Friday, January 22, 2010

Big bird

For Gordon Lightfoot, all the way back to 1964, "big" was a 707:

The current Economist update reminds us that the 707's bigger, better successor, the 747 Jumbo, is itself now forty years old.

Malcolm recalls his first transAtlantic trip (on an aging, and ratty, Lockheed) and how the 747 experience was itself an up-grade.

Yet, as that Economist piece, reprinted from Jan 24th 1970 makes clear, the 747 was not without early problems:
When Pan American's jumbo 747 failed to take off on what should have been its first, regular passenger flight, the reputation of the American aircraft industry took a terrible knock. This was the second time within two weeks that an engine had failed at take-off. Pilots say the overheating that made it necessary to disembark all 362 passengers, unload 15 tons of freight and find a replacement aircraft on Wednesday is unimportant and occurs only during slow taxi runs and never in flight. But it is alarming enough for a very senior captain to turn back after starting his take-off run, on the first scheduled flight of the first basically new aircraft for more than 12 years and in the full light of all the publicity an event like this attracts.
That flight was New York to Heathrow, a PanAm flight. The aircraft, therefore, has outlived the air-line.

What follows (and it deserves reading) is a positive consumer report of the flying experience. Some things seem to have reverted to type:
... innovations in the cabin itself, broken up into a series of four rooms by kitchen units running a help-yourself buffet service, and eliminating the dreary dispensing of plastic meals from trolleys that block the aisles for hours on end. For the first time passengers are treated as customers, rather than chairbound invalids to be fed at times and with the foods on their diet sheets.
While others are definitively not experiments worth attempting:
Weight is also expected to be a safety factor in the sense that a crashing 747's tons of steel are more likely to streamline obstacles and less likely to crumple like kitchen foil. The outcome could be a tendency for the first time in decades for some passengers to survive a crash. This is not an aspect the airlines like to expand on but it is one more factor suggesting it will be difficult to get passengers out of jumbos once they get the taste for them.
The last laugh is neatly captured in the Economist's every-picture-tells-a-story graphic. This accompanies the parallel one-paragraph noting where we are today. Shamelessly, because he liked it and because he has lasting admiration and affection for the Economist, Malcolm reproduces it here: Sphere: Related Content

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