Flight Essay

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 Flight is the process of moving through the air. It occurs among many animals, notably birds, which employ true or powered flight through the use of wings and specially adapted bone and feather structures. Other animals and some plants can use gliding for flight with slightly less volition over direction and range of flight. Gliding relies upon a body or shape that offers resistance to the air and possibly using upwardly moving air thermals to maintain or increase height. The purposes of flight in nature include mobility, escape, ability to reproduce, and the search for food.

The human desire to achieve the freedom of flight inspired the imagination of many scholars and scientists over the centuries. Leonardo da Vinci sketched a flying machine reminiscent of modern helicopters. The first successful attempts to enter the atmosphere were achieved by large hot air or other gas-filled balloons which, obtaining a density of less than the surrounding air, float and can be maneuvered by machinery. The author H.G. Wells imagined such balloons used as weapons of war, which could fly the oceans to drop bombs on enemy cities. It was not until the early 20th century that powered, mechanical flight was first achieved; the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright were instrumental in designing and flying such machines. This period coincided with the growth of mass manufacturing facilities that assisted in the rapidly increased production of airplanes for use in World War I. As weapons, airplanes were initially of little importance and were used largely for reconnoitering until the invention of the synchronized machine gun. Subsequently, the possession of air superiority has become an increasingly important military goal, and the technology and expense devoted to it has become of enormous significance in the global economy.

Notable developments in flight technology have included jet engines, guided missiles, large passenger airplanes, and the entry into space. Men have walked on the moon, but not on more distant astronomical objects. Unmanned probes have been dispatched with some success. In addition, the same form of technology has been used to set numerous satellites into space around the globe, which has helped spread telecommunications applications around the world.

Improvements in flight technology have enabled cheap air travel greater numbers of people able to travel long distances, which has intensified with growth in the number of budget air carriers. Flight has been very influential in the creation of a global tourism industry and international business. This has not been an entirely beneficial process, as large areas of land have been given over to creating airports and the flights are significant contributors to pollution. Noise pollution near airports is a major problem for residents and can cause health problems. The burning of hydrocarbon fuel by airplanes, among other byproducts of powered flight, makes them one of the biggest contributors to global climate change. Air flights have been threatened by terrorist activity, shot down by rockets, hijacked and used as a weapon, or blown up in midair. The terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 are perhaps the most well known of a series of such attacks. One consequence of this is the increase in security in airports and the inconvenience to passengers.


  1. Jonathan Metcalf, ed., Flight: 100 Years of Aviation (DK Adult, 2002);
  2. George Monbiot, “For the Sake of the World’s Poor, We Must Keep the Wealthy at Home,” The Guardian (February 28th, 2006).

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