November 24, 2012 9:01 am

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Airplanes are a relatively recent invention. The first one flew just over 100 years ago. As little as 50 years ago, only small numbers of people had ridden in an airplane. Today, air travel is one of the most common means of transportation.
Hundreds of thousands of people fly on airplanes each year. You buy your ticket. You pack your suitcase. Then, off you go to the airport.
The airport is where planes take off and land. An agent takes your suitcase. You go to a gate (loading and unloading area) and get on your plane. There are rows and rows of seats. You sit down next to a window. You fasten your seat belt. You are ready to take off.
The place where you sit is called the cabin. The cabin is in a long tube called the body, or fuselage, of the airplane. The front of the fuselage is called the nose. The pilot and copilot sit in the cockpit right behind the nose. The pilot steers the plane in the cockpit. Your suitcase is stowed in the cargo hold under the cabin.
Two big wings stick out from the fuselage. In back of the wings are moveable parts called flaps and ailerons. These parts help control the plane. A big tail sticks up from the end of the fuselage. A rudder, located on the back of the tail, helps the plane turn left and right.
Sets of wheels sit underneath the airplane. The airplane rolls on the wheels before it takes off and after it lands. The wheels on big planes go up into the fuselage when the plane is in the air. They come down before the plane lands.
There are different kinds of airplane engines. Propeller engines turn propellers on the nose or on the wings. Propellers pull an airplane through the air.
Jet engines suck air in. They heat the air and shoot it out of the back of the engine. Jet engines push the plane through the air. Turboprops are a combination, using the power of a jet engine to turn a propeller.
Airplanes are heavier than air. They need to go fast in order to fly. Engines and wings make a plane fly.
An airplane builds up speed on a runway. Runways at airports are long concrete strips. Runways in some faraway places can be level places made of dirt or grass. Some planes can even take off on water. When the plane is going fast enough, the pilot takes it up into the air.
The pilot uses many controls in the cockpit to fly a plane. The pilot pulls a wheel or stick back to make the plane go up. Air rushing over and under the wings lifts the plane into the sky.
Dials on a control panel in the cockpit tell the pilot how high the plane is, how much fuel it has, and which direction it is heading. A radar screen tells the pilot if other planes are nearby. The pilot uses the rudder on the tail and the ailerons on the wings to make the plane turn.
It’s time to land. The pilot pushes the wheel or stick forward to make the plane go down. The pilot lowers the wheels and landing gear. The plane touches down on the runway. The pilot uses brakes to slow and stop the plane.
Planes do different kinds of work. Passenger planes carry people in the cabin. Cargo planes carry packages, boxes, and other things. Cargo planes do not have seats.
Military cargo planes can carry soldiers, tanks, and cannons. Some military planes are fighter jets. Some are bombers. Some military jets take off and land on aircraft carriers at sea. Certain military planes can take off straight up like a helicopter, then fly ahead like a plane.
Crop-duster planes spray farm fields with chemicals that kill bugs or fertilizer that helps crops grow. Firefighting planes drop water or chemicals on forest fires. Seaplanes have skis instead of wheels. They can land on lakes in faraway places to deliver passengers, supplies, and mail.
The smallest airplanes are called ultralights. They weigh about 100 pounds (about 46 kilograms) and carry only a pilot. The biggest planes are jumbo jets. They can carry several hundred people and several hundred tons of cargo. Jumbo jets fly long trips over oceans.
In between, there are planes of many sizes. There are two-seater and four-seater propeller planes. There are commuter planes that can carry about 20 passengers on short trips. Airlines also fly many jets that hold from 80 to over 400 passengers.
Long ago, people dreamed of flying like the birds. They tried to build machines that would fly. The first people to succeed were two American brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright. They made a heavier-than-air machine of wood and cloth. It had an engine that turned a propeller. The brothers made their first flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.
The Wright brothers and other inventors experimented with different designs. They made better and better planes. The first warplanes flew during World War I (1914-1918). Then, pilots started taking passengers on trips. Jet engines in the 1950s made air travel faster and made passenger planes very popular. Now, millions of people travel everywhere on airplanes.
Today, there are planes that can fly as fast as the speed of sound. Inventors hope to make planes that can fly five times faster than sound. They want these planes to fly up to the edge of space. Then the planes will come back down and land. They call these planes hypersonic planes. Today, it would take you more than 12 hours to fly from Chicago, Illinois, to Tokyo, Japan. In a hypersonic plane, you could make that trip in two to three hours.
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