Reply to post: Re: Misapplied brilliance

Take-off crash 'n' burn didn't kill the Concorde, it was just too bloody expensive to maintain

Kristian Walsh

Re: Misapplied brilliance

Yes, "the USA" (or rather Boeing) built the 747, but it also failed to build a competitor to Concorde. The Boeing 747 is one of those accidental success stories that get re-told as forward thinking after the fact...

Boeing designed 747 primarily as a freight aircraft, in response to a U.S military requirement for a jet-engined heavy transport. It didn't win that contract (Lockheed did, with the C-5 Galaxy), but when Pan Am asked Boeing about a 300-seater plane to reduce taxiway congestion at busy airports, Boeing revived the project, but the plane's heavy-transport origins kept their focus on freight: even with passenger-airline orders on the books in the mid-1960s, the 747 model was still envisioned as a "freighter that could take passengers", to the point that customers were offered the big passenger jet with the option of a re-fit into full freight service once supersonic passenger flight took over. The thinking was simple: with a supersonic option available, nobody would want to fly the "slow plane".

A big reason for this odd attitude was that at the time 747 was being developed, Boeing's biggest project was the 2707, a Mach-2-to-3 capable passenger jet, heavily subsidised by the U.S. Government, and eventually abandoned in 1971. The 2707 project nearly bankrupted Boeing, and in the end it was very fortunate for them that they had decided to produce 747: their "nice-to-have" additional option turned out to be the core product that saved the company.

The other big factor in the collapse of supersonic passenger flight was the Oil Crisis. When Concorde was being planned in the early 1960s, petroleum, and thus aviation fuel, was dirt cheap. By the time Concorde actually went into service in 1976, there had been two Oil Crises, OPEC had flexed its muscles considerably, and fuel had more than doubled in price. Fuel now became a much greater part of a plane's running cost than it had been previously, and Concorde used about three times as much of it per seat per mile as competing planes.

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