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The future we used to have – special 4

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Air, land, sea… and back to air. Space will come later. Here are ten civil aircraft of the twentieth century – because jetpunk is not about dropping bombs on people (it’s just that the military was often the cutting-edge of technology). The only one of the following planes I flew in is the first one, the VC10.

Vickers VC10
Long-range airliner (GB)
crew 4
passengers 151
max speed 933 kph
range 9,412 km
service 1964 – 1981

Bristol Britannia
Medium- to long-range airliner (GB)
crew 4
passengers 139
max speed 639 kph
range 7,129 km
service 1952 – 1990

Lockheed Constellation
Long-range airliner (US)
crew 5
passengers 109
max speed 607 kph
range 8,700 km
service 1945 – 1990s

Bristol Brabazon
Prototype long-range airliner (GB)
crew 6
passengers 100
max speed 480 kph
range 8,900 km
service n/a

Tupolev Tu-104 (‘Camel’)
Medium-range airliner (USSR)
crew 5
passengers 50
max speed 950 kph
range 2,650 km
service 1956 – 1986

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser
Long-range airliner (US)
crew 5
passengers 114
max speed 603 kph
range 6,760 km
service 1947 – 1963

Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde
Long-range supersonic airliner (GB/France)
crew 3
passengers 120
max speed 2,179 kph
range 7,250 km
service 1976 – 2003

De Havilland DH-106 Comet
Medium-range airliner (GB)
crew 4
passengers 81
max speed 840 kph
range 5,190 km
service 1952 – 1954, 1958 – 1997

Fairey Rotodyne
Prototype compound gyroplane (GB)
crew 2
passengers 40
max speed 307 kph
range 724 km
service n/a

Saunders Roe Princess
Prototype passenger flying boat (GB)
crew 6
passengers 105
max speed 610 kph
range 9,205 km
service n/a

Note: crew does not include cabin staff as that varied; number of passengers could also vary, depending on model of airliner and density of seating.

In 1952, the de Havilland Comet became the first jet-powered airliner in service, but it was grounded between 1954 and 1958 after a series of fatal crashes. As a result, the Tupolev Tu-104 was the only jetliner flying commercially between 1956 and 1958, although it too had a tendency to crash during its early years.

The VC10 should have been much more successful than it was. BOAC demanded an airliner than could take off from the short runways of the airports of nations in Africa, and then complained that the VC10 was more expensive to operate than the Boeing 707. The Boeing required such a long run to take off that a VC10 would be at 1,000 feet before the 707 had even left the ground.

The Boeing Stratocruiser was apparently really noisy – it was piston-engined – so when the turboprop Britannia was introduced it gained the nickname the “whispering giant”. Jets like the Comet were quieter still. And yet James Bond, in For Your Eyes Only, moans that he preferred the Stratocruiser as the Comet crosses the Atlantic too quickly…

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One thought on “The future we used to have – special 4

  1. The Concorde, especially.

    It is disheartening that the fastest I, as an ordinary person can go, is slower today than it was in 1980.

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