AIAA Paper 2004-0532. Presented at the 42nd Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit, January 5, 2004, pages 1-27. Copyright © 2004 by the authors. Published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc. with permission.
Aeronautics is usually presumed to have started as a formal engineering discipline somewhere in historical time between the mythological experiments of Daedalus and his ill-fated son, Icarus; and the dreams and schemes of Leonardo da Vinci during the Italian Renaissance. As reviewed in this paper, “aeronautics” has a far longer history, extending over a period of about 300 million years beginning with the evolution of the ability of insects to fly. With the advent of the success of the Wright brothers, technologists quickly turned their attention from the inspirations and lessons provided by natural models of flying machines to a more practical quest for increasingly dramatic improvements in speed, range and altitude performance far beyond the limits of what muscles and flapping wings could provide. Based on recent work done by the first author in support of the NASA/DARPA Morphing Aircraft Structures Program, a purpose of this paper is to demonstrate in broader terms some of the numerous, very rich sources of inspiration such multi-disciplinary explorations continue to offer both the engineering practitioner and educator.