A biplane is a fixed-wing aircraft containing two primary wings of similar size. The two wings are mounted near the front of the plane, with one wing being above and the other below the cockpit. The wings are generally supported by a number of wooden or metal struts. Wires can also be used to further stabilize the wings. A biplane differs a great deal in appearance from the monoplane, a plane with one primary set of wings. Biplanes are also known for their shorter wingspan, which allows for greater maneuverability when compared to the longer-winged monoplanes.
Oliver and Wilbur Wright, the fathers of flight, used an early version of the biplane when they made their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. The Wright brothers continued to shape and redesign their invention until stronger, more efficient biplane aircraft became available for public use. During World War I (1914-1918), biplanes were the aircraft of choice for world leaders. At the onset of the war, biplane pilots were simply used for reconnaissance. By the war's end, biplanes were fitted with machine guns, and aerial dogfights, where the pilots tried to shoot one another down, were common in the skies. German pilot, Manfred Von Richthofen, known to his enemies as "The Red Baron," recorded several kills with a biplane, though he is more often associated with a Fokker Dr.I, which is a type of triplane.
Though biplanes were the primary aircraft during the early days of flight, their design also led to their downfall. The primary shortcoming of the biplane design lies in the fact that the two wings interfere with each other from an aerodynamic standpoint. In short, the two sets of wings on a biplane produce more drag and less lift than does the lone set of wings on a monoplane. The triplane, with three sets of wings, is even worse in this regard. Once designers were able to make stronger, thicker wings, removing the need for the bracing and stabilizers common to biplanes, monoplanes quickly became the standard. While biplanes are not often seen today, they are still used at aerial shows and for agricultural purposes — such as crop dusting.