes were opened up.
Another major boost took place after the Second World War, when the aeronautical companies transferred the technological equipment that fit out military airplanes to civilian airplanes. Aerodynamics, radio communications, automatic pilots and, later on, pressurized cabs were some of the innovations. At that time the Douglas DC-7, Super Constellations and Boeings-377 flew through the skies.
But it was the turbine that literally set airplanes in the sky. After the failure of the English prototype launched by Havilland Comet; the models Boeing- 707, Douglas DC-8 and Convair-880 became famous in the mid 1950s and in the early 1960s. They were equipped with four turbo reactors. They could fly up to 7,000 kilometers without refueling and they could transport 156 passengers. With these models, the routes between the Americas, Europe and Asia increased.
In the 1960s two supersonic versions (for transporting passengers) broke the sound barrier. The Soviet Tupolev TU-144 did not go beyond flight tests. It was ruled out after a lethal accident in Paris. Its rival Concorde, manufactured by a French-British consortium (British Airways and Air France) kept operating for 30 years. Also, from the 1960s through the 1990s, there was room for three-reactors (MD-10, MD-11, Lockheed L-1011, B-727 and Yak-42; some of them are still used for freight transportation). They were the first "wide-body" airplanes (two aisles and three rows of seats). But the real boom regarding these devices started in the 1970s with the launching of the A-300 model, made by European consortium Airbus. During the 1980s and in the early 1990s, the models B-747, B-767, B-777, A-330, A-340 and - more recently - the huge A-380 would appear.
At this stage, many of the technological advances patented by the NASA for its special flights were added to civil aviation. But the increasing and more and more specialized demand of materials and equipment regarding for design, provision and airworthiness of next generation aircrafts stimulated the creation of high-ranking companies that produce complex GPS systems, liquid crystal displays, fiber optical gyroscopes, laser ring gyroscopes, horizontal indicators, engine regulators, radio communication systems, navigation radios, GNSS sensors, telemetric observation visors, transponders and other instruments. Today, the use of "tablets" is on the waiting list to replace standards route maps on paper.
Electronics has been essential in the progress of aviation. It improved flying, reliability, performance and fuel saving. In addition, it reduced noise and environmental pollution. It also streamlined control towers, radars, safety systems and provision for luggage management. On aircrafts, it turned analogical flight cabins into digital flight cabins. The hornlike control stick turned into the fly-by-wire walking cane and mechanical clock-like indicators gave way to LCDs. Pilots use them to check the good working order of airplane systems, weather conditions and navigation. The wind gauge, the altimeter and the horizontal visor are the only conventional rounded instruments that coexist with the new digital systems; the ones also used for communications, approaching, landing and take-off.
Not only companies benefitted. Passengers enjoy a variety of options on entertainment, internet connection or external communications while being on board. Also, the saving achieved through innovative airplanes stimulated the creation of more airlines, especially low fare ones, with a great impact on tourism.
Technology is advancing. Innovations continue. The two biggest worldwide manufacturers of airplanes, Boeing and Airbus, carry out flight and equipment tests of their models B-787 and A350. They promise to be dream spaceships.
Translated by Adrián Valera