Jet Aircraft

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Jet Aircraft


NAICS: 33-6411 Aircraft Manufacturing

SIC: 3721 Aircraft Manufacturing

NAICS-Based Product Codes: 33-64111 through 33-6411100, and 33-64113 through 33-64113021


The earliest written story about human-powered flight was from the Roman poet Ovid, whose tale of the inventor Daedalus and his headstrong son Icarus dates to around the time BC was becoming AD.

Fourteen centuries later, Leonardo da Vinci made hundreds of sketches of birds both in flight and on the dissection table. Two related sketches stand out. One, made when da Vinci was twenty-six, shows what today would be called a hang glider. Another, dated a dozen years later, shows four men seated on a rotating platform while they work levers to spin a screw-shaped airfoil, suggesting modern helicopters.

Whether these devices were built, and if so, whether they worked, are beside the point. Da Vinci provided a way to approach the problem of projecting the human body into the atmosphere under its own power. When that imaginative leap was taken, all that remained was for engineering to solve the problem.

Wilbur and Orville Wright were the first to do so at a beach called Kitty Hawk in North Carolina on December 17, 1903. It took internal combustion, daring, and wings largely made of paper, but from then on, humans could fly. That feat became addictive for many. The only questions left were how far and how fast; issues that remain relevant as humans consider traveling across and outside the solar system.

Changes in language are one way to trace the swift progression from a modified glider to the first jet engine. Da Vinci and the Wright brothers both used the term flying machine, which was probably printed in English in the twentieth century's first decade; by 1910, the song "Come, Josephine in My Flying Machine (Up She Goes!)" was wildly popular. Aeroplane first appeared around 1896 and became first air-plane, then airplane by 1927 and was reduced to plane shortly thereafter.

Jet engines work according to Sir Isaac Newton's Third Law of Motion, which states that every force acting on a body produces an equal and opposite force. The jet engine draws in some of the air through which the aircraft is moving, compresses and mixes it with fuel, ignites it, and the expanding gases power a turbine that produces sufficient force to thrust the plane forward. The force produced by such engines is expressed as pounds of thrust, a term that refers to the number of pounds the engine can move. This force in the earliest jet engines achieved speeds beyond the wildest dreams of pilots whose aircraft speed was limited by whirling wooden blades.

Dr. Hans von Ohain and (then) Royal Air Force Lieutenant Frank Whittle are both recognized as being the co-inventors of the jet engine. Each appears to have worked separately, knowing nothing of the other's efforts. Von Ohain is generally recognized as the designer of the first operational turbojet engine. Whittle was the first to register a patent for the turbojet engine in 1930, while von Ohain was granted a patent for his turbojet engine in 1936. However, von Ohain's jet was the first to fly in 1939, followed by Whittle's in 1941. By 1951 a jet aeroplane appeared in science fiction; three years later, the use of jet in casual conversation was widely accepted.

After achieving success with the Whittle engine, the British promptly shipped a prototype to their allies in the United States, where General Electric (GE) began producing copies. The first American jet engine, produced by GE, took flight in a plane constructed by Bell Aircraft late in 1942. Although use of jets was limited during World War II, by the end of the war all three countries (Germany, United Kingdom, and the United States) had begun to utilize elite squadrons of jet-powered fighter planes.

One of those whose research paralleled technological achievements was the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach (1838–1916). He discovered how airflow becomes significantly disturbed at the speed of sound, which in the lower atmosphere is 1,126 feet per second, approximately 770 miles per hour. As an object exceeds this speed it generates a shock wave that would be later called a sonic boom. Early researchers, one team of whom was German, thought this then-amazing velocity would be a good goal; accordingly, the term mach became a jet's first hurdle. Human exuberance being what it is, twice the speed of sound was dubbed mach 2, three times, mach 3, and so on.

The concept of a sound barrier is semantic rather than physical; nevertheless, it was surpassed on October 14, 1947, by the American X-1 rocket plane piloted by Charles E. Yaeger. This led to advances in aircraft that created a certain irony: air battles in the Korean War were often conducted by jet planes moving at such high velocities that relatively few were intentionally shot down. Half a century later, the U.S. space shuttles reenter the atmosphere at over mach 20, a phenomenon that might have surprised even the person whose name supplied the concept. Contemporary commercial jet engines, up to eleven feet in diameter and twelve feet long, can weigh over 10,000 pounds and produce more than 100,000 pounds of thrust.


American aircraft companies build and sell airplanes for three markets: the military; commercial aviation; and general aviation, which includes business aviation. From the end of World War II until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, American military services had an unending appetite for sophisticated aircraft, which American firms attempted to satisfy. The end of the Cold War, which reduced military spending around the world, provided the greatest challenge for American aircraft manufacturers, who had grown accustomed to lucrative contracts from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

Developing commercial aircraft posed significantly greater risks than those of military aircraft. The development process for a passenger airliner capable of carrying several hundred people was lengthy and costly, requiring manufacturers to anticipate the needs of airlines far in advance, and to gamble large amounts of money on the product's success. For this reason, Boeing canceled its development of a super jumbo aircraft. Manufacturers found a more stable market by designing new or modifying existing aircraft in response to the demands of carriers, who typically asked for improved fuel efficiency and more seating.

Due to the risks involved, commercial aircraft manufacturers tended to modify existing airframes rather than reinventing; most existing commercial airliners changed little in the last half of the twentieth century. However, some exciting new aircraft developments occurred in the areas of speed, range, capacity, and fuel efficiency. Many manufacturers by the early 2000s worked cooperatively, jointly developing a design and dividing work among partners if the design was successful. The merger of Boeing Company of Seattle, Washington, and the McDonnell Douglas Company of St. Louis, Missouri in 1997, resulted in economies of operation in many areas. Boeing concentrated on long-range, fuel-efficient planes with a slightly higher passenger capacity, justifying this with the ratio of development costs. Airbus continued to pursue the super jumbo concept, announcing the new A380 in 2007.

American manufacturers historically produce approximately 60 percent of the world's general aviation aircraft and 30 percent of the helicopters. The major U.S. manufacturers of general aviation aircraft are the Beech Aircraft Corp., Fairchild Aircraft Inc., the Cessna Aircraft Co., Gulfstream Aerospace, and Learjet Inc.

Most aircraft manufacturers derive much of their profits from producing replacement and upgrade parts for their airplanes. Since large commercial jets represent such a large investment—a new twin-engine passenger jet may cost several hundred million dollars—airlines try to keep them in the air for many years. Moreover, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) sets stringent guidelines on repair and replacement procedures for passenger aircraft.

By 2003 the aircraft industry was struggling in the wake of downturns in the air transportation market. The leading U.S. airlines lost more than $7 billion in 2001 and more than $3 billion through the first half of 2002. A slack economy, a decline in travel following the attacks of September 11, 2001, and heightened competition from discount airlines, contributed to the air transportation sector's woes. In December of 2002, United Airlines, which accounted at the time for some 20 percent of U.S. flights, filed for bankruptcy after losing $4 billion over two years and laying off 20,000 employees.

U.S. manufacturers shipped 4,088 units of complete civilian aircraft (fixed wing, powered craft; helicopters; and non-powered types of civil aircraft) in 2002, valued at approximately $34.7 billion. In terms of unit shipments, this figure represented a decrease from 2001, when the industry shipped 4,541 units valued at 41.8 billion, and from 2000 when shipments numbered 5,162 civil aircraft valued at $38.6 billion.

The Aerospace Industries Association forecasted that shipments of complete civil aircraft would total 2,751 in 2003, with an estimated value of approximately $25 billion. Some 275 airliners were expected to account for the majority of this total ($18 billion). According to Standard & Poor's Industry Surveys, Avitas, Inc. expected aircraft orders to fall from an estimated 816 in 2001 to 561 in 2002, after which levels would steadily improve, reaching an expected 973 by 2005. During the same timeframe, Avitas expected aircraft deliveries to fall from an estimated 1,148 in 2001 to 941 in 2002 and 707 in 2003. After 2003 deliveries were expected to improve slowly through 2005, when levels were forecast to reach 829.


Boeing Company

In 1997 Boeing Company was the world's largest manufacturer of commercial jetliners and military aircraft, as well the leading contractor for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The company employed more than 200,000 people in 1999 in more than 60 countries worldwide. However, by 2002 it had reduced its workforce to 166,000. Company revenues were $54.1 billion in 2002, representing a nearly 83 percent drop since 2001. During the late 1990s, production problems resulted in lost aircraft orders from companies such as British Airways, United Parcel Service, and Airbus Industries. These problems cost Boeing millions of dollars and threatened its standing as the top manufacturer.

Airbus S.A.S.

Airbus was able to surpass Boeing's orders in 2001 and 2002. According to Air Transport World, Airbus reported net orders of 233 planes in 2002, compared to Boeing's 176. However, Boeing was still the market leader in deliveries, with 56 percent of the total market share. Airbus began as a five-nation European consortium named Airbus Industrie. It was conceived as a European answer to America's domination of the large commercial transport market. By the early 2000s, Airbus was restructured into a corporation named Airbus S.A.S. The company's majority shareholder (80 percent) is the European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co. BAE SYS-TEMS of the United Kingdom holds the remaining 20 percent interest.

Boeing and Airbus disagreed on the future needs of the industry. Boeing canceled plans to develop a larger-capacity 747 jumbo jet, while Airbus continued to perfect its design of a new super-jumbo jet. In the early months of 2007, the A30 ordered by the Australian carrier Qantas began touring the world. Eight stories tall, with a wingspan of one hundred yards, this double-decker craft can be configured to carry between 500 and 1,000 people for up to 9,300 miles without refueling. This behemoth is also the most fuel-efficient, least polluting, and quietest civilian air transport ever to fly. Regular routes for the A30 are planned to open toward the end of 2008.

Northrop Grumman Corp.

Based in Los Angeles, California, this company employed 96,800 people in 2001. The company is responsible for the design, development, and manufacture of aircraft (including the less-than-perfectly-concealed Stealth Bomber), aircraft sub-assemblies, and electronic systems for the military. In addition to building ships, the company also designs, develops, operates, and supports computer systems. Sales totaled $17.2 billion in 2002. That year, Northrop Grumman saw its net income fall 85 percent, reaching $64 million.

Learjet Inc.

In 1969 aviation engineer Bill Lear introduced the first private jet, which Cessna and Beech later imitated. Learjet Inc. is currently a subsidiary of Bombardier and builds high-performance business jets, the limousines of the skies. A pioneer in the business jet industry, the company has built nearly 2,000 aircraft at its Wichita, Kansas, plant since its first jet rolled off the assembly line in 1964. Current Learjet models include the Learjet 31A (light jet), Learjet 45 (super-light jet), and Learjet 60 (midsize jet). The Bombardier Completion Center in Tucson, Arizona, delivers and refurbishes interiors for Learjet 31A, Learjet 60, and Challenger 604 aircraft. The center also conducts Learjet 45 factory completions. A plant in Canada assembles wings for the Learjet 45. The United States accounts for most of Learjet's sales.

Cessna Aircraft

This company is one of the most famous names in small planes. A subsidiary of Textron, Cessna manufactures business jets, utility turboprops, and small single-engine planes. Best known for its small prop planes, Cessna is also a leading maker of business jets, making nine variations of its popular Citation jet. Its utility turboprop plane, the Caravan, has freight, bush, amphibious, and commercial (small connecting flights) applications. Cessna's single-engine planes are typically used for personal and small-business purposes. As it prepared to enter the twenty-first century, Cessna remained the largest private aircraft manufacturer in the United States. With its line of cargo craft and advanced private jets, including the new Citation X, Cessna still offered the broadest product range in the industry. With the company's relationship to owner Textron on solid ground, Cessna looked certain in the first decade of the twenty-first century to remain America's leading small aircraft manufacturer.

Beech Aircraft Corporation

Best known for its line of Beechcraft propeller and jet airplanes, Beech Aircraft Corporation is one of several American manufacturers of small aircraft. Beech competes with Cessna, Piper, and Lear for shares of such markets as private pilots, small air taxi services, corporate customers, and military forces. Beech also manufactures a variety of aircraft parts and special systems for larger companies, principally McDonnell-Douglas.

In 1990 Beech recorded its best year, turning out 433 aircraft and collecting $1.1 billion in sales. Also in 1990, the new Starship model won certification. In 1992, Beech's 60th anniversary year, the company's 50,000th aircraft rolled out of the factory. That same year, however, a sales slump, attributed to a 10 percent federal luxury tax, caused the company to cut back production and lay off 180 administrative staff.

Due to its 1900 and Jayhawk projects, Beech remains the largest of the small aircraft manufacturers, though Cessna builds more private aircraft. It offers a complete line of advanced aircraft, from the single-engine Bonanza, to the twin-engine Baron and Super King Air series, to the futuristic Starship. The bulk of Beech's more recent success, however, lies with its Beechjet and 1900 airliner. Barring any severe depression in small aircraft markets, Beech is likely to retain its leading position in this sector of the aviation industry.


The number of units produced per year by the U.S. civilian aircraft industry is approximately one-thousandth that of the automotive industry. The U.S. aerospace industry shipped a total of 4,068 civil and 450 military aircraft in 2005 according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration. On average, commercial transport aircraft cost $300 per pound. The use of relatively advanced materials, combined with the production of intricate component forms without net-shape processes, contribute to this higher cost per pound. The airframes of commercial aircraft are currently largely aluminum (approximately 70-80%) with smaller weight fractions of steel, titanium, and advanced composites. The gas turbine engines that power these aircraft use alloys of nickel (approximately 40%), titanium (approximately 30%), and steel (approximately 20%), with the balance being advanced composites and aluminum.

A combination of composite materials and computer design has grown from the occasional application for a nonstructural part (such as baggage compartment doors) to the construction of complete airframes. For military applications, these materials have the advantage of being less detectable by radar.

Some aircraft of composite materials began to appear in the late 1930s and 1940s; these were usually plastic-impregnated wood materials. The largest and most famous example of this design is the Duramold construction of the eight-engine Hughes flying boat, popularly known as the Spruce Goose. A few production aircraft also used Duramold materials and methods.

Fiberglass, fabrics made up of glass fibers, were first used in aircraft in the 1940s and became common by the 1960s. Composite is the term used for different materials that provide strengths, light weight, or other benefits not possible when these materials are used separately. They usually consist of a fiber-reinforced resin matrix. The resin can be a vinyl ester, epoxy, or polyester, while the reinforcement might be any one of a variety of fibers, ranging from glass through carbon, boron, and several other proprietary types.

To these basic elements, strength is often increased by adding a core material, essentially making a structural sandwich. Core materials such as plastic foams (polystyrene, polyurethane, or others), wood, honeycombs of paper, plastic, fabric or metal, and other materials, are surrounded by layers of other substances to create a structural sandwich. This method has been used to create, for example, Kevlar, used in aircraft panels, and Lucite, superior to glass for aircraft windows and canopies.

One advantage of composites is being able to take a wide variety of shapes, accomplished by various methods. The simplest is laying fiberglass sheets inside a form, infusing the sheets with a resin, letting the resin cure, and polishing the result; this is how synthetic canoes are constructed. More sophisticated techniques involve fashioning the material into specific shapes with complex machinery. Some techniques use molds; others employ vacuum bags that allow atmospheric pressure to force parts into the desired shape.

Composite materials allow jet aircraft engineers to design lighter, stronger, and cheaper streamlined parts simply not possible when using metal or wood. Composites use has spread rapidly throughout the industry and will probably continue to be developed in the future.


Aircraft parts manufacturing can be seen as predating the invention of powered aircraft. The Wright Brothers' first airplane, little more than a propeller-driven kite, was equipped with cables, chains, and an engine built by others. In one sense, Orville and Wilbur Wright invented nothing; they merely designed and assembled their aircraft from existing parts. However, this view is too simplistic, since the Wrights put these parts together in a way no one had done before.

The American aircraft industry can be divided into four segments. In one segment, manufacturers such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. build the wings and fuselages that make up the airframe. Meanwhile, companies such as General Electric and Pratt & Whitney manufacture the engines that propel aircraft. The third segment covers flight instrumentation, an area where the most profound advances in aviation have taken place. Lastly the fourth segment, broadly defined by the industrial classification aircraft parts not otherwise classified, includes manufacturers of surface control and cabin pressurization systems, landing gear, lighting, galley equipment, and general use products such as nuts and bolts.

Aircraft manufacturers rely on a broad base of suppliers to provide the thousands of subsystems and parts that make up their products. There are more than 4,000 suppliers contributing parts to the aerospace industry, including rubber companies, refrigerator makers, appliance manufacturers, and general electronics enterprises. This diversity is necessary because in most cases it is simply uneconomical for an aircraft manufacturer to establish, for example, its own landing light operation. The internal demand for such a specialized product is insufficient to justify the creation of an independent manufacturing division.

There is a second aspect to this distribution tier, since aircraft manufacturers have found it cheaper and more efficient to purchase secondary products from other manufacturers, who may sell similar products to other aircraft companies, as well as automotive manufacturers, railroad signal makers, locomotive and ship builders, and a variety of other customers. For example, an airplane builder such as Boeing, Grumman, or Beech might purchase landing lights from a light bulb maker such as General Electric. Such subcontractors supply a surprisingly large portion of the entire aircraft. On the typical commercial aircraft, a lead manufacturer such as McDonnell Douglas may actually manufacture less than half of the aircraft, though it is responsible for designing and assembling the final product.

When a major manufacturer discontinues an aircraft design, as Lockheed did with its L-1011 Tristar, a ripple effect is caused that affects every manufacturer that sup-plied parts for that aircraft. Therefore, parts suppliers that make up the third tier of distribution, strive to diversify their customer base to ensure the decline of one manufacturer will be tempered by continued sales to others. Given the unstable nature of the industry, parts manufacturers also attempt to find customers outside the aircraft business.


Twenty-first century Americans, long used to constant technological innovations, accept flying as a necessary fact of life despite a small percentage that still refuse to board a plane. A century ago there was no airline industry, even though the military made use of aircraft in its operations by 1910. Beginning with the 1920s, with the ranks of trained pilots enlarged with aviator veterans of World War I, flying was increasingly used to deliver the U.S. mail, to manage crops, and to provide thrill seekers with excitement at state fairs. When a particularly plucky Midwestern postal pilot named Charles Lindbergh flew his Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, a veritable craze began for organized passenger flights.

The first air passenger services did not begin until 1937, when the emergence of the DC-3 and Electra enabled airlines to make money from passenger services alone and end their reliance on airmail. Many of the early passengers became airsick, so for decades, flight attendants could only be hired after completing nursing training. Even then, they could not be taller than five feet, two inches due to the headroom in the vehicle's passenger cabins.

Air travel continued to grow rapidly in the 1960s in business and leisure travel, and the transition to jets was virtually complete by the middle of the decade. Yet the potential market remained largely untapped; as late as 1962, two-thirds of the American population had never flown. In 1961, Eastern inaugurated an hourly, unreserved shuttle service connecting New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston. There were major safety advances, although traffic growth strained the air traffic control system, and there was a growing conflict between increasing volume and safety. Busy airports experienced conflicts between scheduled and business aircraft operations.

Despite financial pressures, air transportation was a critical part of the economy at the end of the twentieth century. Domestic traffic, 321 million passengers in 1984, rose to 561 million by 1998. United had a fleet of more than seven hundred airliners, and American and Delta had more than six hundred each by 2000. The mass market for leisure and recreation depends greatly on the ability of consumers to access particular locations by air. Gamblers cycle in and out of McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas, for example, at a level of more than 20 million arrivals a year, and spend an average of three to four days in town. Ski resorts in Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado cater to short-term visitors who jet in and out when both snow and flying conditions are attractive. Even avid golfers and fishermen or hunters take advantage of low fares to squeeze in a few days of recreation in places such as the Southwest or Alaska, locations known for their allure.

Added to these specialized recreational activities are the many packaged junkets put together by the airline and tourist industries to attract short-term vacationers with a week or less of leisure time for fully organized getaways at resorts. Highly efficient jet travel on planes that carry large numbers of passengers to various specialized destinations has helped to create a mass consumer industry of recreation and leisure that combines vacations with sport activities for all seasons.

Perhaps the strongest indicator of the importance of the industry came after the hijacking of four airliners on September 11, 2001, in terrorist attacks against the United States. The federal government canceled all air traffic for several days. Even after resumption, traffic dropped sharply, since much of the public was reluctant to fly again. Congress immediately appropriated approximately $15 billion in direct grants and loan guarantees to scheduled carriers, since many tottered on the brink of financial collapse. Manufacturers also suffered, because many airlines postponed or canceled orders in response to the drop in passenger traffic and reduced schedules. Flight delays, overcrowding, overbooking, and cancellations are only some of the incidents that traumatize passengers. Nevertheless, the basic pattern of frequent air travel trips to pursue business, tourism, recreation, and leisure activities remains in place. Long-term growth in the early twenty-first century looks favorable, and although various carriers continued to dodge in and out of bankruptcy, by 2007 air traffic neared pre-9/11 levels.


Even a single-engine, single-wing airplane contains thousands of parts whose peak functioning is essential to a safe landing, and jet aircraft require much more sophisticated instrumentation. Indeed, a significant part of all aircraft control panels contain instruments indicating whether the other instruments are working correctly. Three main adjacent categories include instrumentation systems, engine instruments, and fuel. Products produced by these industry sectors are necessary to getting aircraft off the ground, keeping it in the air, and landing at controllable speeds.

Guidance and Control Instrumentation

The products of this industry include radar systems and navigation systems; flight and navigation sensors, transmitters, and displays; gyroscopes; airframe equipment instruments; and speed, pitch, and roll navigational instruments.

The main suppliers of search and navigation equipment are the same contractors who supply the larger U.S. aerospace and defense industry, to which search and navigation equipment contribute significantly. Although not necessarily the most prolific producers of search and navigation instruments, many of the largest and most recognizable corporations in the United States have been involved in the business, including AT&T, Boeing, General Electric, General Motors, and IBM.

A substantial majority of the industry's product types fall into the avionics (aviation electronics) classification, which includes aeronautic radar systems, air traffic control systems, and autopilots. Historically, the primary customer for industry products has been the U.S. government—in particular the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Search and detection systems, as well as navigation and guidance systems and equipment ($29.1 billion worth of shipments in 2001) constitute 91 percent of the total search and navigation market. They include the following product groups: light reconnaissance and surveillance systems; identification-friend-or-foe equipment; proximity fuses; radar systems and equipment; sonar search, detection, tracking, and communications equipment; specialized command and control data processing and display equipment; electronic warfare systems and equipment; and navigation systems and equipment, including navigational aids for aircraft.

During the 1970s the Global Positioning System satellite network first came under development. Inertial navigators using digital computers also became common on civil and military aircraft.

Industry shipment values for the above products totaled $31.9 billion in 2001, an increase over 2000 levels of $29.9 billion. In 2001 the industry's employment base of 153,710 workers was an increase from the previous year's count of 145,990 workers. Capital investment, which totaled approximately $1 billion in 2000, has remained relatively constant since 1997.

Aircraft Engine Instruments

The main customers of the aircraft engine instruments segment are General Electric, United Technologies, Rolls Royce, and other aircraft manufacturers. The sector shipped temperature, pressure, vacuum, fuel and oil flow-rate sensors, and other measuring devices. Growth in this market is linked to aircraft production.

Through the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the miscellaneous measuring and controlling devices industry was projected to grow at a rate of 3 percent annually. Aircraft engine instruments were predicted to be one of the industry's faster growing segments. Furthermore, the addition of software and services will contribute to overall industry growth, as will further expansion into overseas markets. The top five export markets in the late 1990s were Canada, Mexico, Japan, United Kingdom, and Germany; these five countries also were the leading importing countries. Looking into the 2000s, estimates indicated that 33 percent of measuring and controlling instruments product shipments would be exported, while 25 percent of U.S. production would be imported.

Aviation Fuel

The most common fuel is an unleaded/paraffin oil-based fuel classified as JET A-1, which is produced to an internationally standardized set of specifications. In the United States only, a version of JET A-1 known as JET A is also used. The only other jet fuel commonly used in civilian aviation is called JET B, a naphtha-kerosene mixture especially effective in cold-weather conditions. However, JET B's lighter composition makes it more dangerous to handle, and it is therefore restricted to areas where its cold-weather characteristics are absolutely necessary.

Jet fuels are sometimes classified as kerosene or naphtha-type. Kerosene-type fuels include Jet A, Jet A1, JP-5, and JP-8. Naphtha-type jet fuels include Jet B and JP-4. Both JET A and JET B can contain additives including anti-oxidants, antistatic agents, corrosion inhibitors, and fuel system icing inhibitors. The annual U.S. usage of jet fuel in 2006 was 21 billion gallons.


In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. federal government ordered airlines to ensure that existing cockpit doors on commercial aircraft would be locked at all times and secured with extra bars and barriers. It also developed a standard redesigned, reinforced cockpit door that airlines were required to install on all aircraft by 2003.

With an annual research budget exceeding $1 billion for its aeronautical division, NASA contributes substantially to advances in aircraft technology. NASA has assisted the general aviation industry in the United States in such areas as developing new wing and blade designs—including the civil tilt-rotor project—and cockpit technology for business and commuter aircraft. NASA plans to develop aircraft that meet the world's new environmental and safety standards.

The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change developed in 1997 was the first international treaty to set standards for greenhouse gas emissions—primarily carbon dioxide—by countries ratifying it. Although as of December 2006, the United States had yet to accept this treaty's limitations, NASA plans to develop aircraft that meet those environmental and safety standards.

Boeing is another leading aircraft technology researcher. Each year the company devotes between $1.5 billion and $1.8 billion for research and development (R&D). In the mid-1990s, the majority of the company's research funds went to developing its 777. In the early 2000s, with the delivery of its 777s, Boeing turned to refining its existing aircraft and designing new planes. In cooperation with NASA and several universities, Boeing began to develop a blended-wing-body (BWB) plane. The BWB's advantages include superior fuel economy, lower production costs, greater capacity, and greater range than the conventional aircraft of the 1990s. The BWB's capacity comes from the design of the wings, which hold seats for passengers. Researchers estimate that the plane could be ready by 2015. Meanwhile, Boeing plans to meet the fast-approaching requirements for environmentally friendly aircraft with its 717-200, which features reduced emissions and lower noise levels than its rivals. Test flights of the 717-200 began in early 1998.

In the mid-1990s, United States and Russian researchers jointly studied how to develop new supersonic civil aircraft. Although supersonic projects had largely ended in 1978, both countries renewed their interest. The U.S. component of the research team consisted of NASA, Boeing, Rockwell-Collins, Pratt & Whitney, and General Electric. The Russian component of the team included Tupolev, the developer of the Tu-144 supersonic jet. The collaborators went to work rebuilding the plane's engine to use the plane in studying the ozone layer and sonic-boom problems.

In contrast to the huge government-sponsored research programs of the aerospace conglomerates, the R&D efforts of the makers of ultralights and kit planes, designed to be assembled by the user, were lean but smart. The popular kit designs offered by Burt Rutan and others in the 1970s offered advanced materials such as exotic composites, plastic foams, and fiberglass and epoxy laminates. Also featured in these designs were canards, small wings placed at the nose of the aircraft, and winglets, fins at the end of the main wing, both of which increased efficiency and stability. Computer modeling enabled designers to incorporate advanced wing shapes into designs the ordinary enthusiast could build at home. At least one company has adopted these technologies to produce an inexpensive, six-passenger business turboprop (less than $1 million, compared to $3 million and up for competitors).

A significant experimental aircraft was the Gossamer Condor. In 1977 it enabled the first human-powered flight. In 1986 came perhaps Rutan's greatest achievement—the Voyager, the first aircraft to circle the world without refueling. By the early 2000s Rutan's conceptions of lightweight craft with intercontinental range had found a military application in the U.S. armed forces—highly capable drones, used effectively during the hostilities in Afghanistan. High-altitude drones with extended range were also expected to acquire satellite-like global or regional communications roles in the new century. Rutan's designs and principles have found their civil application in the Beech Starship, a small business turboprop, and in a small jet fighter/trainer.

Instrumentation is another area of continuing research. A computerized display of flight information, the Electronic Flight Information System (EFIS), has promised to improve the decision-making abilities of pilots by providing an integrated, improved display of navigational, meteorological, and aircraft performance information in the cockpit. State-of-the-art airliners and business craft, such as the Boeing 757 and 767, the Airbus A-310, and the Beech Starship, are equipped with this system.

The Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system, first developed for use by the U.S. military in the early 1970s, relies on groupings of satellites to provide extremely precise location information (including altitude) to receiving units within airplanes. Pilots using GPS navigational systems could fly in a straight line from airport to airport and could even fly an instrument approach using GPS navigational systems (precise within 50 feet). This change could reduce both travel time and fuel costs, especially for regional airlines. The growing number of regional jets had the potential for allowing for the return of more direct flights. Newer, more fuel-efficient planes with longer ranges, such as the Boeing 777, were also expected to impact the airlines.


Civil aircraft production is controlled by the commercial market, supplying the jets and turboprops used by the world's passenger and cargo airlines. As of 2005, just two manufacturers—Boeing in the United States and Airbus S.A.S. in France—controlled nearly the entire market for commercial aircraft for more than a decade. This market domination was secured by manufacturing medium and large jets for 100 or more passengers, the industry's most lucrative and capital-intensive segments. Aircraft manufacturers noted the increasing demand for large-capacity, wide-body planes and expected that the average number of seats per plane would increase to 240 by 2015. They expected Asian countries would help drive this trend with a 356-seat average capacity per plane by 2015. Airbus has constructed its A380, whose interior can be configured to carry between 500 and 1,000 passengers, with an initial nonstop route from Los Angeles, California to Melbourne, Australia, scheduled to begin in 2008.

The huge costs and risks of aircraft manufacturing encouraged business consolidation and a proliferation of international joint ventures in what has been termed a borderless industry. Few countries could be considered self-sufficient in production, and even for those that could, most competitors in the industry pursue multiple cross-border ventures in order to keep costs down and draw on the special competencies and efficiencies of firms around the globe.

Globally, the industry experienced continued growth in the early 2000s. Boeing's World Air Cargo Forecast predicted an annual expansion rate of 6.2 percent through 2023, tripling the levels of overall air traffic. Strong growth was reported in international trade, with the most reported in the Asia-Pacific region. Traffic in North America and within Europe was expected to see below average increases. The U.S. firms Cessna Aircraft Co. and Raytheon led the continuing strong surge in sales in the general aviation segment. The U.S. industry reached $147 billion in 2003 sales. That year, Boeing, with 280 units, and Airbus, with 300 units, produced a combined $33 billion in aircraft. These had a per-unit value of $50 million or more, according to Fortune. For the first half of 2004, the companies delivered a combined 312 aircraft. According to researchers from the Teal Group, $421 billion in aircraft will be built between 2004 and 2012.

Environmental groups in the United States, Europe, and Australia have focused on noise pollution. The U.S. Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990 required U.S. airlines to make their fleets meet quieter noise specifications. Smaller business jets were exempt from this rule. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) imposed similar standards.

Heavily congested airports have suggested the need for 600-800 seat, ultra-high-capacity aircraft (UHCA or VLCT, very large commercial transport). Airbus began research on such a project, estimated to cost between $6 billion and $8 billion. Boeing also began research for its proposed UHCA, the 747-X. The potential market for these aircraft was projected at between 400 and 500 aircraft by 2010. In the early 2000s Boeing studied development of smaller capacity, but higher speed, transports than the proposed UHCAs.

A concept for a 300-seat supersonic airliner, dubbed the Orient Express, has been the subject of a study group comprised of engineers and others from Boeing, Aerospatiale, British Aerospace, Japan Aircraft Development Corp., Tupolev, and Alenia. Traveling at Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound, the aircraft would cut travel time between Tokyo and Los Angeles to 4 hours, from the current 10. Fares were projected to eventually fall to a level just 20 percent higher than those for conventional flight.

Two types of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft also were being developed to serve inner-city airports. Ishida Corp. of Japan (in collaboration with United Kingdom and U.S. firms) is developing the 14-passenger TW-68. With wings that rotate 90 degrees, the craft would allow vertical takeoff and landing. Due to traffic congestion, Boeing projected a need for thousands of civil tilt-rotor aircraft (such as the Bell/Boeing V-22) in the first few decades of the new century.


The opportunity to fly for business and the perceived right to fly to increased exotic vacation possibilities have led the aircraft industry to a simple, if perhaps immodest goal: to get everyone in the air at some point in life, and the more often the better. Beginning in the late 1990s online travel agencies such as Orbitz,, Travelocity, and used highly complex algorithms to scan myriads of combinations for discount hotel rooms, car rentals, and air flight times and days that would, these agencies claimed, provide the consumer with the supreme package for cheapest available services, accommodations, and travel.

However, these algorithms have been analyzed, with the mildly disturbing conclusion that thorough examination of all available variables would take longer than the probable age of the known universe. The agencies ignore this massive fact by choosing what appears to be several of the top possibilities and presenting them in a few seconds on the computer screen, thereby motivating the user to reach for a credit card. Airlines contribute this process partly because competition constantly increases and because, thanks to various technologies and new ways of ordering data, flights from almost anywhere to almost anywhere are increasingly likely. Distance is no longer the barrier it was as little as fifty years ago.

Parents of the Baby Boom generation (those born between 1945 and the early 1960s) who flew in or before the mid-twentieth century recall a different travel experience than post-9/11 airports offer: friends and relatives could walk you to the gate and welcome you there when you returned; you could smoke on planes and even bring your own liquor; people dressed up as if for a business meeting; meals were served and they often tasted good. Ironically, it was the success and safety of air travel, plus lowered costs and quicker journey times, that led to lowering the level of gentility in the flight experience.

Despite delays, congestion, and sometimes embarrassingly intimate searches for the sake of security, most people who fly usually get where they intended to go in pretty much the time promised. Flying is cheaper than a train, quicker and safer than driving. Airlines work ceaselessly to ensure that, sooner or later, everyone will fly.


Aerospace Industries Association of America,

Air Line Pilots Association, International,

Buffalo Rocket Society,

F-4 Phantom II Society,

Fellowship of Christian Airline Personnel,

Giant Scale Warbirds Association,

International Airline Passengers Association,

Negro Airmen International,

United Flying Octogenarians,

World Airline Historical Society,


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see also Airplanes, Helicopters

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