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In my world, I want two primary things: Battleships to maintain their prominence much longer (Story takes place in roughly 1950s era tech), and as part of that, aircraft to initially develop much later. I'm mostly not worried about how fast aircraft would develop once they arrive, for the sake of this particular question. I want to focus on what factors would slow down the development of aircraft.

If we put the story in 1950, I'd want aircraft that are maybe 15 years along the development cycle - So, late WWI. If aircraft develop at the same pace, this would put first flight at around 1935, a little over 30 years later than what happened in history.

I've identified a handful of factors that could slow and inconvenience aircraft development, but I'm not certain it is enough:

  • Higher surface gravity, about 30% higher. Combined with:
  • Lower atmospheric density, by about 15% lower. These two mean larger wings and/or more powerful engines are required to get a plane of the same weight off the ground.
  • Delay in easy Aluminium production. If I don't want other things to be affected, this would have to be minimal, and the effects on aircraft would similarly be minimal.
  • Lack of need. The world is largely on a single continent. Rail travel is common and easy. There ARE other continents, but they're significantly less populated, and ships are also relatively common. I'm considering shorter distances between continents and islands as well.
  • Military Disdain. A significant driver of early aircraft was their use by the military, which was resisted by many "Old-school" leaders. If these old-school leaders "Won" their arguments, the military money may not exist. A factor to their "Winning" could be:
  • Catastrophic accident. Something like an early test/demonstration happening with a large crowd, and ending up crashing into said crowd and causing significant injury and death. There have been more than one promising project canned because of a PR disaster.

Are these factors enough to delay aircraft development by three decades, or should I include some other factors?

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    $\begingroup$ Most of your factors seem good, but the single continent thing will work against the development of any big ships. Why build a swimming fortress when you can't anything with it? $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T May 19 '17 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ Lower atmospheric density works not only against aircraft but also increases range of guns, which I think also works in your favour. Your factors seem enough to delay it a bit, you may also think about lack of good sources of oil and abundant coal. $\endgroup$ – Shadow1024 May 19 '17 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ You may think also about some conventions. I mean there is nothing inherently evil in chemical warfare or hollow point bullets, but they are more or less outlawed in conflict in which are involved civilized nations. In RL US tried to outlaw unlimited submarine warfare as too barbaric. (unless used after Pearl Harbor against Japanese). $\endgroup$ – Shadow1024 May 19 '17 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ Delaying production of aluminum would be predicated on later discovery of electricity, which would also delay the development of dreadnoughts (which depend on electricity for internal functionality). $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 19 '17 at 19:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Andon without the discovery of not only electricity, but electric generators, the Hall–Héroult process would not have been developed, and elemental aluminum still be more expensive than gold. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium#History As for aluminum being low on your list, it shouldn't be, since it was critical to the development of aircraft beyond cloth-covered wooden biplanes. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn May 19 '17 at 20:09
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I think that delaying aircraft is not all that difficult, even for an earthlike world. Assume that a conflict with the technology and scope of WWI comes about 10 years early and another one is 10 years late.

  • World War 0.5 proves and improves the technology of Dreadnought-style battleships. Navies get operational experience, they find out how to fight other navies and how not to fight shore defenses. Aircraft are limited to a few observation balloons and Zeppelins which prove ineffective for naval warfare.
  • Then the development of aircraft runs straight into a post-war depression. They are improved greatly over the years, but there is no convenient war to spur the development of bomb sights, synchronized MGs, and so on.
  • By the time World War 1.5 kicks off, aircraft have about 1930 flight performance and 1920 armament. Visionaries talk about air power, but they don't really have the technology to back their dreams. Aircraft bombs of the era are unable to penetrate battleship decks which have been designed against plunging fire. Each battleship or cruiser has a couple of observation floatplanes to direct their artillery, and they are armed with pintle-mounted and wing-mounted MGs to fight each other, but the primary role of the aircraft is to find the enemy and to call in artillery corrections.
  • Radar happens to be developed for surface fire control, and some boffins come up with radar to direct AA fire, and also radar-fused proximity shells, which means that observation aircraft have to keep their distance. When naval air goes after battleships, getting in close enough is suicidal, and the puny weapons can't do much damage.
  • WW 1.5 is fought with this technology. Aircraft make giant leaps during the war years, but with their late start carrier aviation isn't really mature by the time the war ends. The hints are tantalizing, but there is a fierce battle between the "gun deck" admirals and the "glory hound" pilots who are not doing their proper job -- finding the enemy and calling for fire. The admirals win.
  • Add another 15 years of post-war depression and peacetime development. Radar gets better, and so do catapult-launched seaplanes. Perhaps even supersonic jet seaplanes. But they won't challenge the battleships.

That makes the aircraft slightly more advanced than you called for, but the battleships still rule the seas.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this but you have to also limit the carry capacity of aircraft. High level bombing of ships would still be profitable if the aircraft can carry enough ordinance. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat May 19 '17 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Andon, "Remember, kids, no grandstanding, Your job is to stay out of AAA range, to observe the fall of shot, and to radio back. I will personally rip the first one who engages the enemy a new <censored>." $\endgroup$ – o.m. May 20 '17 at 5:06
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    $\begingroup$ Why would ships have AA armament if there were no threat from air attack? AA was an answer to the airplane threat, developing the answer before a threat exists would be a waste of resources. A ship without AA is more economical, since it needs a smaller crew and can dedicate more of its weigth to surface to surface capability. $\endgroup$ – Durandal May 20 '17 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Durandal, the air threat consists of observer aircraft for naval gunfire. The AA (or more likely dual-purpose) guns will make the observers dodge and generally keep their distance. Consider unarmed drones today, quite a lot of them belong to the artillery and they are a deadly threat to anything within cannon range of their parent unit. $\endgroup$ – o.m. May 20 '17 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ But thats exactly what didn't happen. It was common practice for warships to carry scouting planes well before WW2. Yet AA was never the main weapon against scouting planes - other planes were. AA is, and always has been, the last line in defense against aircraft. As for dual purpose guns, thats not really practical. It has been attempted but was never really sucessfull. Hitting a plane is hard, but small shells will do. Ship guns have large calibers and low rate of fire, since small shells are ineffective against ship armor. Those are fundamentally contradictory requirements. $\endgroup$ – Durandal May 20 '17 at 15:45
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I'll take a more specific path, but I'm aware of its possible limitations.

In this alternate history, Gen Billy Mitchell failed to sink the Ostfriesland in 1921. As for a reason, let's say that the final bombing runs disobeyed Mitchell and dropped their bombs directly on the ship, rather than beside it. The deck armor worked as advertised, and the ship stayed afloat. Mitchell, of course, lost his temper and made intemperate remarks about his superiors, just as he did in our history. The problem is, without having actually sunk the battleship his defense at his court-martial rang hollow, and he lost popular support.

With the results of the test in hand (destroyer and light cruiser sunk, battleship survived), the movement toward super-dreadnoughts was reinforced and the momentum of naval attack aircraft hobbled. The sort of dedication to development which characterizes fast technology was discredited for aircraft, and as a result the new doctrine fell badly behind.

All of this seems at least superficially arguable, and presumably would have affected the European powers as well as the US. But it's not clear that this would have affected Japan as much, since they prided themselves on their intrinsic superiority to the gaijin. In the worst case, this would produce a slaughter in the Pacific, with the US badly lacking in air forces capable of contesting with a competent Japanese carrier arm (even if not quite as developed as it was in our history).

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  • $\begingroup$ While I am working on a separate world with paralells to real-world history, it's good to keep in mind things like this $\endgroup$ – Andon May 20 '17 at 6:10
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Remove petroleum.

Without petroleum available the only fuel available on the strategic scale would be coal. Coal has lower energy density per mass and higher viscosity than oil based fuels. So power systems would be significantly heavier.

This would be no issue for ships or trains which can carry the extra mass fairly efficiently. Aircraft on the other hand would have serious issues with having extra mass. I am not sure if building coal powered aircraft is practical without jet engines or gas turbines, which require better metallurgy and manufacturing. Certainly the extra difficulty would retard the development of aircraft and reduce the performance of any that are built.

Side effects

Obviously there would be some minor unwanted effects. While cars are not as sensitive to weight as aircraft, coal powered cars might not be able to marginalize electric cars. This would result in a boost to electric engines and battery technology. I doubt the boost would be sufficient to allow battery powered aircraft, but their electric cars should be usable. They would probably have improved electric technology overall. The reliance on batteries would probably create functional recycling systems as well.

Even so their cars would probably have lower performance and range than gasoline powered cars of same level. This would probably have effects on culture and logistics that would add to effects caused by lack of air travel. Trains, electric no doubt, would be main long distance land transport. Continents would be linked by passenger ships.

Tanks also have issues with engine efficiency because moving all that armor requires high power. Both steam powered and electric tanks are possible, but I think warfare would be closer to WW1 than WW2, with static fronts and reliance on rail connections for logistics.

Making petroleum scarce

Outside the topic, really, but there are basically two ways. You can remove easily usable petroleum deposits or you can remove the economic demand for oil.

You can locate deposits on sea floors or distant deserts and jungles. You can make them deep. You can make less of them. You can even hand wave and say that due to early development of bacteria that efficiently consume organic material in anoxic conditions there are no significant oil deposits at all.

You can reverse the order of events so that instead of lack of oil pushing development of electric technology forward, early development of electric technology removes the demand for developing oil economy. As is electric technology is largely based on contributions of "great people™" like Faraday, Edison, and Tesla rather than general development of technology. You could probably get away with pushing them and electric technology earlier. Especially if it happened safely before current events.

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  • $\begingroup$ If petroleum would be scarce, it could be replaced by synthetic alternatives, for example alcohol. Also consider germany did produce synthetic gasoline replacements from coal in WW2 when their access to oil was limited. Lacking oil resources would probably lead to automobiles going for alcohol based fuels long before airplanes are even developed, so the technology and infrastructure would already be in place at the time airplanes emerge. $\endgroup$ – Durandal May 20 '17 at 14:28
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    $\begingroup$ @Durandal Sorry, but no. I did actually consider this while writing the answer and the power density and economic issues do not go away. Synthetic alternatives do work if you are working small scale or are using them to supplement existing oil based solutions, but scaling them up from zero to dominance is much harder than with oil. It could happen if someone put in enough up front investment, but cars, aircraft, and tanks all turned out to be more influential than was predicted. I simply do not believe it would happen if the natural oil based evolution of technology was blocked. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 20 '17 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Durandal Obviously I could be entirely wrong about this, but the question does not actually require an answer where aircraft can't happen, just one where it is possible and believable that they get delayed. I think my scenario, by blocking what happened in the real world to make aircraft happen, creates that possibility. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 20 '17 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ You miss the main point: the possibility you create is not entriely believable to anyone with a bit of knowledege in engineering and history. Alcohol is the next closest thing to oil when it comes to energy density, availability and convinience of use. Your "cars turning to batteries and electricity" is completely unbelievable - it would be alcohol driven cars (alcohol is much easier to make in bulk with 19th century technology than storable electricity, which we still struggle with today). And the enabling technology for airplanes were piston engines. That came from cars initially. $\endgroup$ – Durandal May 20 '17 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ Your scenario would become believable if cars never happened due to the lack of oil. But that would be far from changing little else. $\endgroup$ – Durandal May 20 '17 at 15:31
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In my world, I want two primary things: Battleships to maintain their prominence much longer (Story takes place in roughly 1950s era tech), and as part of that, aircraft to initially develop much later.

You really need aircraft delayed (compared to our world). That alone saves the battleship.

Battleships didn't really stop being considered the mainstay of most fleets until WW2 was well underway and it became apparent that they didn't quite cut it.

A fifteen year delay in aircraft development is enough for this.

I'm mostly not worried about how fast aircraft would develop once they arrive, for the sake of this particular question. I want to focus on what factors would slow down the development of aircraft.

No WW1 would do it.

WW1 saw a major drive to develop the aircraft as an armed fighting arm. Until then it was considered little more than a way to do reconnaissance.

So WW1 could simply be avoided (or kept from developing into something huge).

No German state forming would have done that.

Or even something as simple as the failure of the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand.

If we put the story in 1950, I'd want aircraft that are maybe 15 years along the development cycle - So, late WWI. If aircraft develop at the same pace, this would put first flight at around 1935, a little over 30 years later than what happened in history.

I've identified a handful of factors that could slow and inconvenience aircraft development, but I'm not certain it is enough:

Higher surface gravity, about 30% higher. Combined with Lower atmospheric density, by about 15% lower.

An unlikely combination. More likely is that increasing gravity will increase atmospheric density.

These two mean larger wings and/or more powerful engines are required to get a plane of the same weight off the ground.

Yes, but it also means you have to deal with a world with a higher gravity and a denser atmosphere (not less dense, but more dense). You will have to develop engines that are more powerful anyway for all your surface transports and this means you can't avoid developing the engines.

Delay in easy Aluminium production. If I don't want other things to be affected, this would have to be minimal, and the effects on aircraft would similarly be minimal.

And we need Aluminum for what ?

Planes can be build from wood and canvas and they'll happily sink a battleship with a torpedo or a bomb (well, several bombs).

Lack of need. The world is largely on a single continent.

Single continent's don't need battleships.

If anything a single continent makes having long distance air transport even more desirable both economically and militarily. You want to be able to reach everything on the other side of that continent as fast and easily as possible.

Rail travel is common and easy. There ARE other continents, but they're significantly less populated, and ships are also relatively common. I'm considering shorter distances between continents and islands as well.

One huge continent makes seem unlikely. Rail travel would have to cross varying terrain and be developed in varying climatic conditions. Consider the difficulty of building the trans-American and trans-Russian railways.

Far from discouraging the development of air transport, I think it would encourage it, simply because business and government would want an alternative.

Military Disdain. A significant driver of early aircraft was their use by the military, which was resisted by many "Old-school" leaders. If these old-school leaders "Won" their arguments, the military money may not exist.

That happened here too, and didn't delay anything very much. One war proved they were useful and planes were instantly adopted by everyone.

A factor to their "Winning" could be: Catastrophic accident. Something like an early test/demonstration happening with a large crowd, and ending up crashing into said crowd and causing significant injury and death. There have been more than one promising project canned because of a PR disaster.

The history of air flight, commercial and military, is littered with disasters. All that happened is that people pushed harder. In peacetime the first jet airliners had a lousy safety record due to a tragic fault. Result : hardly slowed the development of commercial jet aircraft at all. Crashes of commercial piston aircraft made very little impact in slowing the development of those.

Are these factors enough to delay aircraft development by three decades, or should I include some other factors?

Just prevent WW1. Job done.

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  • $\begingroup$ Just going to point out that gravity amd atmospheric density are not hard locked. Yes, increasing gravity on Earth would increase density, but this is a fictional world with the parameters of my choosing. As some comparisons, Earth and Venus have very different atmospheric density with roughly the same gravity. And Titan and the Moon have slightly different atmospheres as well. Regardless, discussion of atmosphere is something for a completely different question. $\endgroup$ – Andon May 20 '17 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Andon The comparison between Earth and Venus is good, but comparing Titan and the Moon is not so good. Their masses are very different. A comparison between Mars and Titan is better as their masses are closer, yet their atmospheric densities are different. Otherwise the rest of your comment is OK. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 20 '17 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android Titan is 0.0225 Earth Masses. Mars is 0.107, almost five times as much, where the Moon is 0.0123, slightly over half of Titan's mass. The BEST comparison, mass-wise, is Ganymede, at 0.0248, or just over 110% Titan's mass. For surface gravity, Europa is a closer match, at 0.134g vs Titan's 0.14g. Both Ganymede and Europa lack any form of significant atmosphere, though. $\endgroup$ – Andon May 20 '17 at 20:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Andon. Thanks for your well informed response. A very useful set of comparisons. It makes me wonder why Titan has an atmosphere and yet Ganymede and Europa do not, but that's another matter. $\endgroup$ – a4android May 21 '17 at 1:27
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Just building a bit on the of a higher gravity. I had the idea pop into my mind before reading through your question, did some google searching and stumbled upon the following link: Would Planes Drop From the Sky?

In the article it concludes that:

So, if the gravity doubles, then the lift needs to double (because the plane weighs twice as much). The plane can do this by flying faster, or flying through denser air. But whichever method is used to double the lift, will also double the drag. The long and the short of it is: if gravity increases by some amount, then the amount of power required to keep the aircraft aloft will increase by the same amount. For example, 5 times gravity would require 5 times the power.

They do kind of cancel each other out in part because the air density will also increase, but some extra power in the engine will likely also be required. This could definitely cause planes to be more expensive, and to have had some issues in early testing and development.

Seems you've considered that a bit already, but figured I'd get some science involved a bit as well.

Best of luck!

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