Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft
Chapter 9
[219] The development of the propeller-driven aircraft from a curiosity to a highly useful machine has been described in part I of this volume. As the first 40 years of powered flight drew to a close, aircraft equipped with reciprocating engines had about reached the end of their development in what must be ranked as one of the most spectacular engineering achievements in history. Although some further technical refinement was possible, the technology of that class of aircraft had reached a plateau with little prospect of major improvement in the future. In the closing months of World War II, however, there emerged a revolutionary new type of propulsion system: the jet engine. Although operationally introduced in somewhat primitive form, the subsequent development of this entirely new type of propulsion system resulted in advancements in aircraft design that have been almost as spectacular as those which characterized the first 40 years of powered flight.
Jet propulsion was initially applied to military aircraft of various types. Indeed, since the inception of jet fighters, the performance of these aircraft and their offensive and defensive weapons have resulted in a capability far exceeding anything imagined in World War II. Speed, rate of climb, maneuverability, range, and payload of military aircraft have increased spectacularly as a result of the turbine engine and associated radical changes in aircraft design concepts. Maximum speeds have exceeded Mach 3, and maximum sea-level rates of climb in excess of 50 000 feet per minute have been achieved with some modern fighter aircraft. Gross and payload weights of many modern fighter and attack aircraft are greater than those of heavy bombers of World War II vintage.
Perhaps the greatest impact of the jet engine on our modern way of life has been in the area of mass transportation. Introduction of the jet-powered transport in 1952 heralded the beginning of a revolution [220] in domestic and international air transportation that has accompanied the development and refinement of the Jet-powered transport. The modern jet transport with its high speed, safety, and economical appeal has altered peoples' concepts of the relative accessibility of various places in the United States and throughout the world. Methods of communication have accordingly changed, as have methods of conducting business operations. Whereas air travel was once regarded as the province of the adventurer and the affluent, all classes of people are now traveling by air both for business and pleasure. Americans are traveling today by air in unprecedented numbers, on schedules undreamed of 20 or 30 years ago, and are seeing and experiencing cultures in other parts of the country and the world to an extent that would have been incomprehensible to past generations.
Some indication of the size and scope of past, present, and projected future airline transport activity is given in the following tabulation (based on data from refs. 146, 156, and 181):


Domestic flights, billions of RPM

International flights, billions of RPM


















1986 (projected)




The total number of revenue passenger miles (RPM) flown by scheduled United States carriers is seen to have increased from 8.8 billion in 1949 to 188.5 billion in 1976. The corresponding number in 1986 is forecast to be 346.5 billion. Thus, the number of revenue passenger miles has increased by a factor of more than 20 in the 27-year time period from 1949 to 1976. The introduction of the jet transport marked the beginning of the end of the ocean-going ship as a serious means of overseas travel. The statistics in the tabulation show that overseas travel by air comprised 7.1 billion revenue passenger miles in 1959, 41.5 billion in 1976, and is projected to increase to 79.0 billion by 1986. By way of comparison, in 1939 steamships of all nations are estimated to have operated about 3 billion revenue passenger miles [221]  between the United States and other countries of the world. Thus, the airplane has not only supplanted the steamship but has, in fact, generated a new and greatly enlarged market for overseas travel. Air travel today is accepted as a major component of the common-carrier transportation system, and the modern jet transport is largely responsible for the revolution that has made air travel for the masses what it is today.
The technology, development, and design features of various types of civil and military jet-powered aircraft are discussed in part II of this book. To limit the scope of the material, the discussion is restricted, as in part I, primarily to aircraft developed in the United States. No adverse reflection on the quality of the many fine foreign designs developed over the years is intended by their exclusion.
The aircraft discussed, together with some of their performance and physical characteristics, are listed in tables V to VIII in appendix A. The quantities tabulated are defined in the list of symbols contained in appendix B and generally require no further elaboration. Some of the quantities listed are discussed in more detail in the introduction to part 1. The references used in obtaining the characteristics of the aircraft are listed in the tables or are specifically cited in the text. Jane's All the World's Aircraft (refs. 125 to 131) has been used extensively in compiling the characteristics of the aircraft presented in the tables, as have various directory issues of Flight International Magazine (for example, refs. 150, 167, 168, and 177) and other well-known reference works. A few references that provide useful background material but are not specifically cited are offered for additional reading on the subject of aircraft development. For convenience, references 132 to 210 are listed alphabetically.