5 Things We Use Every Day That Were Invented By the Air Force

Heather Wilson, Secretary of The United States Air Force, is rightly proud of her branch’s accomplishments.  In honor of the Air Froce’s 70th birthday, she penned a piece for Popular Mechanics that brags on the every-day inventions we use without ever realizing that they have deep roots within the Air Force. Check out the top 5 items on the list.

“1. The satellite constellation behind the Global Positioning System, which the Air Force manages, enables everything from synchronized bank transactions to smartphones.”

Where would we be without GPS? My guess is lost. We’ve integrated GPS into just about everything from the obvious maps to location tracking.

“2. Commercial airliners cruising at 36,000 feet would be inconceivable without pressurized airplane cabins, which debuted with the XC-35 in 1937 at Wright Field in Ohio.”

Pressurized cabins allow planes to fly much higher. Imagine how noisy the world would be if all of those planes leaving contrails way up at 30,000 feet were zipping overhead, instead.

“3. Drones—we call them remotely piloted aircraft—have fundamentally changed warfare, providing “eyes in the sky” over hostile territory, 24/7. Now they aid civilian efforts in mapping, agriculture, and disaster recovery.”

And they’re fun. Drone racing is evidence of that. Drones have changed almost every aspect of military life, but the rest of us benefit too.

“4. Research into advanced composites that made aircraft stronger and lighter began during World War I at McCook Field in Ohio. Today materials like carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers and ceramic composites have found their way into commercial airliners and earthbound equipment like car chassis, bicycles, and tennis rackets.”

Necessity is the mother of invention, so they say. The rest of us, though, want more than we need. Lighter bicycles and tennis rackets are nice enough, and we hardly ever think about where the materials used in their construction came from.

“5. The Air Force introduced the first fly-by-wire fighter, the F-16, in 1978. The same technology that gave that jet its unprecedented maneuverability has improved the reliability, performance, and safety of commercial airliners and “drive by wire” automobiles.”

This one may take even more explaining. Drive-by-wire replaces mechanical linkages, like throttle cables or steering cables, and gives the controls to electric impulses (the wire in the description). Most of these systems are computer controlled. You phone, for example, no longer has buttons, just the idea of buttons. The same is true with many gas pedals these days.