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Chocks Away!

People have been trying to fly for hundreds of years, but in bygone times, their attempts at designing aircraft were unsuccessful - and often downright dangerous. The famous American brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright, were the first inventors to complete a sustained flight with a powered aircraft in 1903.

Prior to this, many people had tried and failed to conquer the skies. Even the iconic Italian artist, Leonardo da Vinci, had attempted to design a plane in the 15th century. He was said to be the first European who took a serious interest in finding a solution to flight.

wright-brothers© MARKA / Alamy Stock Photo



He studied the flight and structure of birds at great length and designed numerous devices, including an early parachute. He also recognised the possibilities of gliding flight and drew sketches of his ideas.

In 1485, he drew a detailed plan for an ornithopter - a human-powered device with flapping wings that mimicked the way that birds fly. It appeared he never tried to build the aircraft, nor the parachute, but his design was one that future inventors tried to copy.

Over the next four centuries, other innovators came up with similar mechanical flying machines, powered by a person and based on the structure of a bird or bat. Sadly, none of them were successful.


Early aircraft

The would-be pilots who tried to take off in the early weird and wonderful aircraft risked life and limb, but never quite mastered the principles and technique of flight.

All that was to change when the Wright brothers, of Dayton, Ohio, invented, built and flew the world's first successful aircraft. Their first flight in a powered aircraft, called the Wright Flyer, took place on 17th December 1903, near Kitty Hawk in North Carolina.

They further developed their flying machine between 1904 and 1905, creating the world's first fixed-wing, practical aircraft, called the Wright Flyer III. The brothers also invented the first aircraft controls that made fixed-wing powered flight possible.


Wartime aircraft

Aviation played its part during World War I, when planes were used for air combat. In late 1914, the French aviation pioneer and fighter pilot, Roland Garros, invented a more accurate way of shooting when he fixed a machine gun to the front of his aircraft.

A number of fighter pilots became national heroes, including Frenchman Adolphe Pegoud, the first flying ace, who was credited with shooting down five enemy planes, before being killed in action.

The German pilot, Manfred von Richthofen, also known as the Red Baron, shot down 80 planes in air combat, mainly flying the famous Fokker Dr I, otherwise known as the Fokker Triplane. The most successful Allied pilot was René Paul Fonck, the French ace who was credited with shooting down 75 enemy aircraft.

By the time of World War II in 1939, aircraft played an even bigger role in the combat, thanks to improvements in technology. Strategic large-scale bombing campaigns were launched by all sides, more flexible aircraft and weapons enabled precise attacks on smaller targets and fighter escorts were introduced.

Fighter bombers, dive bombers and ground-attack aircraft played a big role, while new technology, such as radar, enabled the more controlled and co-ordinated deployment of aircraft.


Female pilots

The American aviation pioneer, Amelia Earhart, was the first female aviator to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932 (and also set many other flying records) before her mysterious disappearance on 2nd July 1937, at the age of 39.

The first female pilot, Pauline Gower, was deployed by the RAF during the second world war. This was surprising, since there had been massive opposition from the RAF to having women at the controls. Just 18 days after war was declared, Gower, who was 29, met RAF chiefs to discuss the prospect of women serving in the Air Transport Auxiliary.

She was given the go ahead and was appointed leader of the newly-formed women’s arm of the ATA in December 1939. The Tonbridge-born pilot had joined the Aeronautical Section of the Women's Engineering Society in 1932. She and her friend, Dorothy Spicer, had also run a flying taxi service and organised pleasure flights in Kent in the 1930s.

After becoming the RAF's first female pilot, Gower appointed eight more women to the ATA on 1st January 1940. She battled prejudice all the way, as many people still thought women shouldn't be pilots, but carved out a distinguished career.


Supersonic flights

During the second half of the 20th century, technology continued to develop at a rapid rate. The first official supersonic flight that broke the sound barrier was recorded on 14th October 1947, when US Air Force officer Chuck Yeager flew a Bell X-1 aircraft at an altitude of 45,000 ft.

Two decades later, in 1969, the first supersonic transport flights took place, completed by the Anglo-French Concorde and the Soviet TU-144. In 1970, the first Boeing 747 commercial flight took place, with Concorde launching its passenger service in 1976.

In 1986, the first non-stop flight around the world was completed. Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan flew the US ultra-light Voyager on a non-stop flight, which set off from California and concluded there nine days later.

The 21st century saw the invention of the world’s first flying car in 2011, the Transition by Terrafugia. The aircraft can take off and land as normal, but at the push of a button, its wings fold and it can be driven down the road. It has been given the go-ahead to be tested in the United States.


Chocks away!

Throughout all the innovations of the past century, one relatively small, yet crucial aircraft part has remained constant. Everyone must know the famous phrase, "Chocks away!" in relation to an aircraft taking off. Unless you're involved in the aviation industry, the origins of the phrase may be a bit of a mystery.

In fact, the phrase, "Chocks away," is a serious and important one. It was originally shouted by the pilot when an aircraft was preparing to take off. The phrase was first used by British pilots during the Second World War.

It means the "chocks" under the wheels must be removed, as they stop the plane from accidentally moving while it's parked. On hearing the cry, the ground crew would remove the chocks, enabling the plane to begin to taxi down the runway.

The wheel chocks are wedges made of a sturdy material. In the past, they were often made of wood, with their bottom surface coated in rubber to enhance its grip with the ground, making it non-slip.


Rubber shortage

During the Second World War, rubber was in short supply, as it was used to make a number of products needed for the war effort. Every inch of military wiring was wrapped in rubber, while it took half a ton of rubber to build a Sherman tank. In addition, the larger battleships contained around 20,000 rubber parts.

This resulted in shortages, so the chocks' usual rubber base was often missing and they were made just from wood. In the US during the war, the majority of rubber was collected and recycled to make items that were vital to the war effort.

Although rubber chocks gripped better than plain wooden ones, it was considered the rubber was better deployed elsewhere until the war ended.


Chocks today

Today, the whole chock is usually made from 100% rubber. The type of rubber used is a durable, ribbed specification, as it comes in for some particularly heavy wear.


© auremar / Adobe Stock

The chocks are used as back-up to the brakes to enhance the safety of the plane. One edge of the chock has a concave profile, which contours to the wheel, increasing the force which would be required to over-run the chock.

The phrase has made it into popular culture - it has entered the English language and is often used when someone is preparing to do something.

In a scene from the 2000 animated movie, Chicken Run, when a group of chickens escape in a plane from a cruel farm, the rooster pilot shouts, "Chocks away!" to the ground crew. The chocks in question are made from a triangular-shaped chocolate bar, rather than rubber!

Today, a private jet will normally carry its own chocks in the luggage compartment. This is necessary because private jets frequently fly into remote airfields, where there may be little support from the airport, so the crew must come prepared.

However much technology advances, the rubber chocks remain the most effective way of preventing the plane from accidentally moving on the runway when parked.

When you need top-quality rubber products, Coruba's selection of rubber matting and other items is second to none. We offer a full range of industrial, commercial and residential rubber supplies for many applications.

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