I have loved flying all my life and – unlike other people – I still enjoy it. Perhaps not for all the queueing and screening, for the stale air or the bad food. But for the sheer sensation of taking off, of flying, of being bounced around while in the air. Whether this is the proverbial ‘childlike wonder’ that stuck around or whether it is the fact that the existence of machines that can keep us in the air for some time keeps amazing me, I don’t know.
I do know, however, that I never understood how people could like fast cars. How could anyone want to fold himself into a tiny car that’s really low on the ground? And then it’ll only be a vehicle with a few hundred horsepowers which you have to manoeuvre on roads crammed with other cars. Compare that with a plane. You get a view from above and horse-power-wise a jet is playing in a wholly different league.
The most impressive plane for me has always been the 747. Which isn’t hard, I guess, because it’s simply the biggest plane the is. But it’s also quite good looking, rather elegant with its upper deck. So in a way Boeing was my first love when it comes to planes. (Although their most successful plane, the 737, which invariably looks like it can’t even take off, must be among the ugliest planes ever.)
Of course then came Airbus and they had a bit of a breakthrough with their A320 which was rather high-tech and efficient when it was introduced. And also their A340 was said to be rather efficient – although I have never actually been in one. While this seemed impossible for a company that must be run mostly along the business and vanity interests of the countries that make up Airbus, the company actually managed to catch up with Boeing a few years ago. So hooray for Europe. Or so. The super-huge A380 may be technically amazing but it’s also quite ugly and it looks like they got themselves into a bit of a crisis over actually trying to deliver the thing.
And in the meantime Boeing managed to get back on track as well and present their new 787 jet which isn’t quite ready yet but which I found impressive as five years ago Boeing looked so complacent that it seemed unlikely that they’d come up with a plane that requires new thinking, new materials and could even end up using less fuel because of that. But somehow they did just that. Which is encouraging, I think. And I like to think that having two big airplane manufacturers may have helped making that happen.
In fact, a lot was written about the 787 after it was presented recently. And what I found somewhat shocking about that is how superficially those reports were or how wholeheartedly they stuck to Boeing’s press releases. All the journalists (and even my social scientist flatmate) got all high on the buzzwords and presentation. But mainly on those regarding the looks of the plane (unconventionally painted on the outside) and the inside. Both of which probably don’t matter too much. Particularly as I am quite confident that airlines will just cram an extra row of seats in there if the opportunity arises rather than living out some coked-up designer’s dreams. And rightly so.
The photo above is a luggage tag from a flight in 1989 which survived to this day. The flights were Johannesburg-Brussels-Hannover with the long deceased Sabena. Untypically for the time this was a daytime flight and one that had a surprise stopover in Kinshasa at that. Which was a bit scary, in fact because I think the crew didn’t exactly tell us what was going on. So it essentially looked like we were landing somewhere in Africa for no good reason. And to top things off the tarmac was full of people. Which looked a bit scary to begin with. Only later we learned that apparently some important Congolesian official had died in South Africa and we were dropping off the coffin which those people were waiting for.
After arriving in Brussels, we had an over-night stopover and then went on to Hannover the next morning (if you think that makes sense, look at a map, we wanted to go to Bremen). Fun thing about that flight was not only that it probably was the only flight with a really good breakfast (fresh croissants) I ever had, but also the sheer absurdness of there being a small plane with just five passengers (my brother, my mum, me, and two others), three of which obviously belonging together, and yet the announcements being made in Flemish, French, German and English.
I don’t recall if I mentioned this to you or not, but the company I work for (but not my division) is actually very involved in the 787 program. I was also pleased to read that the first N. American shipment of 787’s will be going to Northwest who are going to be flying them from their Detroit hub. I may actually get to ride on one pretty quickly.
Cool. Let’s hope the thing ships on schedule - unlike other 8-series jets - and let me know how it is then.
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