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This paper deals with the history of aircraft navigation that has evolved significantly throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. First, people had to use the tactics they utilized moving on the land, but the use of radio, radar, and, finally, satellites enabled people to improve navigation significantly. The involvement of people is minimal, which makes errors impossible. Computer systems are able to manage thousands of flights, which contributes to safety in the sky. Clearly, there are still a lot of areas for improvement.
People have always dreamt of flying, and various attempts were undertaken to travel in the sky. Humanity does not know about thousands of enthusiasts who tried to solve the issue, but attempts of the most successful innovators led to the development of aviation. The invention of gas balloons can be seen as the first successful step that, ironically, unveiled many more questions (Federal Aviation Administration, 2008).
One of these questions was associated with control as the first flights were not controlled and the traveler had to move where the wind blew. The creation of controlled aircraft put more questions to the fore as people could move wherever they wanted to, but they had to deal with various factors. Pilots had to rely on their sight and knowledge of the territories or ability to read maps when flying. Of course, bad weather, lack of light, long distances could make the flights dangerous. This paper traces the major milestones in the development of aircraft navigation.
After the gas balloons, Wright Brothers’ and Martin’s aircraft became a revolution in the way humans traveled. People understood that aviation could be used to transport cargos, mail, and passenger (Harwood & Fogel, 2012). During the wars, aircraft played a significant role as well since they could deliver arms, materials, goods. Efficient navigation was of paramount importance. One of the primary challenges to address (which is still persistent) was weather conditions that often made flights impossible.
As has been mentioned above, first pilots had to watch their way and navigate focusing on geographic landmarks (rivers, lakes, and so on) (Curley, 2011). Of course, in bad weather, it was impossible to navigate. Night flights were also impossible to handle. Obviously, inefficient navigation was a significant obstacle to the development of the aviation industry.
It was clear that pilots needed some guidance from the land. The main book of the western world illustrates the way people employed to navigate airplanes many centuries after the book was written, “The Lord was going before them… in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night” (Exodus 13:21). In the 1920s, American pilots had first night flights that became possible due to bonfires lit by enthusiasts (Harwood & Fogel, 2012). Nonetheless, the strategy was not safe enough for all the stakeholders involved. It was clear that new and more efficient tactics were to be used. The use of lights was a more effective strategy, but it still had many flaws. Pilots had to rely on their sight. Bad weather posed significant threats to successful flights.
Moreover, the increasing number of flights and extensive use of aircraft revealed the need to introduce more sophisticated navigation tools that could help pilots avoid collisions with other airplanes and find their way. The following important step in the development of navigation was the use of radio. Pilots listened to radio signals, which enabled them to keep to their route irrespective of weather conditions.
It is necessary to note that landing was still a dangerous endeavor if the weather conditions were unfavorable. Still, this was a widespread tactic, and a network of beacon towers was constructed to facilitate aircraft navigation (Federal Aviation Administration, 2008). It is noteworthy that the role of the pilot was still central as pilots still relied on their vision especially when landing. The guidance was limited compared to the one provided in the second part of the 20th century.
In the middle of the 20th century, computer systems were introduced, and they significantly improved the quality of navigation. For instance, in the early 1960s, a “digital central computer and a head-up display” called CK 37 was used in aircraft (Petrescu & Petrescu, 2013, p. 53). This sophisticated navigation system involved the use of monopulse radar, receivers, and transmitters in the aircraft’s wings and a number of electronic sub-systems.
The use of radar was more effective than previously utilized radio systems. With radar systems, airplanes could surmount longer distances and fly in quite bad weather conditions. The human factor was also minimized, which contributed to safety. Machines estimated important data including height, speed, distance, and so on. Importantly, the guidance land-to-air was still central, but air flights became significantly safer and even more common.
A decade later, in the 1970s, American aviation had a semi-automated air traffic control system that enabled to manage numerous flights in the American sky (Federal Aviation Administration, 2008). Nonetheless, the capacity of the system was quite limited and could not address the challenges associated with rapid traffic growth. The computer system managed numerous operations, but human involvement was still significant.
The 1990s can be regarded as the start of a new era in aircraft navigation as satellites started being used. Global positioning systems (GPS) satellites provided the information necessary for pilots to keep to the route, implement the landing, and take-off (Curley, 2011). These systems are still used today, but they have been upgraded significantly. Modern aircraft can travel under rather negative weather conditions safely. Unfortunately, there can be some errors and malfunctions, which often results in air crashes. Nonetheless, these occasions are quite rare, and the systems are constantly being upgraded. Contemporary systems can even manage some flights without human supervision. It is noteworthy that people are trying to develop a system that will presuppose no human involvement. It is believed that such systems will eliminate any errors and malfunctions, which will lead to the absence of any crashes or accidents. However, these are only goals that will be met in the future.
In conclusion, it is necessary to note that aircraft navigation evolved from man-controlled techniques to automated systems guided by numerous satellites. At present, flights are safe, efficient, and, hence, popular. Navigation systems enable people to control thousands of airplanes that can travel in different parts of the day and under different weather conditions. Clearly, navigation systems are undergoing constant changes that make them even more efficient. People may soon develop systems that will eliminate any possibility of accidents or crashes.
Holy Bible: Modern English version, personal size. (2016). Lake Mary, FL: Charisma Media.
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Curley, R. (2011). The complete history of aviation: From ballooning to supersonic flight. New York, NY: Britannica Educational Publishing.
Federal Aviation Administration. (2008). Pilot’s handbook of aeronautical knowledge. Oklahoma City, OK: United States Department of Transportation.
Fogel, G.B., & Harwood, C.S. (2012). Quest for flight: John J. Montgomery and the dawn of aviation in the west. San Diego, CA: University of Oklahoma Press.
Petrescu, R.V., & Petrescu, F.I. (2013). Aviation history. Stoughton, WI: Books on Demand.