How our everyday lives have been shaped by the aviation industry.

19th August 2019

Feats of engineering are all around us. We have incredible technology at our fingertips around the clock – and we barely even think about it anymore. The modern day way of life has much to thank the engineering and aviation industries for, including some very surprising ways.

Here, we look at just a small handful of everyday products, gadgets and developments which have their history firmly rooted in the wonders of engineering and aviation.

The ballpoint pen

This is our favourite claim to aviation fame. That biro which is kicking around on your desk somewhere started out its life in the cockpit. Sort of.

Hungarian journalist and artist Laszlo Biro was getting increasingly frustrated with the fountain pens which were in circulation back in 1938 which leaked and smudged. So, he took matters into his own hands and invented an alternative.

One of Laszlo’s first customers was the RAF. A British firm took over the patent to produce the product for the RAF, who ordered 30,000 biros to distribute amongst its pilots. Now, more than 70 years later, 57 BiC Biros are sold every second.

GPS navigation

The technology behind Google Maps was originally developed for military purposes by the US Government. The Global Positioning System (GPS) allows people to pinpoint their location, no matter where they are. This clever little system was originally called NAVSTAR, and it is still owned by the US Government to this day.

We all may still think of GPS as a relatively new modern convenience which helps us to find the pub. But, it was actually first used back in the 1970s to replace radio navigation systems. A suite of 24 satellites could track soldiers, spy on enemy movement and monitor the trajectory of missiles.

GPS was first made available to the public in 1995 and we haven’t looked back. It plays a hugely crucial role to make flights safer. It also provides invaluable assistance with search and rescue missions due to their speed and accuracy to detect the most specific of locations.


The science behind the humble ready meal is pretty impressive. That staple of the modern kitchen was actually discovered by accident by engineer Percy Spencer during World War II. It was whilst working with a radar set that he noticed that a chocolate bar which he had in his pocket had melted. He then tried out his clever theory on popcorn and then an egg. These tests confirmed his findings that microwaves could be concentrated to create enough heat to warm or cook certain foods, even if he did get egg on his face in the process after it exploded.

The internet

Can you imagine our modern lives without the World Wide Web? We spend around one day every week online on any number of different devices. For many, it’s a window on the world and a source of information and companionship. For others, it’s where they get their news, information or just new music choices. The possibilities are endless.

The workable prototype for the internet dates right back to the late 1960s. It was during the Cold War that the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was funded by the US Department of Defence. It allowed several computers to communicate over a single network to share information and intelligence. This then developed to the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) which connected multiple networks. This then blossomed into the internet which we know and love/hate today.

Jet engines

We couldn’t list the greatest inventions without mentioning this one. The predecessors in air travel paved the way for the jet engine, which would truly revolutionise the aviation industry.

Jet engine technology really began to take off during World War II. This is despite how inventor Frank Whittle was working on a similar design back in the late 1920’s. Fast forward to 1944 when the Messerschmitt Me 262 became the first jet-fighter to take off.

Production was limited whilst the war continued but the seed was firmly planted and, in the years that followed, the huge capabilities of jet engines and air travel have soared. Gone were the days of struggling to get off the ground and the revolution of supersonic travel was upon us all.

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