Pontifications: Which airplanes are revolutionary or evolutionary?

By Scott Hamilton

Feb. 18, 2019, © Leeham News: Last week’s column about the revolutionary Boeing 747 prompted some Twitter interaction asking what other commercial airplanes might be considered “revolutionary.”

I have my views. Let’s ask readers.

There are also three polls below the jump in addition to the usual comment section. Polling is open for one week.

Scott’s nominees

Here are airliners I think were revolutionary, as opposed to evolutionary.

  • Boeing 314 and Martin 130 Clippers. For their day, very long range airplanes with magnificent passenger experience.
  • Boeing 247. The first modern, low-wing airplane of its era. No more TriMotors or high wings.
  • Douglas DC-3. The first airliner able to make money just carrying passengers.
  • Douglas DC-4. The first long-range (for its day) land transport.
  • Lockheed L049 Constellation. The first pressurized transport.
  • deHavilland Comet. Despite the fatal flaw of metal fatigue, this is the first commercial jet transport.
  • Vickers Viscount: The first turboprop airliner. Sales hit 444, fewer than the DC-6 and Constellation but more than the DC-7.
  • Sud Caravelle. The first short- to medium-range airliner.
  • Boeing 707: This revolutionized air travel (see my Reader comment below, as well.)
  • Boeing 727. Its versatility, design and economy set standards.
  • Boeing 747. Nothing to add to last week’s column.
  • Airbus A300. This twin-jet, 250-passenger design is what American Airlines’ Frank Kolk really wanted in an airplane. (He got the DC-10 instead.) This plane, in 1974, set the stage for all twin-jet widebodies to come—even if it was a mediocre airplane at first.
  • A320: The first fly-by-wire airplane.
  • Embraer EJet: This was the first regional jet that actually provided good passenger experience and decent (though not great) carry-on space. It set entirely new standards for the subsequent RJs.
  • Bombardier CSeries. Although the Mitsubishi MRJ is actually the first airliner to select the Pratt & Whitney GTF engine for power, the CSeries and its new passenger standards along with the GTF prompted Airbus to create the A320neo and Boeing to launch the 737 MAX instead of an entirely new design. This kind of influence is rare. Unfortunately, a series of bad management decisions meant Bombardier blew its chance. It had to sell the program to Airbus, which drove Boeing’s decision to enter into a JV with Embraer.
  • Boeing 777. The 777-200/ER was in many respects just another airplane. But the -300ER proved to set the standard for the large, twin-aisle, twin-engine airplane. It killed the A340 and, in hindsight, set the long decline for the A380 even before this program was launched. Airbus envied the -300ER, which influenced the A350-1000.

Pretty much everything else, including the Boeing 787. (This view will frost a lot of cakes.)

Extra long range, better passenger experience and composites were its mantra. But the 787 didn’t create a revolution in passenger airplanes.

Airbus reluctantly went to composites with the A350. Boeing eschewed composites for the 777X. Boeing has gone back-and-forth on metal vs composites for the NMA as trying to hit cost targets proved difficult.

The 737 was an evolution of the 707/737, and the first iteration wasn’t especially compelling. The 737-200A Advanced was a good airplane and the design evolved to today’s MAX.

The 757 evolved from the 727 and the 767 wasn’t revolutionary, following as it did the A300. The A330 evolved from the A300; so did, essentially, the A340.

Readers, over to you

Those are my thoughts. Readers, what do you say?



133 Comments on “Pontifications: Which airplanes are revolutionary or evolutionary?

  1. The CRJ was definitely revolutionary. With 2,000 examples delivered the first successful it created the Regional Jet segment of the world’s airline industry.

  2. The 707 and DC-8 should have been on the list. They were the true beginnings of the jet age. The Comet was a false start.

    • No . It always looks easy when someone else has done it . Without the Comet, larger turboprops would have held sway , mostly as what would be called now as NEO and others

      As well the Canadians and Russians beat the US to a flying prototypes.
      As well the first jet powered conversion of a piston engine plane, Vickers Viking which flew in Apr 1948. It wasnt till July 54 that Boeing dash 80 flew thats a whole 6 years later.

      • Looking at the Comet, the Vickers Viking, the Avro JetLiner and the TU-104, which one of these airliners looks remotely like the B-47?

        The B-47 first flew in 1947 and was the direct ancestor of the 707. The B-47/367-80/707 set the most successful configuration for the vast majority of commercial transports, one that is still used today.

        The others were commercial dead ends. How can any of them be considered revolutionary? All were evolutionary dead ends, worthy of multiple Darwin Awards.

        • A commercial success doesn’t make something revolutionary. The huge US home market is a gift on a plate.
          A follow on always much easier. Of course the Vickers Viking was only a demonstrator, how come a US manufacturer couldnt do one, to show their technical prowess? Apart from Westinghouse all the other engine makers started with a British jet engine with full specs to work from – to make it easy.

        • High wing B47 with tandem undercarriage, 6 engines (plus rocket assist for prototype), and at 35,000 ft, its cruising altitude, was in ‘coffin corner’ due to the wing design.
          Yep looks like current airliners ?
          In July 1949 when the Comet had been rolled out and was conducting ground testing, only 10 months after the same rollout for the B47, a civilian airliner was a much more demanding design project.

          And the other US manufacturers?, Dec 1951 Douglas announced the DC-7 with orders for American Airlines.
          In 1952 , Douglas was like other US manufacturers looking at a jet transport/tanker for the USAF and Boeing being an also ran in the airliner stakes at the time ,was motivated to jump the gun on its US competitors, had seen the Comet in the UK, and built their own prototype. In the early 1950s , Vickers had begun design on a six abreast seating V-1000 model with turbofan Conway engines. ( looking similar to the Comet), which was seen as the impetus for first Douglas and then belatedly, Boeing to offer 6 across seating( thats why Pan Am had initially ordered some DC8s) on their civil variation of the USAF tanker.

          Airline orders were helped by Boeing , due to KC135 business, being able to offer planes for 10% less.

          Interesting story which covers some detailed engineering background such as –
          “part of the design philosophy for the DC-8 wing sweepback was explained by Ivar Shogran, the DC-8 project engineer, who told Aviation Week in 1955 that “every effort has been made to retain as closely as possible the landing, take-off, and ground handling characteristics of the current (DC-7) transports.” This was to reduce the transition training costs for pilots and maintain safety levels of the day.”

          Sounds like a current planes issues – ‘to maintain flight characteristics and reduce transition training costs.’

    • 707 and DC8 cant be what you would call “beginnings”, as even the redeveloped Comet 4 beat it across the Atlantic from New York ( earlier versions were flying to South Africa and Far east) and non stop eastbound which the 707 couldnt manage on its first flight. Yes they were 1st and second for MVP award.

  3. The A320 is my choice. Not because of its FBW, but because the overall configuration is unchanged since 30 years and represents the by far most successful aircraft configuration ever conceived. Newer types such as the MS-21, C919 and C-Series are very similar in dimensions and overall layout, despite being 35 years younger. The config was already found in the B737 (to some extent by accident, Boeing did consider rear-mounted engines) and fully exploited in the Dassault Mercure (but with the wrong engines). The A320 represents the final evolution, and to this day we have difficulties finding anything that is substantially better.

    • The 777 also considered one rear mounted engine.

      Its the final product that counts not the trade studies that lead to it.

    • The Mercure had the same engine as the first series 737, the JT8D and first flight was only around 4 years after the 737s. It was proposed around 1975 to use the then ‘orphan’ US – French CFM56, long before Boeing was interested in the engine in the mid 80s. It’s only real problem was ‘ the not invented here ‘syndrome

  4. The 707 and DC-8 should have been on the list. They marked the beginning of the jet age. The Comet was a false start.

    • I exclude the DC-8 – the 707 got it more right and went on to sell vastly better.

      Hard one as they are so close. Co-equals maybe?

    • I doubt if anybody would have risked their development cash if the Comet hadn’t already existed.

      • @MartinA:
        “I doubt if anybody would have risked their development cash if the Comet hadn’t already existed.”
        I don’t doubt a bit at all…..mainly because Boeing had already got the C/KC135 contract(and most importantly, huge R&D funding) fm the USAF in the pocket. As a result, high risk associated with a lot of big ticket, frontier-type engineering R&D items was retired when modifying that platform into the 367-80 concept which was largely a 707 prototype. Unlike the Comet, Boeing didn’t need to sell a lot of 707 to maintain a reasonable scale in supply chain+production to break-even…..the Renton site would still be spitting out lots of KC135 for USAF consumption in fighting the cold war even if airline customers took delivery of only a few 707s. KC135 and 707 were essentially a joint civil-military program. Boeing would not have risked 707 development cash if the KC135, not the Comet, hadn’t already existed.

        There’s a modern equivalent Boeing program today…but in reverse: 737 and P8 Poseidon. Boeing would not have risked P8 development cash if the massive+high volume 737NG/Max production line hadn’t already existed.

      • Martin: I disagree. Boeing nor Douglas was going to let all that WWII and Post WWII experience go to waste.

        The biggest issue was sorting out what the future was.

        We saw the attempt at the worlds most god awful mechanical monstrosity in the Tubo/Super charged radials (as much as I love ICE)

        Turbo Props had an allure, but DH/BA/DC all had world spanning experience in WWII and Post WWII.

        At that time BA and DA felt there was nothing they could not do (and then they did it)

        One reason I don’t put the 727 as revolutionary as it was Evolutionary in an arena that was well known. Super DC-4 basically. And 3 engines with all 3 rear mounted was a dead end.

        Huge impact yes.

    • The 707 and 727 changed the face of aviation/air travel in my part of the world. After that came the 747 and A300 which were ground breaking in their own fields.

  5. It looks that you forgot some: B-307 ( 1st 4-engined pressurized before the 2nd war) CV-240 (first short range pressurized) and the 1st. generation 4-engined jets (B-707, DC-8, VC-10) that really revolutionized air transport in the late 50’s early 60’s. And also the russians: Tu-104, Tu-154, Il-62

  6. revolutionary: Junkers F13.

    full metal passenger airplane that allowed reliable and save transport of passengers and freight.

  7. Hi Scott, it might be a bid hair-splitting, but in technical terms the first fly-by-wire commercial aircraft was the Concorde. The A320 was the first DIGITAL fly-by-wire, with a computer placed between the pilot and the “steering devices” which “aligns” what the pilot want/does to what a software code thinks is better under certain conditions. However, the Concorde had no “mechanical” transfer of steering commands, but an analogue via electrical (wire) connection.

  8. I somehow think the 737 was quite an enormous milestone, even when maybe not so much revolutionary. But it was the first dual engine single aisle jet with the current, dominant configuration. It paved the way for all the current modern jets, from EJet, CSeries, A320, etc.

    • I agree. I would like to see the B737 in the ‘revolutionary’ poll.

      How about the Douglas DC-9/MD-80?

        • @Uwe one can make this argument, since Douglas had a sales license agreement with Sud to sell the Caravelle in the US. The DC-9 followed the BAC-111–which I why I call this evolutionary.

  9. You missed the Boeing 707 entirely, the airplane that shrank the world. The 707-320B was the first long-range passenger jet that opened up a HUGE number of city-pair markets worldwide to non-stop jet service, which greatly stimulated the air travel market and paved the way for larger airplanes such as the 747, DC-10, L1011 and A-300 to follow.
    for the record, the Boeing 307 was the first pressurized transport, but was built in very small numbers due to WWII intervention.

    • Damn! Every time I do a list, I seem to leave something out. Of course the 707 was revolutionary and should also be in the poll. I’ve fixed that. I left off DC-8 because it followed the 707. Ditto VC-10, which also didn’t sell very well.

  10. I’d add the Sikorsky Ilya Muromets and Concorde to the revolutionary list. The latter for the technology and for it’s unintended but successful killing off of national vanity projects (even if some semblance did continue with the A380).

    I agree with leaving the 787 out as the material change didn’t allow it to do anything different, unlike the switch from wood to metal. I’d also drop the C Series and 777 to evolutionary as I can’t see anything revolutionary about either.

  11. I know you stated you would get some dissenters about the 787 and I am one of them but its not for the composites. For me one of the big leaps that I fell will have long lasting impact (remains to be seen) is the fact that the 787 does not use bleed air and instead uses batteries. Now it wasn’t with issues with the panels and the batteries themselves but I think eventually that will be the norm and I think it was a bold leap.

    Good article to start off the week, thanks. 🙂

    • The 787 does not use batteries in the context you indicate.

      Its is much more electric and dropping bleed air, but that power is drawn from 3 starter /generators (one on each main and one on the APU for 1.25 MW of output)

      The composites alone would make it revolutionary (dribs and drabs before) but the combination of elective and composition is truly cementing its revolutionary nature.

      The all composite wing alone is revolutionary (allowing shaping not previously there)

      The C series took that and ran with it.

      The fact that the mix of composites and costs is still in play is not relevant. Or that the A350 went bleed air.

      Composites are the future as is all electric. A whole new industry was launched in both areas (I have a lot of experience in how they reached the distributional systems on electrics and nothign like it has ever been seen on an aircraft and only in piece in the electrical industry)

      And it all works. At 1400 sales the 787 is a revolutionary success. At an estimated 2500 sales long term its a huge success.

      There is nothing to challenge it in its space for a long time.

      I am not frosted, I just don’t think Scott realizes the tech end the way a tech would. He is more into the end where does it work for an airlines (and rightly so)

      We also should have Bjorn make his list!

      • Understand, I was way to brief in my explanation but was exactly based on your more detailed response, basically its an all electric vs bleed air, had its shares of teething pain but I believe we will see more of that in the future.

        • bishoptf: In one of my tech fields that is exactly what has happened – I still think Pneumatics (bleed air) are a better way to go for it, but I am a dinosaur in that belief.

          Moving dampers, valves etc is now all electric. I retrofit old system using a transducer to pneumatic s as I have the air there daydream and its vastly easier (and lower cost devices) – but a separate air system when electric is there during construction is now a dead item.

          The A350 is a throw back as Airbus was not close to ready. Next bird will be all electric (I think.)- there could be a trade off with 797 and 737RS.

          • Bleed air is already available at the engine but instead of using it, Boeing decided to make the system more efficient, So they took this mechanical energy from the engine itself and converted it to electrical through generators which are not 100% efficient – so we have some loses. Then this electrical energy is converted through transformers again to DC voltage with the respective loses to be delivered to motor controllers which convert it again with loses and finally it reach the motor. Now the motor itself convert this electrical energy back into mechanical to rotate a compressor which compress the air with the respective loses. Did someone count how many energy loses we gain so far? Well the other engines with bleed doesn’t have those loses and their system is much lighter as it doesn’t require additional generators, transformers, controllers, motors, compressors. I really doubt B787 bleed system efficiency is superior in any way apart from being much less reliable (as involves many additional components) and much heavier in comparison to conventional one.

      • For the A380 , a composite centre wing box and as well the FULL ( inc cabin bulkhead) empennage was composite.
        Thats not dribs and drabs ( the composite horizontal surface is close to the size of an A320 wing).

        Dribs and Drabs :That would be the A310 composite fin box , the A320 composite tail and A340-600 keel beams
        The A400M had a composite wing and it flew ahead of the 787. hehehe.

        • Duke: The A380 was dribs and drabs. Instead of going all in they chickened out. We can see the price they are paying for same o same o and a little incremental.

          A400 is a military aircraft as I recall (not sure, seems to come and go) so its NOT on the list.

          787 went as all in as you can get. More so than the A350 with the drop of bleed air.

          • Composite ? The A350 is ahead of the 787 as its 55% to the 787s 50% by weight
            the 777 was 12% , including tail section, while the wings alone on the 777X have more composite ( by weight) than all the 787. The scrap materiel must be enormous, which is why others are moving to recyclable thermoset carbon composites.
            Im sure this is why the business case/technology is held with the 797- all the previous Boeing knowledge/technology/production in composites has to start again – at the lower price point- with thermosets, and metal fibre laminates.

  12. Unless you are handicapping with quantity, for first pressurized transport didn’t the Boeing Stratocruiser predate the Constellations?

    • @Rick: The Connie first flew in 1942 and entered service at a military transport.

      • The DC4 seemed to be ahead of the Constellation for first flight, it too was a pressurised ‘design’, but due to the war none in service were. ( the DC4 was the first US tricycle undercarriage airliner) And just as most Constellations in post war airline use were in later developed versions, the same with Douglas who used a new model name DC6 for its developmented DC4 versions.
        Constellation first prototype ( as C69) first flight Jan 1943
        And the first DC4 ( as a C54) flew in Feb 1942.

        The Curtis CW-20 pressurised twin engine airliner flew in Mar 1939, better known as the military C46 Commando ( which had the pressurisation removed). Its unique feature , now common, was the double bubble fuselage construction with the floor beam joining the 2 and the wing structure passing completely under the floor
        The Boeing 307 Stratoliner , which was 4 engined and pressurised first flew in Dec 31 1938
        With the DC4 features put all together, I would say it pips the Constellation. (The real pressurised prototype the DC-4E was a bit earlier again)

        Interestingly , the first pressurised cabin plane was using the US version of the British Airco DH9, built by Curtiss as the USD-9A , which was modified and flew at high altitude from Dayton in 1921
        Earlier that year the altitude record ( in a pressurised suit) was set at 40,800ft in a Packard built Lepère L USA C.II as part of testing of turbo supercharged engines

      • And I goofed on the name. I should have written Stratoliner not Stratocruiser. 307 vs 377, and first flight in 1938 if Wikipedia is to be believed.

        • Still didnt have tricycle undercarriage, so misses out to the ‘modern’ DC-4E ( which was supposed to be first with powered controls, cabin pressurisation and air conditioning)

          • The Constellation had all the features of a modern aircraft and was all but a true Jet in design. Trans Ocean fast high speed.

            The rest were lumbering hay wagons (grin)

            When they put turbo’s on the Connie, it was in its element.

            It really was the model for the 707/DC-8

          • How come earlier you rubbished the turbo compound radials, of which the Super Constellation had 4.
            Each engine had 3 turbines ( one for each group of 6 cyls, used as an unusual power recovery to the crankshaft rather than forced induction), 2 superchargers.
            Even the very last Model 1649A Starliner wasnt as fast as the same era Bristol Britannia turboprop , let alone the jets.

  13. It’s kinda hard to say the 737 (presumably starting with the 300) weren’t revolutionary when you look at what SWA and RA have done with it. And “follow ons”: Norwegian and Lion Air.

    • 737 was a was the beginning to the true revolution which was two engine single aisles.

      So even the 737 early was the first glimmerings that have lead to the future. I am not sure I would not put it ahead of the A320.

      The 727 as good as it was turned out to be a false branch. And 3 person cockpit.

  14. I think a point is missed here, that is the so called early adapters while advanced (Boeing 247) were not the Leap (pun intended)

    In that case it was the DC-3 (DC-2 actuality but whose counting ?)

    The same with the Comet, it was first, but it was badly done first on two levels (structure and pax numbers). The 707 was the Comet done right.

    Clearly the 747 was evolutionary bur revolutionary in what it did.

    The 787 was revolu8t9ionayr in its CRFP and its far more electric approach (1.25 MW electrical output with all jets running is a massive jump)

    A320 not because of FBW, but because of the move to flight restriction and ushering in the modern era of automation. 737 lead with removing the flight engineer. So there is a co-revolution involved. It clearly set the space for single aisle that its ruled or co-ruled for 40 years (more? )

    The C Series. That takes all the Leaps and using a GTF brought the entire revolution do0wn to a level never seen before.

    To be truly revolution it also has to be highly successful. Those have been or in the case of the C series, going to be.

    Constellation was the Revolutionary and DC-4 was evolutionary off the DC-3.

    Constellation was the 747 of its day.

    Flying Boats, that is an interesting area to ponder.

    • I am also in the air (oh yes that was intended) on the 727.

      Not that it wasn’t a hell of an aircraft as well as very successful (and certainly for its time) it was a dead end with 3 engines.

      The Flying Boats were as well. Dead end but also route and travel openers. Still chewing.

      • flying boats? Do X. and apropos: the French had a strong lineup in flying boats too. Rarely mentioned.

        In the flying boat museum at Foines, RI, they show a picture of the FW-200 Berlin to New York No Stop flight. .. actually after the landing .. tagged

        • Focke Wulf that did that flight had most of the cabin filled with fuel tanks, while a remarkable plane, it wasnt really its production version.

          • Having the cabin full of fuel tanks doesnt make it much use as an airliner. A more normal route testing was the earlier Berlin to Cairo via Salonika in Jun 38. Which was still an achievement .

            For the non stop flights to New York ( Floyd Bennett Field) the BMW engines were uprated and MTOW lifted from 14.6 tonnes to 18 t. The flight from Berlin Staaken took 24hr and 36 min, while the return flight just under 20 hr. The same plane 15 weeks later did Berlin to Tokyo , but not non stop. An error on the return flight in transferring fuel from the cabin tanks meant it ditched in shallow water off Manila
            Didnt the 777 do a flight around the world non stop- doesnt make it the ‘usual’ range.

  15. The three polls are thought provoking. The thing with the CSeries/A220 is that it might be a little too early to tell how it will influence the industry long term. Some at BA were thinking that the replacement for the 737 had to be a big, big leap like maybe to a blended wing aircraft. The CSeries has technologically been a big leap, and if it is lengthened putting pressure on the MAX8 and the A320 NEO, then that would be revolutionary…

  16. Scott,

    Concorde belongs in the revolutionary list. Nothing like it since. It might be extinct now, but SSTs will come back eventually.

    • Kant: As amazing as the Concorde was, it also is a heavy fuel user for limited pax numbers.

      Environmental issues will dog any SST. I don’t see that as anything other than another dead end alone with the 727.

  17. I think the term revolutionary should be more strictly defined. If it was the revolution of Airtravel, both the 707 and the DC-8 would qualify, think of the super sixties. If we define it at a technical level, the 707 was an evolution from the B-52 and the KC-135, and a part of its success was due to the fact that they could learn from the Comet.
    I would also define the revolutionary charachter of the 747 as: First passenger widebody, first to have containerized cargo, first to have inertial navigation, fist to have quadruple redundant systems. On the commercial side: The Super 60s started the revolution to make airtravel affordable – the 747 continued that trend. Size in itself was not revolutionary, think of the C5A.

    • Klaus: I think revolutionary has 3 possible aspect. Sales success, tech success and slot opening or in a new arena.

      The Arena is a tough call, arguably long distance travel was done by the flying boats first and all the rest are evolutionary.

      The 707/DC-8 were the first to combine the modern pylons into a commercial product as well as the luxury seating (for the time) and speed jump over the old prop jobs (suddenly old) – did not even go through a turbo prop stage (the Connie aside and not major in that arena though a revolution all its own and maybe the PT-6 should be nominated here. )

      Neither the 707/DC-8 had any legacy from the Comet. In fact Boeing helped out DH on the assessment and issues (which they knew about and did not fall into) on the structural.

      The Comet, BAC-111, 727, DC-9 were all dead ends as the pylon under wing was the key to the market.

      Much like the composites now, it was some question but alwyas clearly lead there (from my take)

      • Was the 707 quicker ?
        The first flight of the Comet from New York to London was non stop 6 hrs and 11 min. [371 min all up]

        The first 707 flight , 2 weeks later, from New York to Paris took 8 hrs and 41 min. ( with a stop of 71 min at Gander)
        Flying time was 450 min for the slightly longer distance to Paris

        The numbers suggest the Comet was quicker, as of course the buried Avon engines created less drag, along with slimmer fuselage compared to the early 707-120 powered by ‘draggy’ Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-6 turbojet engines, producing 11,200 pounds of thrust ( with water injection for takeoff) –

        • The 707 flight would have “lost” more time than just how long it was on the ground in Gander. If you search for the specs on both planes I think you will find the 707 had a higher cruising speed.

          • Specs? Not reliable enough as most may not be with the earliest engine before the switch to higher powered turbofans..
            I couldn’t find an actual non stop flight by PanAm but 80 min is a huge time to account for.

          • There is no doubt the 707 cruised faster, all sources agree on this

          • The buried engine Handley Page Victor could just slip through the sound barrier , no podded engine ( larger) plane could do that. Yes I do know about the B58 aerodynamic needle.
            PanAms first trans atlantic flights with the 707-120 were a bit more complicated than we think.
            The test flights from NY-Heathrow were limited by takeoff weight because of noise factors at Idlewild( ironically it was the name of a developers golf resort on Jamaica Bay. no.. not you know who…) and that required two stops at Gander and Shannon . Even “Idlewilds may runway at the time was only 8300ft so the 707s 9600ft @MTOW was out of the question. A problem the Comet didnt have with its moderate sweep buried jet engines

            I always like to look at original sources from the time for these sort of things…hindsight has the habit of glossing over the 707s substantial early problems as alluded too in this report- low powered noisy engines, swept wing poor airfield performance etc.

  18. I don’t suppose it is possible to suggest you redo the poll logic now. I’m a bit puzzled by the three different polls, with different sets of planes offered for each.

    I don’t understand what it means to designate a plane as an “also-ran or not” in a separate poll. Is it a distinction to be an also-ran or a negative modifier?

    I see you’ve changed the poll already to add more planes, maybe you could consider a total new poll – a single poll, with one of three possible responses in a line for each airplane entry (and responses not mandatory).

    That way we could designate for every airplane type if it was revolutionary, evolutionary, also-ran, or if we have no opinion at all.

    If the Polldaddy software doesn’t allow this logic, I’m fairly sure that Toluna does (and it is free).

  19. The unsung heroes in many instances are the engines. In the modern era there reliability, power and economic’s made long haul wide body twin engine and medium haul single haul flights with extend ETOPS possible.

    Engines such as the GE CF6, PW4000, GE90 and CFM’s comes to mind. The RR Ultrafan could be a future evolutionary step?

    • Most of those were evolutionary.
      You would have to put the RR Conway, commercial turbofan,
      the JT9 , commercial big fan and most recently the the Pratt and Whitney GTF.

      • The JT8/9’s had a big impact on the change in air travel. The thrust reverses on the 737-200’s was on of may favorites.

  20. i would have liked to see the number of votes… but of course then saw one could vote multiple times. So that’s that.

    Nice idea as someone said already to start a Monday theme.

    A350-2000 is now open season for speculation as a B777-9 killer! Pundits anyone?? 🙂

    • If the RR Ultrafans can do the magic of using 10%(?) less fuel than the current XWB it could mean that an A350-2000 (+40 pax) could potentially do ~7500Nm at an MTOW of ~310T (35K 316T). So no additional thrust required or major wing and/or landing gear (maybe for MLW) required.

  21. Some might be interchanging revolution with innovation. Revolutionary in this context implies creating a lasting revolution in air travel and/or the aircraft marketplace. With that perspective the Concorde was certainly innovative in the commercial world, but failed to spark a revolution. Pressurized cabins certainly changed the game . The B707 assembled all the right pieces to set the stage for all that came after. in most cases, though, commercial airplanes look and operate about the same as they did decades ago.
    There have been revolutionary advances in SYSTEMS such as fly-by-wire, passenger connectivity, cockpit automation and, perhaps most importantly, propulsion. Engines arguably have the greatest direct impact on regulated characteristics and economic performance of any onboard system, and have consistently improved in every significant way over 60+ years. Some step changes have been revolutionary in the engine world — two-spool architecture, variable compressor geometry, turbofan architecture, full authority electronic controls, high bypass, ultra-high bypass. All lead to profound improvements in efficiency, noise, emissions, and/or economics. The most recent shift, the P&W GTF engine, is revolutionary in the sense that while it solved some long-standing critical issues with the technology, it completely changed the single-aisle marketplace from top to bottom in a startlingly short time. The architecture has been around a long time in many forms, including P&W’s PW304 hydrogen engine for the Lockheed CL400 (SUNTAN) aircraft in the ’50s and several moderately successful small commercial engines that were converted turbofans from turbojets (Lycoming ALF502, Garrett TFE731).
    In a market as risk averse as commercial aviation in this day and age, true revolution at the aircraft level is unusual.
    What are the next commercial “revolutions” at the aircraft or system level? Non-tube-and-wing? Autonomy? (Remember: risk averse industry.) Open rotor engines? (Evolutionary at best – aka, propellers; fans without a fan case.) All electric propulsion? (Hopefully some other revolution will appear in the decades before all-electric commercial airliners are viable.)

    • Im not wishing to knock the premise of the poll but putting too much emphasis on ‘commercial sucess’ means that American designs win out over earlier better projects. We take for granted the idea the best plane wins now , but it was once very parochial with home country first. Some US airlines still operate that way- helped by Boeings commercial terms.

    • Steve, air travel existed before the 707..
      Pressurization…DC4E, long distance flights…Constellation…jet flight…Comet( the issues weren’t the jet engines).
      When you are looking at revolutionary features , the 707 had none.
      However it does win the jet age MVP award.
      In my research , the 707_120 couldnt even take at Max weight from NY until the main runway was extended from around 8700 ft to 11000 ft such was it’s poor takeoff charcateristics.

  22. I can’t see the Poll choices.

    That said, the A300 is also an interesting one and likely valid as revolutionary .

    Oddly, in my mis-begotten youth and not the least willingly, I flew one out of Taiwan to the Philippines. Nice bird and nice flight though I was really unhappy being over water with only two engines! Serious study of the evac systems.

    • Voted for A300, first of the two-engine wide bodies. Major, major shift especially if one sees that only two-engine wide bodies dominate the wide-body sector today.

    • On my first Transatlantic on a twin wide body I made very sure where the life jacket was, and was not shy to keep the bar service busy.

      • Well flying the AK coast a lot and growing up in South Easter AK in boats, life jackets were a way of life (my dad was a fanatic about it and rightly so well before it became the right thing to do)

        Never occurred to me to resort to strong drink. I didn’t have any money and if I was going into the drink I don’t think I would have gone for not being 100%!

        On the other hand, my mom flying a local airline we referred to as Aye Yi Yi, resorted to mini cocktails in a can.

    • TWA: Clear cookies, all data, from the beginning of time in browser.
      Buy a newer machine 🙂
      Stop using the legalized virus (a.k.a MSFT internet explorer)

  23. Not to be nitpicky, but for everything before Airbus, the lists are very anglo/US-centric.
    As has been pointed out, the Junkers F 13 (first all-metal commercial aircraft) is missing from the “revolutioanry” list.
    As is the Tu-144 (actually flew before Concorde, and was developed under vastly more difficult conditions than Concorde, not that Concorde had it easy).

    Missing from the evolutionary list is also at least the Tu-114 (as powerful and large as turboprops would ever get).

    And missing from the also-rans are of course the Tu-204/-214 (an attempt to copy the successful A321 and 757, but as usual bogged down by delays and politics), the Il-86/-96, and the Dassault Mercure.

    Then there is the An-124 and An-225 which could go on either the revolutionary or evolutionary lists.

    • Flipping the list upside down, The AN-124 is not revolutionary, C5 was there far before it. I don’t think the C5 was anything revolutionary either (747 did big and different)

      The F-13 is an interesting one (and not familiar). I have to agree on a couple of fronts that while not huge sales, it set the standard for low wing.

      Side track to the Tri Motors but then reverted back to standard with the 247.,

      The rest mentioned were limited, follow up, no room for growth.

      • F13, W33, W34( ~2000 built overall ). if you wanted to travel commercial and/or go difficult places in the 20ties you flew on a Junkers In Europe, Russia, Asia, South America, … except for the US. IMU active NIMBYism. The Ford Trimotor was designed to Junkers principles by William Bushnell Stout.
        Next real step forward was the monocoque stressed skin designs of the 30ties.

        • Yes, the F13/W33 deserves to be on the list more so than the 247.

          As for the Trimotor, Ford lost two patent suits against Junkers.

      • C5 was before the 747, Boeing was the loser on the design competition so we’re able to use some of their development work in the airliner, main hurdle was to convince airlines that twin aisles and the no access to windows centre section would work.

    • The TU-144 was the fastest cargo plane ever, of course under the circumstances not reall something to be proud of!

    • TU-144 was a copy of the Concorde made by the soviets.
      At the time, the French had a lot of communists (10-12% solid core) and many engineers/intellectuals qualified. They gave multiple iterations of the plans to the soviets to ‘maintain a level playing field’ in the world.
      So we were told.

      The soviets could not make it work. Do a TU-144 search on wikipedia and read. Atrocious.

      • Not a copy( it was bigger) Vastly different planes with only superficial resemblance and with mostly simpler solutions to difficult problems. For initial testing and production , they didnt have a suitable turbojet engine so used less efficient ( for exceeding Mach 1) turbofan with reduced range.
        If they had copied it would have been far better. However one or two are/were ? still airworthy for high speed flight testing.
        One of the nasa pilots said this
        “The Tu-144, it could carry more passengers, and it could fly them faster, and higher” –

        • There is no doubt the Russians while not making a slavish copy did certainly steal much of the Concorde’s costly and time consuming research. Just because it had differences doesn’t mean that a lot of what into it wasn’t British, French etc.. technology.

          “Despite the plethora of Russian spies that were set to steal Concorde documents, there were several pro-Soviets within the countries producing Concorde; they too, helped in the risky mission of stealing documents for the USSR. In 1967, a spy known as “Ace” was responsible for stealing over 90,000 technical documents regarding Concorde. Since the 1960’s, his actions have been closely guarded. Ace’s name was revealed to be James Doyle, a Briton who had been recruited as an aeronautical engineer at Filton. In 1992, a KGB archivist smuggled papers out of Russia, which noted the 90,000 technical documents. According to a 1999 BBC article, the Vickers VC-10 and Lockheed L-1011 were also among the 90,000 documents. Ace was among a dozen or more UK spies working with the Soviets.”

          Operation Brunhillde

          “Some of these activities were directed via the East German Stasi (Ministry for State Security). One such operation, known as “Operation Brunnhilde” operated from the mid-1950s until early 1966 and made use of spies from many Communist Bloc countries. Through at least 20 forays, many western European industrial secrets were compromised.[35] One member of the “Brunnhilde” ring was a Swiss chemical engineer, Dr. Jean Paul Soupert (also known as “Air Bubble”), living in Brussels. He was described by Peter Wright in Spycatcher as having been “doubled” by the Belgian Sûreté de l’État.[35][36] He revealed information about industrial espionage conducted by the ring, including the fact that Russian agents had obtained details of Concorde’s advanced electronics system.”

          • A bit tedious. do you really assume that only the Soviets spied on others?
            Then knowing about and copying are two different things.
            Lastly look at what inventions were homesteaded in the US that were effectively invented elsewhere.

          • The Soviets might have got the data but the Tu144 differs quite a bit. The reason is not clear but often designers want to change a design from another design office just to be different. It is like giving a draftsman too much time to fiddle around a design engineers design scheme.
            In this case they can have started off wing different Engine positions and solution to pitch stability and from there got the 2 different designs, from wind tunnel tests you more or less get the same aero design for a given payload/range at these cruise speeds.

          • Apparently an abandoned early proposal for a British SST had a similar wing to the Tu-144. Several quite original but critical systems, like the air con, didn’t. I’ve often wondered if the Soviets got their hands on the pre-Concord plans and whether they were really stolen, or quietly leaked.

          • The truth can be “tedious” when you don’t like it. But,but,but i’m sure the other guys did it!!!

  24. I’d vote that the 757 was at least half revolutionary as it was the first use of high bypass engines on a single aisle airplane.

    • That version of the RB211 only had a BPR of 4.4:1.
      The very early CFM56-2C1 as used on the re engined DC8 was 6.0.
      The Super 70s went into service in 1982 , just pipping the 757. So no cigar

  25. Although its design was an evolution from the Canadair Challenger business jet, I would add the Bombardier (for now) CRJ to the list. It sparked a revolution in regional travel with turboprops now related to a relatively minor role thanks to what it pioneered.

  26. Does the Wright Flyer count as revolutionary? Come on, it set the ball rolling… xD.

    Look ahead for E-fans. Will be revolutionary for certain.

    • The Wright Flyer is an example of a failure that was the success in that it started the revolution.

      Basically it got the trail wrong and the turning wrong (wing warping had a very limited future!)

      Despite that it worked, the only other area that impresses me to the degree that the Wright Brothers did (made something out of nothing ) would have been Tesla and the Poly Phase electrical system.

      Both were unfathomable leaps that only are fathomable because they did it.

      And I still can’t see the polls. We can fly at the speed of sound and I can’t see a poll, sigh.

  27. I’m one of those who disagrees with your decision not to include the 787 in the revolutionary category. It probably has more innovations in one airplane than any since the 707. The change in materials to composites was not trivial, as evidenced by the difficulty and expense Boeing had to endure to put it together. It’s the first change of primary materials in commercial aircraft construction since aluminum was introduced in the 1930s, and it enabled a much longer range in medium twin aircraft. One of the reasons the A380 failed is the proliferation of long, thin point to point routes that the 787 helped make possible. The aircraft also discontinued the use of bleed air for most applications for the first time, introduced photochromic windows, lower cabin air pressure and humidification, and scalloped engine nacelles for noise reduction. The 787 also uses the most sophisticated construction technique of any modern aircraft by winding large fuselage barrel sections as a single piece. If aircraft like the 727 qualify as revolutionary, it’s hard to see how the 787 can be left out.

    • NJ: Nicely put.

      I would call the new 787 routes Hub to Point as they originate at large hubs and then go to non hub cites (not exclusively of course)

      The 787 had structure tech, electric tech and a new assembly method (which failed miserably and won’t be repeated!)

    • When the A380 was designed the Etops limits for twins were 180min +15% . Not the 370 mins allowed now. Even the 777-300ER hadnt come into service.
      As well, the B777, A320 and A380 have primary structure made of composite, it wasnt something Boeing dreamt up for commercial planes ( composite materials were invented by the British in early 60s and the first use of structural composite was A310 for its fin box.)
      There is no point having 20-20 hindsight and ignoring real constraints that were around then – not to mention the later massive bump in fuel prices (which was thought to be a floor not what became a ceiling)

      A change of construction material hasnt led to anything else, the long range was already there – twin or quad. Carbon fibre hasnt made the planes go faster. Carbon fibre isnt inherently cheaper to use and reduce build costs and there is still a lot of development to go – out of autoclave, thermoset or thermoplastic carbon fibre .
      Non carbon composites like metal fibre laminates (GLARE ) could be a better choice in some circumstances ( single aisle)

      • Yep, and the Wright Brothers (bless them) got some things wrong, tail first, wing warping. It worked.

        A380 was just a 747 built large.

        787 is the trend of the future. And that what counts for revolutionary, same o same o or got the basics Wright (pun intended) and its a matter of advances in those material (CFRP and how they are worked with) as well as electrical systems.

        First Wide body to even come close to 15 a month build.

      • @Dukeofurl:
        “When the A380 was designed the Etops limits for twins were 180min +15%.”
        Which was a more than sufficient duration limit for tons of routes/airways across the Pacific(let alone the Atlantic) and between W.Europe to E.Asia.

        “Not the 370 mins allowed now.”
        This higher limit is operationally really only relevant for extremely remote routes such as Australia-S.America(e.g. by Latam’s 787) /S.Africa. Financially, it also legally allows manufacturers/airlines/operators of large twins to stop spending $ on maintaining the readiness of very remote but strictly diversionary airfields(i.e. little to no scheduled op activities @ these air strips at all such as Midway island for Trans-Pcf and landing strips in Siberia for Europe-E.Asia) in the middle of nowhere.

        “As well, the B777, A320 and A380 have primary structure made of composite…”
        Very true.

        “…it wasnt something Boeing dreamt up for commercial planes ”
        However, Boeing was indeed the 1st one dared to dream of using composites for over 50% of the total weight(not just airframe minus the engines which naturally hv a relatively low composite content) “for commercial planes” concepts such as SonicCruiser and later 7E7 especially in terms of the fuselage barrels. Total weight of composites on “B777, A320 and A380” is nowhere near 50% like the 787.

        “…(composite materials were invented by the British in early 60s..”
        The basic commercial steam locomotive railway system was also invented by the British in the early 1800s. Within 150yrs, the world 1st truly hi-speed railway system, the Shinkansen bullet train, was developed+commercialized in Japan. Yet no one will say commercializing very fast train was not something dreamt up by the Japanese but by the British…

        • Around 50% is right ,but the suggestion no one else had primary structure of composite material was incorrect. While who invented something is often a footnote I keep reading stories about carbon fiber composite materials written for US audiences, which start with Thomas Edison, skip to NASA and then …well the 787. Occasionally Union Carbide ( who did discover/create carbon fibres at their research lab) is mentioned. It’s the myth of American exceptionalism they are telling.
          Your pushback about steam trains…proves my point, carbon fiber composite is at the beginning of it’s use, not the end. The jet age is not at the beginning but again the runners up seem to think they can claim the laurels..because..well that’s what they do.

    • “and it enabled a much longer range in medium twin aircraft. One of the reasons the A380 failed is the proliferation of long, thin point to point routes that the 787 helped make possible. ”

      787 performance difference is rather hard linked to the newer engines. ( and those are not out of plastics .-)

      NEW 787 only p2p routes: could you list some, please?

  28. The Fokker F27 Friendship was and is the template of the short haul twin turboprop regional plane. Very successful in its day, and the ancestor of all ATR and Q400 planes.

    • @Rodo: A piece of trivia: Boeing sold the high wing design to Fokker, which became the F27.

      • The F27 had exactly the configuration for it’s role. The rear engines were because it gave a clean wing, which was essential for the low power jet engines to give enough lift to get off short runways. The available aerodynamic theory and limited computer power- output via boxes of printout with maybe a 12 hour turn around time-meant under wing engines were out of the question unless they wanted a 10,000 ft take off run . Later design techniques were able to maximise the under wing engine with the help of strakes on the nacelle etc to create vortices to maximise lift during takeoff..and plenty of power from more modern engines helped.

          • Yes. And all the other rear engined types of the time concieved for the small runways of smaller cities.

      • “Boeing sold the high wing design to Fokker, which became the F27”

        anything to read up on that transfer?
        A highwing layout is a persistent feature in the preceding Fokker types.

      • Interesting and never heard this … given the fact that the F27 actually was preceded by the 1939 F24 design which also is high wing two engines and nosewheel undercarriage.

          • African Afroamericans haha.

            Aerospace happened in Europe in the 20ties and early 30ties.
            Cue Bushnell copying Junkers. half assed. 🙂
            Fokker F.VII 1924
            Ford Trimotor 1926
            If you want to go copycat the Ford is a direct layout copy of the Fokker. Bushnell swapped out wood, wires and canvas for Junkers all metal design.

          • Lets see, they put the wing on top

            the HP was lower but carried equal equal

            They went all metal.

            Yep, other than some totally major petty details, a direct copy.

          • Stout couldnt even get his plane right under Ford.
            “The Model 3-AT trimotor was heavily promoted by Henry Ford as the airplane of the future. Test flights proved otherwise, with the underpowered aircraft barely able to maintain altitude. …Tom Towle was placed in charge of engineering, and hired MIT graduate Otto C. Koppen, John Lee, and James Smith McDonnell (co-founder of what is now McDonnell Douglas). Together they refined the 3-AT into what is now recognizable as the “Tin Goose”, the Ford Trimotor”

            The only thing revolutionary about the Ford Trimotor was it was the first aircraft assembly line

            Junkers had a remarkable history of innovation ( Leeham should do a whole post ) and for this post this one stands out, the W33 -made the first east-to-west crossing of the Atlantic by airplane. It could be considered a developed F13.

  29. For me Constellation for the pressurization, 707, which dictates the modern commercial aircraft design up to now and A320 for the new neutral stability flying concept being brought from fighters to commercial aviation. E-Jets are also revolutionary not due to technical aspects, but due to the program development, which was the first which outsourced parts of the project to risk partners, being able to develop and certify the E170 model in the record of 5 years, something never seen before in the industry.

  30. Picking out just one plane, the DC3 is the most revolutionary in my view with a whole raft of firsts or near firsts: dual control, illuminated controls for night flying, sound insulation, pneumatic controls, finite element modelling in the wing design, etc. But above all, it was the first commercially viable passenger aircraft that could pay its way by carrying passengers without postal subsidies.

    • Some of those claimed features dont seem right. The earlier (1933) Boeing 247 had its forward raked windscreen (on early models) because it would reduce reflections from the lighted control instruments. ( that ended up reflecting the ground lighting instead and a glare shield over the instrument panel was the answer). Other features were 2 pilots, retractable undercarriage, air con/sound proofing and it was the first twin able to safely fly on one engine.
      “Other innovations included, wing and tail deicing systems, and aileron and elevator trim tabs. There was also a galley and toilet at the rear of the airplane”

      Revolutionary is completely different to a ‘commercial success’ formula, as that often happens to follow on planes. Douglas started with DC1, then DC2/DC3 to get its commercially successful model.

      • I think I disagree that revolutionary is different from commercial success. If the DC3 revolutionised air travel, it is a revolutionary plane IMO.

        • War surplus made the DC3 successful. …if it didn’t exist a lot better post war designs would have been more widespread.

  31. The A321XLR will soon be on the list, apparently it is being offered. Perfectly serious, MAX and NEO NBs seem to be changing the shape of route maps, XLR will change it even more so.

    • Not really , its just a later iteration of the 757, and A321 is poorly configured for its longer range with 35m wingspan (inc winglets), while the 757 had 38m span( no wing end devices)

      • Dang, when Dukeofurl and I agree it must be cast in titanium!

        The A321 or any decedent simply is developmental and logical derivatives.

        No huge leaps involved, market wise or tech wise.

        I am not sure where I would put the 797 if it comes to be. Highly evolutionary at least.

        We could say that the A320NEO was revolutionary just on a sales success. An out of the park evolutionary move (much like the 77-300ER. )

      • News says 500 mile more range, where are they meant to put the fuel? Also says 5 or 6 tons more MTOW, but as the hold is said to be already full of fuel, then for what? AB said the design was MAXed out, pardon the pun, with the LR and any furthur increase needed major mods. Finally it came out in Brexit comentary that AB are working on new wings.
        So little info that it is impossible to be sure, but new wings?

        • What is known up to now would indicate that the XLR
          will replace (some of the) ACT with a fixed integral tank. Lengthwise using the full belly cross section would allow fuel from 3 ACT to occupy the length of 2 ACT ( no idea if those will continue to reside inside the pressurized hull or outside ) liberating one ULD place in the hold. The current ACT have significant dead weight.

  32. That’s not the point of this blog post- Air travel.
    It’s which planes were revolutionary essentially a technical criteria. Air travel is a moving feast, mostly incremental and often it’s certain persons or airlines who had the biggest effects, after all who decided we shouldn’t sleep in bunks in long distance night time travel. A plane didn’t change all that….and yet we have returned to lie flat beds, which is quiet recent trend that didn’t exist during the introduction of wide bodies.
    Stick to the planes , a Leeham News and Analysis strong point and leave the travel business to blogs that emphasise that.

  33. Referring to my earlier E-mail of today, please note that the Fokker F27 Friendship with 750 aircraft sold was voted Dutch Design of the Century. As such, while it was not the first high wing turboprop, but most certainly the most succesful.

    Regards, Rudi den Hertog

    • What about the F27 Friendship wing design , was it ‘bought from Boeing?. I cant find any other reference to that from the trade magazines from the early 50s that can be accessed online.
      I did find for the F28 Fellowship, that Sud Aviation was contracted to ‘design and build’ the wing for Fokker, but for some reason that fell through, but no news on who ended up doing the design or build.

  34. Well … if I compare the 1939 Fokker F24 with the early 50’s boeing 417 then the F24 looks like the pattern aircraft … I think Fokker was in the lead here!

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