Front Page
Boeing Frontiers
December 2003/January 2004
Volume 02, Issue 08
Boeing Frontiers
Historical Perspective

Century of Flight


F/A-18By the 1990s aircraft had become so complex and expensive to develop that the number of new designs dropped significantly and the development of military planes was stretched over several years—if not decades. This trend forced the aerospace industry to consolidate and to form teams, including international teams, to develop and produce new designs.

An early example of consolidation of the industry was seen in the United Kingdom with the formation of British Aerospace. In 1977, BAe consolidated into one corporation all that remained of a once robust aerospace industry that supported more than a dozen major manufacturers during World War II. The United States didn't take long to follow as by the end of the 1990s only three major airframe manufacturers remained, all having merged with other major manufacturers. Northrop joined with Grumman, Lockheed merged with Martin, and Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas after buying Rockwell International's Aerospace and Defense segments (formerly North American Aviation). Even with this smaller industry, the remaining manufacturers were often forced to team together to share in the few available contracts.

The few military planes that made their debut in the 1990s were the result of decades of competition and development. One of the few new designs that actually reached operational status was the C-17 Globemaster III. The first squadron became operational in 1995, after four years of C-17 flight testing and after the aircraft won the U.S. Air Force's C-X competition in 1981. The C-17's lineage can be traced back even farther to the cancelled Advanced Medium Short Takeoff and Landing Transport competition that pitted the Boeing YC-14 against the McDonnell Douglas YC-15 in the late 1970s.

Other programs that are just now reaching or near operational status include the V-22 Osprey, the RAH-66 Comanche and the F/A-22 Raptor, all of which are into their second decade of development. In contrast, some of the more outstanding airplanes of World War II were developed rapidly. The Boeing B-29 Superfortress went from proposal to first flight in two years and was in combat two years after that.

Also in contrast to the length of current military programs, an independently developed commercial airplane was brought into service in much shorter time. Boeing launched the 777 program in 1990, with it being the first commercial airplane completely designed using a computer. The first 777 flew on June 12, 1994. The next year, the 777 entered scheduled service.

The expense of developing commercial airplanes has also forced consolidation and team efforts with commercial manufacturers. With the merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas in 1997, Boeing remained the only U.S. manufacturer of large commercial airplanes and is the only manufacturer in the world that can still independently design and produce them without government support.

The future of the aircraft industry may well follow the example set by NASA's International Space Station. NASA and prime contractor Boeing have reached out internationally and built a team from 16 countries to participate in the ISS. The ISS was first crewed in November 2000 and since then has given humankind a permanent presence in space.

The first 100 years of flight saw amazing advances, with only 44 years separating the Wright Brothers' first flight and Chuck Yeager's breaking of the sound barrier, and only 22 years after that, Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon. The next 100 years holds promise of even more amazing feats. However, with the complexity and expense of aerospace technology, the pioneers of the next century will have to be even more visionary and courageous. As cost becomes an increasingly important variable, the challenge these pioneers face is to design products that set new standards for performance, while paying greater attention to financial details.

Front Page
Contact Us | Site Map| Site Terms | Privacy | Copyright
Copyright© Boeing. All rights reserved.