The spring of 1969 saw the maiden flights of two remarkable, pioneering aircraft. They could not have been more different in their appearance. One was the American Boeing 747, which soon acquired the nickname ‘Jumbo Jet’ because of its colossal size and rounded shape. The other was the much thinner, sleeker and more beautiful Concorde, the supersonic airliner that was both an engineering marvel and a tribute to Anglo-French cooperation.
At the time, most observers would have thought that Concorde represented the future of civil aviation. In its elegance and power, it seemed to herald an exciting new era of ultra-high-speed travel which would soon force heavyweights like the Jumbo into obsolescence. But it did not work out like that. Almost half a century later, the 747 is still in service, having dominated the skies for decades. More than 1,500 Jumbos have been made by Boeing, and the latest versions are still rolling off the production line. By contrast, only fourteen Concordes ever went into passenger service with just two airlines, British Airways and Air France. The dreams of mass supersonic travel never materialised. The revolutionary plane may have been an aeronautical wonder but it was a sorry commercial failure.
The story of that failure is well told in this new book by Jonathan Glancey, a distinguished journalist and author of several bestselling works on British design icons, including the Hawker Harrier and Supermarine Spitfire. Glancey shows how the quest for civilian supersonic flight was part of a drive for