Alison on Airliners-Jet Engines Part Three

By Steve Allison

In this the third and final part of our look at how jet engines changed the way we travel, we are going to look at regional Jets. The introduction of the jet airliner took people to far off destinations but there was a burgeoning market for airlines carrying passengers to closer destinations, often in the same country. That's not to say that there hasn't been regional air travel prior to the introduction of jet airliners, let us not forget the legendary Douglas DC3. Regional air travel however was still firmly in the hands of the wealthy, not families going on holiday or middle managers nipping down to Durban for a quick business meeting.

When the 727 was introduced in 1964, Boeing forecast sales of 250 aircraft. By 1971 the company had sold 1000 aircraft with production continuing until 1984 by which time 1831 had been sold. The 727 was a three-engine aircraft, having an engine on each side of the rear fuselage and the third in the tail centre section. It had a distinctive "high tail" with the horizontal tail surfaces on the top of the vertical stabiliser.

The 727 had sophisticated triple slotted trailing edge flaps and leading edge devices, which gave the aircraft excellent short field capability. The fact that it could be operated in and out of regional airfields with shorter runways meant that Passengers were now able to enjoy the comfort and speed of jet travel on the shorter domestic routes.

The Boeing 727 was a popular aircraft with passengers and to this day, the pilots who flew them rate the 727 as the best airliner they have ever piloted. The first ever Boeing 727 was operated by United Airlines from the time it was built in 1964 until its retirement in 1991. It now resides in Seattle at the Museum of Flight.

Several manufacturers introduced short-haul jet aircraft in the 1960 including the Douglas corporation with the DC 9 and British Aerospace with the the BAC 1-11. No manufacturer enjoyed anywhere near the success that Boeing did though, when the 737 was introduced. The 727 was a huge success but it paled into insignificance compared to its smaller brother.

The 737 entered service in 1968, and is still in production today. It was designed to complement the 727s on domestic routes rather than replace it. The 737 was the final nail in the coffin of propeller driven airliners and is to date the most popular airliner ever made. Nearly 8000 737's have been built with orders of more than 11000.

A Boeing 737 either lands or takes off; somewhere in the world, every 2 seconds and at any one time there are 2000 in the air. The 737 accounts for 31% of all commercial flights with 24000 passenger flight every day. No, that's not a typo, twenty four thousand flights a day!

These days of course Airbus is Boeing's biggest competitor and their A320 family of aircraft, the competitor to the 737. There are other manufactures, most notably Bombardier with their CRJ range and Embrear.

On a recent flight up from Durban to Johannesburg I overheard a conversation. The gentleman seated next to me was saying, "These days with the tolls and price of fuel, it's cheaper to fly than drive." Oh how the way we travel has changed, all thanks to the jet engine.

Allison on Airliners

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