Then vs Now: The History of Aerospace Engineering

The world of aerospace technology has changed dramatically over the years. From a twelve-second flight in 1903 to the high-performance spacecraft of today, the industry continues to achieve spectacular innovation. Aircraft technology and the aerospace manufacturing industry have evolved side by side to become vital cornerstones of transportation, exploration, and more.

History of Aerospace Engineering

First Successful Flight – 1903

The history of aviation can be traced back to 1903, when brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright developed an aircraft that was capable of powered, sustained flight, rather than simply gliding. The plane’s first successful flight was only twelve seconds long, and they wrecked it later that same day, but the Wrights had made a vital step in the right direction. They made rapid improvements to their wing-warping technology, which allowed the pilot to turn the aircraft in flight, and caught the world’s attention.

The first patent for wing-warping technology was granted in Europe in 1904, with American patents issued in 1906. In 1908, the US Army purchased the Model A Flyer from the Wrights. The purchase agreement stipulated an extra payout if the aircraft could fly faster than forty miles per hour.

Early Uses for Aircraft – 1910s and 1920s

In the 1910s, most aircraft were built from wood and covered with coated fabrics. At this point in aircraft history, the undisputed world leader in aerospace technology was France. French aircraft were far more advanced than what other countries were working on.

Despite France’s technological edge, aircraft racing was popular all over Europe. As early as 1911, races were being held all across the continent.

In the early 1920s, there were nearly 150 airports around the United States. Pilot-owned aircraft and firms started providing airmail services around the country, hopping from airport to airport.

First TransAtlantic Flight – 1927

In 1927, American pilot Charles Lindbergh earned his place in aerospace history by flying across the Atlantic Ocean for the very first time. He flew from New York to Paris on a single-engine monoplane called The Spirit of the St. Louis, a 3,610-mile journey that took almost 34 hours. He was 25 years old at the time.

Before 1927, public awareness of and interest in aviation was modest at best. Aerospace technology was primarily associated with war and the military at the time and hadn’t managed to catch the attention of civilians. But Lindbergh’s feat captured the public’s imagination. No one could stop talking about aviation.

This spike in public interest led to an explosion of new ideas and innovations. People started exploring ways to make airframes lighter and more efficient. Most notably, external brace wings fell into disuse, making way for the cantilevered wing, which is still in use today.

Aerospace Manufacturing Is Transformed – 1930s

The 1930s brought about several key changes for the manufacturing side of the aerospace business. In the early days, most aircraft manufacturers were making all their own parts internally. But the industry was growing fast: People were exploring new applications for aircraft, and demand for parts was spiking. New companies sprung up, offering their machining, casting, forging, and extrusion services, which allowed aircraft manufacturers to outsource parts production. These were the very first aircraft industry tier suppliers.

Another large change came about in 1934, when antitrust legislation triggered the separation of air transport services and aircraft manufacturing. One company in particular split into three distinct entities, including Boeing Airplane Company and United Airlines, both of which are still operating today.

Other notable achievements of the 1930s include the first successful helicopter flight and the jet engine. While many companies and countries were working on jet technology, it would be several more years until jet planes were adopted for commercial use.

The Dawn of the Space Age – 1950s

In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. Just twelve years later, astronauts walked on the surface of the moon for the very first time. The Soviet Union and the United States spent the next several decades developing new space-worthy technologies at breakneck pace.

 NMG’s Aerospace Manufacturing History

NMG was founded in 1967, at a time when American aircraft manufacturers were working to build relationships with overseas partners. Our goal at the time was to provide machining services to the growing aerospace industry in northeast Ohio. The region has hosted a NASA facility since the 1940s and is home to a surprising number of aerospace manufacturers, and we knew we had something meaningful to contribute to the growing industry.

Since then, NMG has dramatically expanded its offerings to include engineering and design services, qualification testing, and maintenance, repair, and operations (MR), along with precision machining and manufacturing. We have years of experience crafting complex aircraft components and are dedicated to expanding our capabilities based on what our customers need.

NMG has produced over 10,000 unique components for upwards of fifty aerospace platforms. From hobby planes to elite defense aircraft, our fingerprints can be found in virtually every type of aircraft currently in use, and we’re proud to see our clients take to the skies with the help of our work.

Aerospace Manufacturing Today

The aerospace industry is developing at a rapid pace. Biofuels, unmanned aircraft, artificial intelligence (AI), additive manufacturing, hypersonic flight, and the possibilities of aerial mobility are all changing the landscape, with long-lasting effects on the way we think about flight.

Many aircraft manufacturers rely on their tier suppliers to share the responsibility of exploring and investing in new and advanced technologies to help them keep pace with these developments. In-house engineering teams are partnering with external engineering resources to bring new ideas to life and refine existing designs, so that every iteration of every part is a step toward the next generation of flight.

Aerospace Engineering Capabilities from NMG

The expert team at NMG Aerospace has over fifty years of engineering and design experience. Whether you’re creating a new component from scratch or looking to refine an existing system, we can provide the resources and expertise you need to optimize your design. We’ve been in lockstep with the aerospace and defense industries for decades, so we can provide a unique perspective on the evolution—and future—of these crucial sectors. To learn more about our design services, manufacturing capabilities, and other areas of expertise, talk to a member of our team >