Courtesy Reuters

What Airplanes Can Do

Present Limitations and Possible Developments

THE performance of airplanes, whether military or civil, is primarily a problem in distribution of weight. Speed depends on the weight that can be devoted to power-plant. Range depends on the weight of fuel that can be carried. The capacity to reach great altitudes depends, again, on the weight that is put into power-plant, and on the extension of wing surface. Manœuvrability calls for weight assigned to the same purposes as climbing ability. Fighting power, in the case of military airplanes, demands the expenditure of weight on guns, bombs, ammunition, sights and armor. Yet the demands of all these qualities except the last are arrayed against a simple increase in total weight -- a measure which would be self-defeating. Speed, for example, demands that weight be put into the power-plant without increasing the total weight of the airplane as it stands ready for flight. This means that the weight must be taken from somewhere else, and put into power-plant at the expense of fuel supply, or structure, or armament, or navigating equipment, or some other of the elements of which the total weight is compounded.

I do not want to give an oversimplified impression. Obviously the performance of aircraft cannot be reduced to a simple series of algebraic formulas. Obviously the skill and ingenuity of the designer, and the extent and rigor of the preliminary testing and developmental research applied to the particular design, do much to determine its precise qualities. The Spitfire and the Airacobra and other aircraft of deserved reputation owe their particular success to the ingenuity entering into the original concept or the choice of its details, and to the skill and care with which the engineering organization worked out the design. Still it remains true that the distribution of weight is the fundamental control which governs the limits of performance in any existing state of the art. Designers will approach those limits with varying degrees of closeness, but they may not hope to exceed them except

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