Using the technological marvel of the jet engine, the Heinkel He 178 was the first turbojet aircraft, achieving first flight in August of 1939. Using the German wartime advances in jet technology as a launching pad, European nations and the U.S. built reliable jet aircraft in the postwar years that bridged the gap quickly from weapon of war to mainstream civilian asset. The British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (BOAC) soon after produced the first jet airliner, the De Havilland Comet (Comet) in 1949.
The transition from weapons platform to civilian asset was critical in reforming the British industrial base that was geared to build machinery of war. But the technology was not yet proven, and the Comet was involved in several early accidents. BOAC suspended flights of the Comet within two years of its first flight, and Pan American Airlines (Pan Am) cancelled its pending orders.27 American manufacturers took lessons learned from BOAC. Addressing the metal fatigue issues demonstrated in the Comet, Boeing designed and manufactured the first American jetliner, the 707 Jet Stratoliner (707), achieving first flight in October 1957.28
iv. Case on Point: The FAA and National Airspace Integration of Jet Aircraft
The integration of jet aircraft into the U.S. air traffic system was a monumental task, and presented hurdles that early administrators had not considered. Primarily, the problem was speed. Jet aircraft travelled at more than twice the speed of piston aircraft. The DC-3, the most widely produced piston airliner of the time, cruised at a top speed of about 180 Knots True Airspeed (KTAS) at a cruising altitude of 15,000 feet Mean Sea Level (MSL).29 In stark contrast, the 707 cruised at over 470 KTAS at 30,000 feet MSL.30 While casual observation shows no conflict – the two aircraft types cruise at different block altitudes – the problem of transitioning jet aircraft to and from shared airports and higher altitudes presented unique challenges. Even if the DC-3 driver whipped the horses and the 707 skipper dragged an anchor, the speed differential was dramatic.
27 The Opening of the Commercial Jet Era, U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Commercial_Aviation/Opening_of_Jet_era/Tran6.htm (see note supra at 16), cited January 1, 2013.
28 The Boeing Logbook: 1957-1963, The Boeing Company Website, http://www.boeing.com/history/chronology/chron09.html, cited January 1, 2013.
29 DC-3 Operating Regulations, Quebecair, January 1, 1957 (Page 303).
30 707 Specifications, The Boeing Company Website, http://www.boeing.com/commercial/707family/product.html, cited January 1, 2013.