With the help of Metal Supermarkets, Aerospace Engineering, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Kaempf & Harris details the history of sheet metal fabrication in the aerospace industry:1400s: The first iron-cased rockets are developed in the Kingdom of Mysore in India. They are adopted and improved as the Congreve rocket and used in the Napoleonic Wars.
Late 1800s: Count Ferdinand Zeppelin uses aluminum to make the frames of his famous Zeppelin airships.
1903: The Wright brothers make the world’s first human flight in their airplane, the Wright Flyer, which includes a special engine in which the cylinder block and other parts are made from aluminum sheet metal.
1915: German aircraft designer Hugo Junkers builds the world’s first full metal aircraft, the Junkers J 1 monoplane. Its fuselage is made of an aluminum alloy that included copper, magnesium, and manganese.
1917: The Sopwith Camel, a British First World War single-seat biplane fighter aircraft, contains an aluminium engine cowling.
1920s: Americans and Europeans compete in airplane racing, which led to design and performance innovations. Biplanes are replaced by more streamlined monoplanes, and there’s a transition to all-metal frames made from aluminum sheet metal alloys.
1925: Ford Motor Co. goes into the airline industry with the corrugated aluminum 4-AT, a three-engine, all-metal plane. It's dubbed "The Tin Goose."
1930s: A new streamlined aircraft shape with tightly cowled multiple engines, retracting landing gear, variable-pitch propellers, and stressed-skin aluminum construction emerges.
1935: The Hawker Hurricane, a British single-seat fighter aircraft, contains a steel-tube structure that combines new metal construction with traditional fabric covering, so cannon shells could pass through the wood and fabric covering without exploding.
1940: The US produces 296,000 aircraft, more than half are made predominantly from aluminum sheet metal. The U.S. aerospace industry is able to meet the needs of the American military and allies, including Britain.
1942: WOR-NYC broadcasts Aluminum for Defense, a radio show that encourages Americans to contribute scrap aluminum to the war effort. Tinfoil Drives offer free movie tickets in exchange for aluminum foil balls.
1944: American aircraft plants produce 11 planes every hour.
1946: NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center is developed after 13 engineers and technicians from NACA's Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory come to Muroc Army Air Base in preparation of the first supersonic research flights by the X-1 rocket plane.
1957: The Soviet Union launches the first aluminium alloy satellite, Sputnik 1.
1961: Vostok 1’s capsule, which carries Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin around the Earth’s orbit, is a 7.5-foot silver sphere with a single round entry hatch.
1967: Boeing 737 Commercial Transport, which is made of 80 percent aluminum, is introduced. The festivities include a christening by flight attendants representing 17 airlines that had ordered the new plane.
1969: Apollo 11’s primary construction materials are titanium, stainless steel, and nickel. Its Lunar Module Eagle is made of nickel-steel alloy coated with aluminum to absorb heat when exposed to the sun and radiate it to the blackness of deep space.
1977: NASA's twin Voyager probes are launched with a gold-plated copper disk that contains sounds and images of Earth, in case alien life discovers the probes. An engraved diagram on the record explains how to play it.
1986: The space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after launch due to a faulty O-ring in the solid rocket booster, which is made from ½-inch thick steel.
1988: The Discovery launches after the solid rocket boosters are redesigned for safer travel, following the Challenger tragedy. It carries NASA's first Great Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope.
2003: Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde, an aluminium British-French turbojet-powered supersonic passenger jet airliner, is out of service due to environmental issues.
2005: The Airbus A380, made of aluminium alloys and composite materials, becomes the largest commercial airplane, dethroning the Boeing 747.
The future of aerospace travel is quickly changing. For example, airplane wings will be made from graphite composite, developed in part by researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center, instead of aluminum. It’s an exciting time for sheet metal and air and space industries, and we can’t wait to be a part of it.
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