Aerospace fun with Google’s N-gram

Have you tried Google’s Ngram? It allows you to compare the usage of two words in books stretching back to 1800. That’s about 100 years too long for powered flight, but I found some interesting comparisons from the past century. Check out my comparisons below, and give it a try yourself — and tell me what you found!

1. Drone vs unmanned

Drone: peaked in the mid-1940s, dropped by the early 1990s to nearly meet the word unmanned (Desert Storm?), but then usage of unmanned fell slightly through the rest of the 1990s. The acronyms UAVs and RPAs don’t even register through 2000.

Winner: Drone

2. Stealth vs Radar

Stealth is eclipsed by radar around 1941, which is about the same time the Royal Air Force’s radio detection and ranging (RADAR) equipment picked up the Luftwaffe’s formerly surprise bombing raids in the Battle of Britian. Radar would continue to maintain a comfortable lead over stealth in the usage contest, although stealth started catching up slightly after about 1983. Stealth, however, still has a long way to go.

Winner: Radar

3. Jet vs Propeller

Propeller begain rapidly gaining currency during World War I, briefly out-performing jet between roughly 1917 and 1921 before falling into decline for most of the next decade or so. The lead-up to World War II created a resurgence for both types, with propeller beating jet starting in 1940. But the lead wouldn’t last. Jet reclaims the lead in the late-1940s, while usage of propeller dives sharply for the next 30 years before stabilizing by the 1980s.

Winner: Jet

4. Avionics vs flight instruments

Avionics — a term sometimes credited to the late Aviation Week editor Philip Klass — started picking up traction in the late-1950s, long after flying instruments reached its peak of usage in the mid-1940s. Avionics would surpass flying instruments in the mid-1950s and never looked back.

Winner: Avionics

5. Laser vs missile

The acronym for laser — light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation — was not invented until 1959, or shortly before the word missile peaked in usage around 1962. Within a decade however, laser soared past missile and maintains a 400% lead today.

Winner: Laser


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4 Responses to Aerospace fun with Google’s N-gram

  1. Uwe 31 January, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    “Drone” is a good example that usage domains shift too
    as it did not reference to unmanned craft in its early

  2. GAC 2 February, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    “Jet” is another word that had and has other usage outside aviation. I’d be interested in a comparison between “airscrew” and “propellor”.

  3. GAC 2 February, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    … or even “propellor” Vs. “propeller”.

  4. nike roshe run 2012 29 October, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Get ready, get set: prepare to get Timex styled!

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