An airplane silhouette is a classic illustration of an airplane, created by artist Paul Cephas Jones.
The original airframe was made by a German plane maker and its wing was constructed from a piece of timber.
Today, airliners are constructed from composite materials, which are made from different parts.
In Jones’s original illustration, the wing and tail are made of the same wood.
Jones also drew several other airframe sketches, including one that used a piece from a parachute, and several more that used an aircraft’s engine.
For decades, airframers and aviation historians have debated whether the silhouette of an aircraft is authentic.
One aviation historian said the silhouette is an aircraft model, because “the shape of an airframe is a reflection of the shape of the aircraft itself.”
However, others say that the shape is just a “form” and doesn’t necessarily reflect a plane’s performance.
“It’s a sort of illusion that a plane is real, that it actually exists,” said Douglas W. McConkie, a former airframer who now teaches airframe design at the University of Arizona.
McConkie is the author of “The Airplane: The History of Modern Aircraft.”
Some aviation historians believe that the silhouette was an attempt to convey a message about the aircraft’s performance, rather than its design.
An early airframe by German planemaker Rudolf Rudolf, which Jones drew in 1937, was one of many of the “sketches” that helped inform the early design of modern aircraft, according to McConbie.
Some of the earliest aviation historians said that the “planes were simply the best way to convey the impression that an airplane was flying” to the public, according the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
Airplane designs are also often based on existing technology, so it’s possible that an early airframed plane is the same model that later aircraft models would be based on.
But McConchie said that “that doesn’t prove anything about what the plane actually was, but the effect it had on aviation design.”
McConbie, who has written extensively about the history of airplanes, said that it’s also possible that the early airframes are based on drawings from a previous airplane.
Although there’s no official proof, McConie said that a number of other aircraft designs based on planes like the Curtiss P-40 were based on a drawing of an old aircraft, rather that an actual plane.
Even if an early plane isn’t a true airplane, it still is a “very compelling, recognizable shape,” McConkie said.
To learn more about the story of the airplane silhouette and how airframing came to be, check out the Smithsonian’s article “The Aircraft Shapes of the Modern World: The Origins of Modern Aviation.”