Maybe some parents and grandparents remember how flying was in back in the days when only piston powered planes graced the skies. They would never imagine that in 1958, a new era of aviation would begin: the Jet Age.
In 1949 de Havilland began work on the world's first jetliner, the Comet. By 1957 Boeing, Tupolev, and Sud Caravelle had all developed their own. The Comet by then had already entered service, but the one plane that truly ushered airlines into this new era was the Boeing 707, with Pan American World Airways being the first to fly it, from New York to Paris, on 26-27 October 1958. This flight can be flown at Pan American Virtual.
Rapid developments in the aircraft manufacturing industry led to other companies such as the U.S.S.R.’s Ilyushin and Yakolev; America’s Convair and Douglas; the Netherlands’ Fokker; the U.K.’s BAC, Hawker Siddeley, and Vickers; and others to produce different variants of jets. However, Boeing secured its leading position in aircraft manufacturing by introducing what was the biggest airliner yet, the 747, just twelve years later.
Aéropastiale-BAC and Tupolev pushed in a new direction when the Concorde and the Tu-144, pushed the jet age into supersonic travel several years later. The Tu-144 (referred by Westerners as Konkordski) never saw service outside the Soviet Union and was retired after just three years of service. Concorde saw more (but still limited) success, with only Air France and British Airways operating it.
By this time, aviation companies were either folding or uniting, as was the case for European manufacturers who united and formed what is now today Airbus. Airbus introduced the A300 after airlines asked for a “jumbo twin,” smaller than the 747. At first orders were slow but began pouring in after airlines considered the cost of jet fuel and began downsizing their fleets. Airbus really achieved its success when the A320 was introduced, making Airbus an equal challenger to Boeing.
At the start of the 21st century, more new developments are underway. The 747 has been in surpassed in size by Airbus’ A380, supersonic travel ended in 2003 when both Air France and British Airways retired their Concorde fleets. Due to recent sharp rises in jet fuel prices, manufacturers are testing a new development for the jet age, powering planes with biofuel.
Since the start of the Jet Age half a century ago, the airliner industry has come a long way. Still, there's room for more developments for this industry. So here's to fifty glorious years and to another fifty years of continuous evolution.
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