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As the first century of aviation drew to a close, a new-found excitement about size and speed gripped the commercial sector. But in the first decade of the 21st century, spiralling fuel costs and growing concerns about the damage that carbon emissions were doing to the planet would see efficiency and "green design" come to the fore.

During 2000, Airbus was on a mission to convince the world that it had the answer to congestion with a giant double-decker dubbed A3XX - an assignment it successfully completed at year-end when it accumulated enough customers to launch it as the A380.

Boeing, with its incumbent 747, was unconvinced by the need for a new big airliner. Shortly after the A380 launch, Boeing thrust its dramatic Sonic Cruiser transonic airliner concept on to a captivated world. Only those close to the top at the US company will ever know whether this delta-winged concept was a grand publicity stunt to cunningly counter the fuss surrounding the A380, or a genuine gamble to change the world. Whichever it was, it would lead Boeing to a much more prudent development - or so it seemed at the time - from the Sonic Cruiser evolved the 787 Dreamliner. This conventional-looking twinjet promised to create a step-change in long-haul mid-size airliner operating costs.

But just as the world was beginning to get excited again about new ideas in airline flying, dreadful events in the USA were to stop the industry in its tracks. The destruction of the World Trade Center towers in New York on 11 September 2001 by two airliners flown by terrorists would herald an unprecedented downturn in the airline industry and force the world to re-evaluate its airport security systems.


The early 2000s also saw the end of civil supersonic flight. An Air France Concorde's fiery take-off crash in Paris in July 2000 resulted in a fleet-wide grounding. Although the fleet was returned to the air in 2001, the airliner's two operators had lost their appetite for the ageing Mach 2 jet as they faced escalating maintenance and fuel costs. The last supersonic services were flown by British Airways on 24 October 2003, bringing to an end the era of 3.5h transatlantic crossings that Europe's aviation industry had fought so hard to achieve.

If airlines' capabilities seemed to be taking a step backwards in the 21st century, the same was not true of the air forces. New technology arrived in the form of the ultra-stealthy Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor at the US Air Force while the air arms of the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain finally got their hands on their Eurofighter Typhoons. And after beating Boeing in the USAF's Joint Strike Fighter fly-off, Lockheed Martin and its multi-national team of partners got down to development testing of the first fifth-generation fighter, the F-35 Lightning II, with an initial in-service target of 2013 in its sights.

A new technology - based on an old idea - provided an improved way of undertaking troop battlefield insertion in the form of Bell Boeing's V-22 Osprey tiltrotor. This idea of swivelling a helicopter's rotors to enable faster cruise speeds had been around in one form or other for many decades, but finally entered operational service with the US Marine Corps in 2007.

Another old idea that has taken an age to become a reality is Europe's future military airlifter. This three-decade-long project began to progress after being brought under the Airbus umbrella as the A400M, but on-going development problems mean that the airlifter faces an uncertain development timescale.

The development headaches created by the A400M were the last thing Airbus needed after its woes with A380 production in the mid-2000s. After an 18-month delay the airliner finally had its trumpeted service entry with Singapore Airlines in October 2007, finally achieving good headlines rather than bad.


As Boeing watched Airbus's production problems, few could have predicted that its own 787 programme would suffer an even more disastrous build effort, and that deliveries would - based on the latest delay update - occur almost two years later than first scheduled.

It had all been looking so good for the twinjet until the production effort began, with Boeing racking up almost 700 orders ahead of the roll-out in July 2007. This success came as a brutal reminder to Airbus that there was no room for complacency in the air transport business after it was too slow to react to the threat of the 787 and initially lost significant market share. After several false starts, Airbus finally produced a design that the market accepted as a genuine alternative to the 787 in 2006, when it unveiled the definitive A350 XWB.

The business aviation sector continued to grow rapidly at both ends of the product range, and Eclipse Aviation starred in a mini-revolution with its four- to six-seater "very light jet" concept. Soon, some of the established names such as Cessna and Piper were responding with designs of their own. Some less familiar airframer brands in the sector also began to make their mark, with Embraer launching a family of small business jets and Airbus and Boeing developing expanded families of VIP variants of their airliner models.

With concerns growing about the damage that aviation was doing to the environment, pressure grew in Europe for the airline industry to engage in a carbon trading scheme. Meanwhile, climate change and questions over the long-term availability of oil led to the creation of a plethora of alternative fuel trials, beginning with an A380 flight demonstration using a gas-to-liquid kerosene mix in February 2008.

Spiralling fuel prices brought new engine technology into sharp focus again as it had in the 1980s. Bombardier and Mitsubishi leapt upon Pratt & Whitney's GTF geared turbofan - with its promised 15% lower fuel burn - for their new small jet projects, but airlines clamoured for even greater gains. Rolls-Royce and GE Aviation/CFM talked of advanced turbofans and open rotor designs offering upwards of 30% improvements.


The fuel-price surge also stopped the regional jet revolution in its tracks and led to the resultant strong rebound in turboprop sales. Meanwhile, China and Russia developed their own large regional jets with significant involvement of Western partners.

And while all this was going on, a new multinational space colony was being constructed 350km (220 miles) above the earth in the form of the International Space Station. But just when NASA's Space Shuttle finally found its metier, a second fatal accident in 2003 would sound the death knell for the spaceplane as a rapid phase-out was adopted.

And as NASA returned to first principles of human spaceflight with its Ares rocket concept to replace the Shuttle and put man back on the Moon towards the end of the next decade, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson was all set to pioneer space tourism as a passenger on his Virgin Galactic spacecraft SpaceShipTwo.

So Flight's 100th year of reporting on aviation ends as it began in 1909, with news of an Englishman taking a bold step above the Earth in his own flying machine.


Continue reading The Flight Century

Chocks away - 1909 - 1918
Britsh aviation made a slow start, but within the decade the country was making aircraft and the RAF had formed

Peace ... and war - 1919 - 1939
The inter-war years were a time of renaissance, innovation and record breaking and the creation of the air travel industry

Fight for the edge - 1939 - 1948
The Second World War brought aerospace innovation on both sides, but the sound barrier remained intact until 1947

Flying into a jet age - 1949 - 1958
Despite its problems, the Comet was a revolution in air transport. But this would be a decade of firsts, many of them British

Faster and higher - 1959 - 1979
The jet was king and the Jumbo Jet proved bigger was definitely better. Meanwhile, the Harrier showed the UK could still lead

Electric jets and stealth - 1979 - 1999
Innovations of the 1980s brought far-reaching changes in virtually every area of aviation - and Flight became truly International

Flight into the future - The next 100 years
We covered exciting, almost unbelievable, breathtaking developments in our first century of  publishing. What might feature on our pages in the next 100 years?

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Source: Flight International