Aircraft That Changed the World
We fearlessly (or foolishly) pick 10.
- By The Editors
- Air & Space magazine, July 2008
(Page 5 of 5)
The Learjet 23 carried a crew of two and up to seven passengers. It had a range of 1,800 miles and cruised at 485 mph.
Larson notes that the jet succeeded in part because “the company sold the airplanes very effectively, offering to ‘recourse,’ or buy back, an airplane if things weren’t working out for the company that bought it. That brought a lot of individual entrepreneurs and people like [celebrity lawyer] F. Lee Bailey on board.”
The first production 23 was delivered in October 1964. Cost: $550,000. Says transportation writer John W. Smith: “A whole new class of aircraft had been created: the personal jet.”
9. Boeing 747
So magnificent a technological achievement was the Boeing 747 airliner that cultural historians have called it the 20th century’s cathedral. Nearly 40 years after its first flight, it remains, along with the photograph of Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon, the most recognizable symbol of U.S. engineering brilliance. When it was introduced, airports the world over reinforced runways and made other infrastructure changes to receive it.
Still, it is not grandeur or technology or even impact on infrastructure that qualifies it for a place on this list. It was, after all, an evolutionary design. Its creators—Boeing president Bill Allen and Pan American Airways legend Juan Trippe—believed it was merely an interim answer to the demand that airlines would eventually meet with a revolutionary supersonic transport. The SST, they predicted, would relegate the 747 to hauling cargo.
But as wise as those two were, they could not see the future. And what qualifies the Boeing 747 as a world changer is that since it entered service in 1970, 96 carriers around the world have used the wide-bodies to fly 3.5 billion people to their destinations. Consider the impact of all of those trips: the business deals made or altered, the information exchanged, the exposures to other cultures, the families and friends reunited.
10. General Atomics MQ-1 Predator
In November 2002, a vehicle traveling in Yemen and believed to be carrying terrorists was destroyed by a Hellfire missile. What makes the kill historic is that it was executed by a flying robot. The first unmanned aerial vehicle to kill human beings, the MQ-1 Predator has changed the rules of warfare.
Built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the Predator has been operational in Bosnia since 1995 and now is flying missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Air Force deployed the latest version, the MQ-9 Reaper, to Afghanistan last October.
The Predator, which has an operational ceiling of 50,000 feet, is flown remotely by a “pilot” and two sensor operators housed in a trailer on the ground. The UAV has a nose camera, variable-aperture TV and infrared cameras, and a synthetic aperture radar to see through smoke, clouds, or haze. The RQ (R for “reconnaissance,” Q for “un-manned”) model flies long-endurance, medium-altitude surveillance missions, while the MQ (“multi-role”) version can carry up to four Hellfire II anti-armor missiles, two laser-guided bombs, and a 500-pound, GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition precision bomb.
Today, the United States and other countries are increasing their use of UAVs for civilian missions, such as law enforcement, border control, and ocean surveillance. Even Hollywood has discovered their potential, putting them to work as movie camera platforms. Here’s an aircraft that has changed not just the real world but the world of fantasy as well.