So I'm incubating a few alternate histories in my head. Many of them will butterfly away the Wright Brothers and many other familiar parts of history, and at least one has aircraft development as a prominent point in the story.
I could just go with the configurations OTL uses. The problem is, I really try to avoid just blindly copying from our history when I don't understand the how's and why's something happened a certain way. Often times, you can wind up with something completely different. So when the time comes for fixed-wing aircraft to be developed, there's a chance it could go differently...
But in order to be realistic, the aircraft must be at least almost as effective as a tailplane, and reasonable to build. "Effective" and "reasonable" being:
- It has comparable advantages in stability, lift production and maneuvering.
- The design has comparable economic advantages; it doesn't necessarily require more resources to build and maintain.
- The design does not (necessarily) incorporate concepts that require an advanced and well-developed understanding of fixed-wing aerodynamics. These would be among the early aircraft designs, or at least a short time into successful flight, so things like vortilons, fly-by-wire, etc. would not be present.
I know canards, for example, were popular early in aviation history, but were then replaced by the tailplane. The explanations I've read for this is that canard craft tend to have difficult stall recovery in certain situations (e.g the wing stalls first). Along with the historical claims of safety, its replacement of canard craft does seem to imply that it was indeed a superior design. Since aviation itself was in its infancy, I don't know how much stock to put into that. It could be that the modern configuration with large wings in front and a tail in back really is the most well-rounded design and thus an inevitability, but I don't know any better.
If the development of flight happened all over again on an alternate timeline Earth, would airplanes still look the same as today?