Groundbreaking planes that changed the world



Slide 1 of 31: Flying is no longer the wonder it used to be – for us it's just another way of getting from A to B. But it hasn't always been this way, and planes weren't always as comfortable or reliable as they are today. The commercial aviation industry has taken all sorts of twists and turns, from the first jet airliners to the rise and fall of supersonic travel. Here we explore the most influential aircraft that changed passenger flights forever.
Slide 2 of 31: This rather modest looking flying boat was in fact responsible for the world's first scheduled airline flight. Designed by Thomas W. Benoist, the Benoist Type XIV flew from St Petersburg to Tampa in Florida in 1914 and was one of two aircraft belonging to the St Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line.
Slide 3 of 31: After the airline's first flight in January 1914, it continued to operate between the two cities, flying over Tampa Bay and charging passengers $5 for the 23-minute journey. The aircraft was so small, though, that there was space for just one passenger who would have to sit next to the pilot, quickly rendering the entire operation an unaffordable venture.
Slide 4 of 31: After just three months and having carried 1,205 passengers, the airline folded and the Benoist became the plaything of the wealthy. In 1984, a flying replica was built for the 70th anniversary of the flight, which is now on display in the St Petersburg Museum of History.
Slide 5 of 31: First taking to the skies in the mid-1930s, the Douglas DC-3 became the backbone of many established airlines, and today there are still a few serving as passenger planes and cargo vehicles. It truly revolutionized commercial air travel, as it was one of the first planes to have a retractable undercarriage and the first to profitably carry just passengers.
Slide 6 of 31: It was created in the USA by the Douglas Aircaft Company and was essentially the reason for the company's success – it's estimated that around 13,000 of the aircraft were built. The plane first flew on 17 December 1935 at Clover Field in Santa Monica, California and later popularized transcontinental travel in the USA. It would fly from coast to coast in just 15 hours, with just three refueling stops.
Slide 7 of 31: Its interior was much like the airliners we know today, with 21 seats in a two-by-two formation, but service on board was far beyond what we are used to in modern airliners. Flying at a time when air travel was still glamorous, passengers on board the Douglas DC-3 were served cocktails and steaks and ate with Barton silverware. Pilots would often stroll the cabin to greet travelers once the plane was cruising at altitude, and the sleeper flights had curtained berths with duvets and feather mattresses.
Slide 8 of 31: Launched in 1934, the de Havilland Dragon Rapide was an immediate success for regional and independent operators in the aviation industry and over 700 were built and sold all over the world. The wooden aircraft, made with plywood, carried six to eight passengers, while variations after the original version saw the addition of cabin heating, larger windows and upholstered seats.
Slide 9 of 31: Thanks to its low running costs and single pilot operation, it even led to the establishment of the first ever low-cost airline, Hillman's Airways (which later became part of British Airways). Incidentally, Hillman's was the first airline to write off a Dragon Rapide after one of its aircraft crashed into the English Channel near Kent en route to Paris in 1934, tragically killing all seven people on board.
Slide 10 of 31: It's still possible to experience flight in a Dragon Rapide thanks to UK-based Classic Wings, who offers sightseeing excursions 1,500 feet over London, Cambridge, Newmarket or Ely. Its two planes have been restored to meet modern regulations, and the price (from $130/£99) includes entry to the Imperial War Museum in Duxford.   Read more: how air travel has changed over the past 100 years
Slide 11 of 31: Only four of this four-engine biplane were ever built, but its impact on commercial aviation was still vast, particularly in Britain. Designed by Handley Page for Imperial Airways (now British Airways) in the 1920s, it was the biggest biplane airliner ever built and first took passengers in 1931 from London to Paris.
Slide 12 of 31: The Handley Page HP 42 was Imperial Airways' first major success, as it was specially designed to handle operations from unprepared ground. This meant it was not only ideal for taking off from the grass runways at Croydon Airport (the airline's then hub), but it also made it safer and simpler to land in desert environments across Africa and Asia. This led to the establishment of its long-haul routes and the creation of lots of small airports across Africa, many of which are still used today.
Slide 13 of 31: The aircraft was the domain of the elite, with celebrities, royals and officials taking to the skies to enjoy Imperial Airways' luxury Silver Wings service, which included a cooked meal, and models frequently posed for pictures around the planes. Unfortunately, all of the HPs have now been destroyed – some during the Second World War when the aircraft were drafted into the RAF – so only archive photographs survive. In this recolored picture, a group of Imperial Airways employees are refueling an HP 42 at Semakh in Israel.
Slide 14 of 31: Hailing from Britain, the de Havilland Comet was the world's first commercial jet airliner. Built in the late 1940s and first introduced to the commercial market in 1952, it was a cut above the rest, and not just because of its turbojet engines.
Slide 15 of 31: Most airliners of the time had unpressurized cabins and so were forced to fly low, going through the weather rather than above it, making for a frequently uncomfortable experience. However, the de Havilland Comet was a dream in comparison. With a pressurized cabin, it would fly at 40,000 feet allowing passengers to gaze out of its large windows to the clouds below.
Slide 16 of 31: It had a promising start to life in the aviation industry, but sadly within a year of entering service, three major accidents – in which two of the planes exploded mid-air due to metal fatigue in the airframe – gave it a bad reputation. New versions of the Comet were rolled out in the later years, but sales never fully recovered and eventually the line was retired in 1997.
Slide 17 of 31: It doesn't look like a groundbreaking plane, but there's more to this aircraft's story than those peculiar triangular windows. The Sud Aviation Caravelle was the first jet aircraft to be produced for the short and medium-haul markets. Created in France by SNCASE, production began in the early 1950s and the first flight was taken in 1955.
Slide 18 of 31: The aircraft entered the commercial market in 1959 with Scandinavian Airlines, and became one of the most successful first-generation jet planes in the world, serving airlines across Europe and even in the USA. It had little competition for the first few years of its production, and 172 of the airliners had been sold within four years of launching.
Slide 19 of 31: The plane was retired in 2005 but remains one of the most influential in the industry. It was flown by the likes of Air France, Swissair and Finnair, ferrying well-heeled Europeans between capital cities for decades.
Slide 20 of 31: The world's largest twinjet aeroplane, the Boeing 777 isn't just special because of its size. While it has the largest capacity of any twinjet on the market (it seats 451 passengers), it was the first aircraft created entirely using computer-aided design.
Slide 21 of 31: It was built in consultation with eight airlines, including United Airlines and Emirates. The former was responsible for the aircraft's maiden flight on 7 June 1995, and orders for this widely-used model and its modern variants are still coming in today. As of January 2019, more than 2,000 had been sold to over 60 customers, including some orders placed in 2018.
Slide 22 of 31: One of the most defining features of the Triple Seven, as it's known colloquially, is its large landing gear. Each 'leg' has a set of six tires, making it capable of withstanding a load of up to 32.3 tons (29,294 kg). It also has thicker wings with a large span, meaning it has better takeoff performance and can cruise at higher altitudes of over 43,000 feet.
Slide 23 of 31: The most prolific aeroplane of all time, the Boeing 737 is a staple in today's industry. Over 10,000 of them have been made – a fact that saw them enter the Guinness Book of World Records in 2018 – and they fly across continents from Europe to Asia every day.
Slide 24 of 31: It wasn't always this popular, though. It launched in 1967 and it took 40 years before Boeing reached the 5,000 mark, but after the introduction of the 737-300, which was better at conserving fuel and produced less noise, things finally took off.
Slide 25 of 31: Currently, the 737 series is hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, after two of its relatively new 737-MAX jets crashed within minutes of takeoff. A Lion Air 737 MAX 8 crashed in October 2018, and in March 2019 an Ethiopian Airlines model plummeted to the ground after the pilot reported trouble moments after leaving Addis Ababa. Hundreds of the planes are now grounded around the world, including in USA and European Union airspace, while investigations are under way.
Slide 26 of 31: Concorde is the ultimate iconic airliner. A joint effort between British and French aero-engineering firms saw the world's first and only supersonic airliner take off 50 years ago in March 1969. Traveling faster than the speed of sound, Concorde could fly from London to New York City in just four hours. For three decades, it looked to change the world of air travel drastically with its luxurious, high-speed service. But in 2003 operation ceased and many of the aircraft are now on display in museums around the world, including in Bristol, England and Toulouse, France.
Slide 27 of 31: Just 20 of these groundbreaking jets were built, and all were operated by either British Airways or Air France. The plane was at the center of an horrific crash in 2000, when an Air France aircraft burst into flames and crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all on board and even some people on the ground, but contrary to popular belief this wasn't the reason for its discontinuation. Concorde's final demise was largely down to cost – the aircraft was simply too expensive to run, and it was unaffordable for the masses with a one-way London-New York ticket costing over $5,273 (£4k).
Slide 28 of 31: It was also incredibly difficult to find routes the plane could travel. Because of the sonic boom produced as it broke the sound barrier, it wasn't legal to fly it over highly populated areas, limiting the aircraft's use around the world. Inside the plane though, passengers would have little knowledge of breaking the sound barrier, as the shockwaves did not reach inside the cabin. Instead, travelers would be treated to caviar, lobster and guinea fowl while cruising at 1,350 miles per hour. Ever wondered what air travel will look like in 2030? Find out here. 
Slide 29 of 31: Recently hitting the headlines with news of its discontinuation, the Airbus A380 has enjoyed a short production life of just 12 years. It's quite the record-breaker: known as a superjumbo jet, it's the largest passenger airliner to hit the skies, carrying up to 853 travelers at one time across two decks. It was the first airliner to have two full decks for passengers (most previous double-deckers have only had partial upper decks) and it has serviced the two longest non-stop flights in the world – Emirates' Auckland-Dubai and Qantas' Dallas/Fort Worth-Sydney.  Ranked: the best and worst airlines in the USA
Slide 30 of 31: Initially lapped up by high-end airlines like Emirates and Singapore – the latter was responsible for the A380's maiden flight – it's popular with passengers, but has been deemed economically inefficient by the companies themselves. The plane is so huge, it has over 5,000 square feet of floor space, meaning first and business class suites really come into their own on this airborne behemoth. Those lucky enough to turn left can expect full-on bedrooms, with plush mattresses and en-suite toilets and showers.  Discover the world's most beautiful planes
Slide 31 of 31: The A380's size makes it a much smoother flight for passengers, but planes taking to the runway after the aircraft have to wait at least three minutes before takeoff due to the turbulence in its wake. Over 230 of the aircraft have been built so far, and while production will cease in 2021 as a result of canceled orders from Emirates, we'll be seeing this enormous plane in our skies for years to come.   Find out more about the groundbreaking airlines that no longer fly

History’s most influential airliners

The Benoist Type XIV

The Benoist Type XIV

The Benoist Type XIV

The Douglas DC-3

The Douglas DC-3

The Douglas DC-3

Its interior was much like the airliners we know today, with 21 seats in a two-by-two formation, but service on board was far beyond what we are used to in modern airliners. Flying at a time when air travel was still glamorous, passengers on board the Douglas DC-3 were served cocktails and steaks and ate with Barton silverware. Pilots would often stroll the cabin to greet travelers once the plane was cruising at altitude, and the sleeper flights had curtained berths with duvets and feather mattresses.

de Havilland DH89 Dragon Rapide

de Havilland DH89 Dragon Rapide

de Havilland DH89 Dragon Rapide

It’s still possible to experience flight in a Dragon Rapide thanks to UK-based Classic Wings, who offers sightseeing excursions 1,500 feet over London, Cambridge, Newmarket or Ely. Its two planes have been restored to meet modern regulations, and the price (from $130/£99) includes entry to the Imperial War Museum in Duxford. 

Handley Page HP 42

Handley Page HP 42

The Handley Page HP 42 was Imperial Airways’ first major success, as it was specially designed to handle operations from unprepared ground. This meant it was not only ideal for taking off from the grass runways at Croydon Airport (the airline’s then hub), but it also made it safer and simpler to land in desert environments across Africa and Asia. This led to the establishment of its long-haul routes and the creation of lots of small airports across Africa, many of which are still used today.

Handley Page HP 42

The aircraft was the domain of the elite, with celebrities, royals and officials taking to the skies to enjoy Imperial Airways’ luxury Silver Wings service, which included a cooked meal, and models frequently posed for pictures around the planes. Unfortunately, all of the HPs have now been destroyed – some during the Second World War when the aircraft were drafted into the RAF – so only archive photographs survive. In this recolored picture, a group of Imperial Airways employees are refueling an HP 42 at Semakh in Israel.

de Havilland Comet

de Havilland Comet

de Havilland Comet

Sud Aviation Caravelle

Sud Aviation Caravelle

Sud Aviation Caravelle

Boeing 777

Boeing 777

Boeing 777

Boeing 737

Boeing 737

Boeing 737

Concorde

Concorde is the ultimate iconic airliner. A joint effort between British and French aero-engineering firms saw the world’s first and only supersonic airliner take off 50 years ago in March 1969. Traveling faster than the speed of sound, Concorde could fly from London to New York City in just four hours. For three decades, it looked to change the world of air travel drastically with its luxurious, high-speed service. But in 2003 operation ceased and many of the aircraft are now on display in museums around the world, including in Bristol, England and Toulouse, France.

Concorde

Just 20 of these groundbreaking jets were built, and all were operated by either British Airways or Air France. The plane was at the center of an horrific crash in 2000, when an Air France aircraft burst into flames and crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all on board and even some people on the ground, but contrary to popular belief this wasn’t the reason for its discontinuation. Concorde’s final demise was largely down to cost – the aircraft was simply too expensive to run, and it was unaffordable for the masses with a one-way London-New York ticket costing over $5,273 (£4k).

Concorde

It was also incredibly difficult to find routes the plane could travel. Because of the sonic boom produced as it broke the sound barrier, it wasn’t legal to fly it over highly populated areas, limiting the aircraft’s use around the world. Inside the plane though, passengers would have little knowledge of breaking the sound barrier, as the shockwaves did not reach inside the cabin. Instead, travelers would be treated to caviar, lobster and guinea fowl while cruising at 1,350 miles per hour. Ever wondered what air travel will look like in 2030? Find out here. 

Airbus A380

Recently hitting the headlines with news of its discontinuation, the Airbus A380 has enjoyed a short production life of just 12 years. It’s quite the record-breaker: known as a superjumbo jet, it’s the largest passenger airliner to hit the skies, carrying up to 853 travelers at one time across two decks. It was the first airliner to have two full decks for passengers (most previous double-deckers have only had partial upper decks) and it has serviced the two longest non-stop flights in the world – Emirates’ Auckland-Dubai and Qantas’ Dallas/Fort Worth-Sydney.

Airbus A380

Initially lapped up by high-end airlines like Emirates and Singapore – the latter was responsible for the A380’s maiden flight – it’s popular with passengers, but has been deemed economically inefficient by the companies themselves. The plane is so huge, it has over 5,000 square feet of floor space, meaning first and business class suites really come into their own on this airborne behemoth. Those lucky enough to turn left can expect full-on bedrooms, with plush mattresses and en-suite toilets and showers.

Airbus A380

The A380’s size makes it a much smoother flight for passengers, but planes taking to the runway after the aircraft have to wait at least three minutes before takeoff due to the turbulence in its wake. Over 230 of the aircraft have been built so far, and while production will cease in 2021 as a result of canceled orders from Emirates, we’ll be seeing this enormous plane in our skies for years to come. 

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