Aviation is one of those spheres of technology that evolved fast. We barely had our first flight a hundred and fifteen years ago, and it’s basically commonplace already. Just think about all those budget airlines and their planes! But those airliners didn’t materialize out of thin air. Here’s a quick look at their actual evolution.
5. Ilya Muromets vs. Goliath
This Russian plane was purposefully built as a passenger liner in 1913. It first took to air in 1914, quickly breaking two world records: first for passengers carried (16), and afterwards for the longest air journey (1,200 km, 14 hour flight from Saint Petersburg to Kiev). However, it was immediately pressed into the role of a heavy bomber in World War I. They didn’t get to fly as airliners until 1921. However, they were soon found to be hard to maintain and were retired in 1922.
Curiously enough, the Farman F.60 Goliath was designed as a bomber for the Great War, but did not make it into the fight. The designer then repurposed it into an airliner, a role in which Goliath served with distinction and made important contributions to European civil aviation.
4. Junkers F 13
Planes are generally made as light as possible to help with the whole “flying” thing. Back in the 1910s, that was wood and canvas. However, air passengers were probably not as comfortable with flying in these up-engined coffins as combat aviators. Luckily for them, Junkers, a German company, soon cranked out the Junkers F 13.
The F 13 was the world’s first all metal transport aircraft, which is an achievement on its own. It also used advanced cantilever (internally braced – which means you couldn’t see external reinforcements, like the tangle of wires between the wings of a biplane) wings. It was in production for 13 years and served for about 20. Not bad for a plane designed in an era when people where stumbling onto revolutionary designs every day or two.
3. Douglas DC-3
Early air travel might have been fancy, but it wasn’t really comfortable. If you read our article on flight attendants, you might remember that part of their job back then was handling a train schedule, which might become necessary if the plane was to land short of its destination. Well, Douglas DC-3 put an end to nonsense like that.
DC-3 made it possible to cross the continental United States in one plane. It was a reliable airliner, easy to maintain, able to take off from short runways and had good range. The aviation industry loved it; the military loved it more. 10,000 of 16,000 DC-3 versions ever made were built as military air transports by US, Japan and the USSR.
2. Lockheed Constellation
Ever wondered why bomber jackets are made with leather and fur? No, it’s not because of bomber crews’ all-encompassing hatred of mammalian life (they worked that issue out by bombing stuff). Bomber jackets are warm as they are because even in World War II, many airplane cabins were unpressurized, open to the harsh embrace of cold high-altitude air.
Enter Lockheed Constellation, the plane that obsoleted DC-3. While it wasn’t the first airliner with a pressurized cabin, it’s the first one that matters. It allowed ferrying passengers a lot higher – often bypassing bad weather entirely – and was fast to boot. It was only pushed out by jet airliners.
1. De Havilland Comet
World War II marked the dawn of the jet age. It was bound to reach civil aviation someday. That happened with the introduction of the de Havilland Comet in 1952, making it the first commercial jet airliner.
It showed a lot of promise at first (and sported those sexy in-wing engines) However, within a year of entering service, there Comets suffered disastrous in-flight breakups. After grounding the fleet, they discovered such novel issues as metal fatigue. The plane was eventually fixed, but the Comet didn’t regain its good reputation till 1958. That was the year when redesigned Comet 4 was released – it served proudly for 30 years.
After jet aviation, not many groundbreaking developments happened. Sure, the Boeing 747 set the passenger capacity record for 37 years and the 787 Dreamliner was the first composite airliner. Today, it’s mostly about making iterative changes on the designs that came before (just don’t let an engine designer hear you say that).
The airlines are continuously innovating in the area of ancillary revenue, however, finding new and exciting ways to charge air passengers for services that were previously a natural part of the price of flight. They would also like to deny you the compensation for delayed, cancelled or overbooked flights. You shouldn’t let them, though! Claim you flight compensation via Skycop and you will stand to gain up to €600 for the trouble the airlines caused!