Air Transport World

40 years of airliner technology: the SST has come and gone and today's transports look a lot like their 1964 predecessors.(Airframes & Engines 2004)

When the Beatles arrived in New York in February 1964, they stepped off Pan Am's 707-320 Clipper Defiance, a first-generation pure-jet aircraft that was less than five years old. The classic 707--the longer-range, turbofan-powered 707-320B--was then quite new. A week before the Fab Four's US debut, Hawker Siddeley handed over a brand-new Comet 4 to Kuwait Airways. A brand-new Comet, by gad.

That can seem a long time ago, but 1964 was also the year that Boeing's Jack Steiner and Joe Sutter started the design of the 737. Only two years later, Boeing and Pan Am would launch the 747.

No sensible person in 1964 believed that the future belonged to short, fat 120-seaters or 490-seat giants. Britain and France had signed the Concorde agreement in blood in 1962 and Boeing, Lockheed and North American were competing for a government contract to build a US supersonic transport that naturally would be bigger and faster. Since Lockheed and North American had built supersonic-cruise airplanes, FAA, which the best-and-brightest in the White House had nominated to run the project, eliminated them and awarded the contract to Boeing.

That was not a pretty story, but we can pass over it because the SST not only failed commercially but proved largely outside the mainstream of airliner technology. Concorde was a technical marvel because it was done at all, but it just squeaked through to transatlantic range with 100 passengers, with its takeoff weight screwed up to the absolute limit and after long and expensive redesign on its inlets.

Many people in 1964 thought that the 707's configuration with its underwing engines was also old hat. Had the Beatles flown over a few months later, they would have traveled on a rear-engine BAC VC. 10, as trendy as Mary Quant and Carnaby Street and one of a troika of aft-engine airplanes that British industry expected to conquer the world. It was not to be.

One reason that the British invasion fizzled was that the 1960s were the heyday of the "stretched" airplane. Boeing followed the 727-100 very rapidly with the dash 200, the DC-9-30 came quickly on the heels of the DC-9-10 and Douglas produced the stretched and refined Super 60 series of DC-8s, many of which still are hauling cargo today. …

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