38 years from Dive Bomber to Kitty Hawk

Of course the remarkable movie Dive Bomber aired this weekend. Filmed in color at NAS San Diego just before Pearl Harbor, it shows vividly just how far aviation had come in the 38 years since Kitty Hawk, and just how much further the technology had to go. (Of course the quarter century after the end of WWII was even more spectacular, with Americans on the moon and supersonic passenger aircraft flying around.)

So, 38 years from Dive Bomber to Kitty Hawk. What’s the parallel story looking back 38 years from now? The B-1 bomber was cancelled. The space shuttle made its first flight. The ban on the Concorde landing at JFK was lifted. A Pan Am B747SP circumnavigated the earth over the poles. By far the most striking thing about aviation in 1977 is there were so many crashes, including Tenerife.

Has technological and other progress slowed down a lot from the first 38 years to the most recent? Probably not. Engines are much more efficient now. Major programs like the B757 and B767 had their entire life cycles. Airbus was born and created a global duopoly. Airline deregulation spurred greater price competition and the widespread development of frequent flier programs. The technology of long range aircraft is much more advanced now. However, the airport experience today is generally so awful that it negates many the improvements, since pre-flight security lead times are often 2-3x what they were back then.

What does the next 38 years hold in store?

One Response to “38 years from Dive Bomber to Kitty Hawk”

  1. Steven Den Beste Says:

    The earliest decade or two of any new technology will witness the fastest rate of change. Then it begins to climb the difficulty curve, and change is increasingly slow and expensive — until the next revolutionary change, and then you fall back down the curve and start rising again. (An example of that last is what happened in electronics with the invention of the transistor. Vacuum Tube technology was mature, and then transistors upset the apple cart, which got upset again by the development of the integrated circuit.)

    Those kinds of revolutions happen more often than you might think (for instance, digital photography versus film) but they can’t really be predicted and there’s no guarantee they’ll happen in any given technological area. I sure don’t see any revolution coming in aircraft design; I don’t see any longshot threats, even.

    What they all have in common, though, is that they’re intrusive. They come from outside the field, not from within it.

    Next 38 years? My guess as to the most important revolution will be a radical advance in storage battery technology. If energy density suddenly improves by a factor of a thousand, it’s going to cause revolutions in all kinds of fields, including aircraft design. But there’s no telling when, if, or how, such a thing might happen.

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