Trivia Teaser: Thin Is In

Question: The advantage of a high aspect ratio wing was first recognized in:
A) 1804
B) 1866
C) 1903
D) 1918

Answer: The year 1804 is sometimes linked to a drawing made by Sir George Cayley which is recognized as being the first-ever recorded representation of a modern airplane configuration—that is, one having a fuselage, fixed wing, and both a horizontal and vertical tail (although in fact he had engraved a similar image onto both sides of a silver disk five years earlier, in 1799). However, the significance of aspect ratio was first mentioned in one of the very first scientific papers written under the aegis of one of the first (in this case, the second) of the technical societies devoted to the formal exchange of aeronautical ideas, namely the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, founded in 1866 (yup, choice B). During the first year of its existence, a paper was published by Francis H. Wenham having the title of “On Aerial Locomotion and the Laws by Which Heavy Bodies Impelled through Air are Sustained” (the society’s first, in fact). In it, he noted the correlation between the fastest-flying birds and long and narrow wings. The Wright Brothers in 1903 were most likely ignorant of the significance of aspect ratio (despite the fact that Langley himself had recently published the first definitive experimental data on the effects of aspect ratio in his book Experiments In Aerodynamics). As far aeronautical revelations in the year 1918, this was about when induced drag was first understood (although a famous paper by Ludwig Prandtl of Germany provided theoretical calculations allowing the conversion of data for wings of one aspect ratio to those of another).