Aerospace engineering – past, present and future

aerospace engineeringOrigins

17th December 1903 is widely considered the most famous day in the history of aerospace. It’s the day Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully made four brief flights at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina that would go down in history as the invention of the first airplane.


Less than two decades after The Wright’s took flight, Edward Dawson opened a business rebuilding automotive engines in England. Across town, coincidently, Fred Shanahan also opened a company which specialised in rebuilding engines. Little did they know this was the beginning of what was to become a long-term love affair with the aerospace sector.


Fast forward to 1944 – by which time Fred and Edward had joined forces to form Dawson Shanahan – and aircraft was in mass production due to its pivotal role in the Second World War. By this point, the Dawson Shanahan duo had progressed beyond repairing automobile engines and was producing large volumes of parts for AVRO Lancaster and other bombers used in the war.


Since then, the aerospace sector has seen significant change. While commercial airlines had been flying since before the Second World War, the development of new technology in the following half Century, combined with the deregulation of the aerospace market in the US in the mid-1970s, led to a boom in commercial flights.


New airline carriers rushed into the market, offering new routes to customers, at lower prices than ever before due to increased competition. With this, technological progress came thick and fast, changing the sector forever and moving it into what we now consider the golden age of innovation.


The present

Today, over a century since the Wright Brothers stunned the world with their successful flights, there are more aircraft in production than any year previously and the global aerospace market is expected to grow still further to be worth an estimated $350 billion in just over half a decade.


As for Dawson Shanahan, almost a century after the engine rebuilding businesses of pioneers Fred and Edward took off, we’re as involved in the aerospace sector as ever before – even more so, in fact.


We work closely with companies around the world that are involved in the aerospace manufacturing supply chain, from small OEMs to the large aircraft manufacturers themselves. We design, prototype and precision engineer customer specified components and assemblies for use in aircraft.


Given the growing production of airplanes, the evidence suggests we’ll continuing playing a vital role in the aerospace sector for some time.


The Future

The future of aerospace is wide open. Aircraft designs have changed subtly over the last few years, with few significant changes to the performance of the planes themselves. Instead, as more people than ever choose to fly commercially, many airlines have prioritised comfort, aesthetics and customer service as they compete for greater market share.


While demand for comfort, luxury aesthetics and good customer service are likely to remain at the core of the business strategies of airliners in the foreseeable future, manufacturers are focusing more closely on areas such as emissions and fuel efficiency.


Commercial airlines spend more than 25 percent of their operating expenses on fuel. As such, even the smallest improvements to fuel efficiency can lead to huge cost savings.


It’s not just efficiency specific to fuel usage though, it’s wastage in general – driven by wider sustainability agendas that are demanding attention to the highly fuel consuming aerospace sector. These efficiency savings extend beyond the realms of the airliners themselves. There are also opportunities for the entire supply chain.


We’re very aware of the role suppliers such as us will play in the industry achieving this objective. That’s where manufacturing techniques such as cold forming come in. It requires much less energy and produces significantly less waste material than most other component manufacturing methods, including many machining techniques.


A process such as this enables us to supply the high quality components that aerospace customers require, whilst using less raw materials – enabling airlines to hit sustainability targets and please corporate social responsibility aims.


Beyond this, innovative new designs for aircraft are published frequently. These designs have yet to be introduced by airlines, but with NASA and the U.S. Air Force testing this concept, it may be only a matter of time. In fact, it’s fair to say that that statement is true of so many incredible innovations that are on the horizon: it really is just a matter of time.