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How Are Airplanes Designed and Built?

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Air travel has progressed in leaps and bounds since its origins in the early 20th century. With innovations in aeronautics, navigation and material science, modern planes are safer and more efficient than their predecessors. Building an airplane is a massive undertaking that involves engineers, technicians and specialized mechanics. Larger aircraft like airliners take less than two weeks to construct, but the design and testing phase sometimes takes several years. For more complicated military aircraft, the entire process takes even longer. The following paragraphs explain how airplanes are built.

Planning
The planning phase of airplane construction takes a significant amount of time to complete. Designers research the newest technological innovations and determine how they can benefit their plans. Since innovations are developed rapidly, engineers must stay updated on the latest trends and continuously modify their design schemes. A team of engineers then draws up blueprints and submits their proposals to a chief engineer for approval. The chief engineer may spend months analyzing the blueprints before deciding on the best design. When a final blueprint is chosen, the team moves on to creating 3D models of the blueprint.

Modeling
Modeling allows the designers to view the plans in three dimensions and decide what changes need to be made. The models go through several modification stages until a final design is completed. To determine if the model is aerodynamic, designers place the model in a wind tunnel. The model is then modified further until a final design is agreed upon. Next, software engineers develop a simulator program based on the design, and pilots will begin testing the simulator. Experienced pilots offer their suggestions to designers after the simulated test flights, and designers will use the pilots’ tips to make final modifications before construction begins. This step in the process didn’t exist before computer simulators, and it’s responsible for potentially saving countless test pilots’ lives and minimizing the occurrence of accidents or crashes during test flights.

Construction
For airliner construction, massive teams of workers are assigned separate sections of the plane to build. Aircraft manufacturers use an advanced casting process to create the plane’s fuselage, wings, tail and other essential sections. Casting involves designing a mold and pouring molten steel into the mold to create a new part. After one team assembles the fuselage, another team will immediately install advanced avionics and electrical systems. Each piece is inspected before it’s put through a rigorous testing process. Although smaller private companies take much longer to build their aircraft, the construction process is similar but limited to a smaller crew of engineers. For military aircraft, the building plan is more complicated due to the addition of top-secret software, radar shielding and advanced weapons systems.

Assembly
Once all the separate parts are constructed, workers begin assembling the aircraft. Electrical systems, safety measures and hydraulic lines are connected after the plane’s components are assembled together. Then, the plane is covered with a protective coating and painted in test colors. The plane’s final color scheme is not implemented until the plane finishes the testing process. Although professional companies construct most aircraft, the United States allows amateur enthusiasts to design and build planes. Amateurs aren’t required to have prior building experience, but their aircraft must meet the FAA’s strict guidelines before they are deemed airworthy.

Testing
Depending on the type of aircraft and its use, the testing process can last several months or years. Since military aircraft are more intricate, some models may take a decade or more to finish testing. The military tests its planes more rigorously to simulate war-like conditions. Unlike commercial planes, an Air Force jet is subjected to higher levels of stress and speed. Test pilots complete several simulated tests before flying the aircraft, and engineers will make adjustments to the plane based on the pilots’ comments.

Modern aircraft manufacturing is an engineering marvel. Designers have strived to improve the safety and efficiency of aircraft. Judging by recent FAA reports, they have succeeded.

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