The major developments that occurred since the beginning of aircraft production at the start of the 20th century were the creation of lighter, more reliable and efficient structure and engines, smoother exteriors with no struts or rivets for less drag and greater speed, and the development of smaller, single fixed wings, which again reduced the drag of air on the plane.
These developments had a huge impact on Buckminster Fuller’s invention of the Dymaxion House by giving him the resources to create an optimally light, wind and drag resistance structure, with maximum efficiency and strength.
1903: The Wright Brothers make the first flying machine.
The materials they used are mainly wood (mainly spruce) and fabric, on account of their lightweight qualities. The brothers also use aluminum, platinum, tin, muslin, and other steel products in more minor areas of their design. The structure consists of a spar-and-rib wing, wire-braced box-girder fuselage, wire-trussed strut-supported biplane wing cell, sealed fabric airframe skin, and two-wheel fixed landing gear. This becomes known as the classic wire-braced, wood-and-fabric biplane. The fragmented, non-monocoque framing system is seen in Fuller’s earlier prototypes of the Dymaxion House, especially visible in the hexagonal structure he was bound to, unable to yet produce a circular curved form with the technologies of the day.
1911: Retractable flying gear is invented.
This may have influenced Fuller’s inclusion of items such as the o-volving closet, by using similar systems to those in aircraft technology.
Airplanes become a popular mean of transporting mail between continents, and soon later begin to move people.
1914: The production of airplanes hugely increases on account of military needs. Planes were used to carry guns, bombs, and torpedoes.
1913: Military aircraft is developed for WWI. The Avro 504 specifically marks the development of a two-bay biplane with a square-section fuselage (main body) of all-wooden construction.
The plane marks a time in which Fuller was still limited to his hexagonal (as opposed to circular) designs.
WWII marks a huge evolution in airplane frame construction. The earlier standard of fabric on wood frame is abandoned on account of its vulnerability to battle heat and lack of optimal stability. In this time, the two main developments are cantilevered wings and monocoque fuselage. Cantilevered wings involve a main spar with a self-supporting beam, eliminating the need for any wire bracing or struts, creating a self-sufficient component. The wings are strengthened with a shear web added to their spar and a wooden flange facing done so that the grain is oriented at different angles to the main member of the spar. The wings are also no longer covered with fabric, but instead with a stronger wooden veneer (referred to as stressed skin wings).
Monocoque fuselage mainly involved switching the fabric covered wooden box with a single molded thin wood shell supported internally by bulkheads and longitudinal stringers, creating a strong streamline tube-like structure.
The development was seen in the curved panels used by Buckminster Fuller to create the walls of his houses, which were most likely produced using this newly developed method. It is specifically seen in the Dymaxion Mobile Dormitory and all consequent developments of the invention.
The airplanes constructed in WWI also used semi-monocoque fuselage, in which the two halves of the aircraft’s body were molded separately out of thin plywood and then assembled together by gluing and nailing the plywood panels onto the framework of bulkheads and stringers.
The most popular material used during this time was wood, and the principal aluminum of Fuller’s design was not yet reflected in the aircraft industry.
1917: The first all metal airplane is produced by the Germans. It is called the Hugo Junker J4, and is constructed almost entirely out of a lightweight aluminum alloy (exactly the same as that used in Fuller’s structures), has a steel armour around the fuel tanks, crew, and engine (as Fuller used steel to construct the central mast and frame its inner mechanical components), and strong internally braced cantilevered wings. The new wings provided less drag, reflecting Fuller’s own ambitions of creating a streamline house. The new metal use in aircrafts led to stressed-skin construction, in which the airplane’s skin accounted for all structural support and eliminated the need for heavy framework. This is almost exactly reflected in Fuller’s objectives with the supportive system of his Dymaxion House. The metal used was also a critical factor in heat and humidity resistance, something Fuller also achieved in the same method, creating a home that did not require any additional insulation.
1918: Longhead Aircraft Manufacturing Company undergoes a breakthrough in monocoque fuselage construction by creating a new method of fuselage construction out of half shells of spruce veneer in large concrete molds fitted with a rubber bladder. Although it exercises the same molding principles as before, the tools used to create the new shape are much more efficient and productive. The method involved placing the veneers in place, fitting in the case, and inflating the bladder that forced the wood to fit into the mold. After the glue cured, the sells were removed from the mold in a light skeletal form. These airplanes were much lighter, and less air resistance than before. This method continued to have popular use well into the 1930s.
As stated in the earlier points, fuller used these construction methods for the panels in his own design.
1920: An improvement in aircraft wind-tunnel testing occurs, ameliorating the design of engines, airframes, and the maintenance of equipment. Buckminster Fuller also benefited from these developments in creating a home that was optimally weather and wind resistant.
1929: Frank Whittle designs an engine based on jet propulsion, leading to the production of the world’s first jet engine aircrafts at the end of the 1930s.
1933: Donald Douglass introduces the DC-1, a 12 passenger cabin airplane with heaters and soundproofing technology. The aircraft had an all-metal frame with optimal strength, an almost completely enclosed engine to reduce drag, variable pitch propellers for more effective flight angles, and more efficiently controlled wings.
Perhaps Douglass’s aircraft influenced the invention of features in the Dymaxion home like self-heating and cooling, air ventilation, and overall efficiency. Similarly, they were also both constructed entirely out of metal.
1939: World War Two once again elevates the production and development of aircraft, requesting the arrival of bigger bombers and faster, more manoeuvrable airplanes.
Over the course of this period, there was a Metal and Structural Revolution that took place. The 1930’s introduced the wide use of metal aircrafts, with Boeing 247D and Douglas DC-3 as popular examples. The wing design remained largely the same as before, but now used sheet metal to cover the entire structure with the same stressed skin effect. Instead of using flanges to create a web along a main spar, they had many spars narrowly spaced along the intersecting ribs, creating small rectangular cells over which sheet metal was riveted. This was called the Multicellular Wing. Overall, the structure did not change, apart from replacing wood with metal. This shift in material allowed Fuller to appropriate all the previously discussed techniques directly into his aluminum house design.
1942: The prototype of the world’s first jet flown engine, the Messerschmitt ME 262, is complete and used in combat.