We hear all the time about how technology is moving so fast. However it is worth pondering a little about the fact that the Boeing 747 Jumbo-jet is 50 years old this year.
The plane had its maiden flight in 1969 and although the new engines have been added and bigger fuel tanks and a longer upper deck, the basic design remains the same. At the time, it really was a milestone in aviation development and at a scale that surprised many. The plane was even short-listed for a prize in architecture in the UK because with its on-board entertainment system it could be likened to a cinema rather than a mode of transport.
Personally I liked the 747 a lot. Every single square centimeter was well designed and had a really harmonic character. The head designer, by the way, was a guy called Joe Sutton at Boeing. I had several favourite seats - and they were all on the upper deck. Here the shape of the space is unlike any other airliner - even including the now larger Airbus 380. The walls and the ceiling are in a soft curve that gives a very human and comfortable space. For such a large aircraft, the upper deck is really a small volume and it has a whole style of its own. Like a flying club room.
Well maybe I have convinced you that if an aircraft design can stand still for 50 years, then technology really is fairly slow. However the real perspective is not the last 50 years. The real development is the preceding 66 years. The pioneers of flight like the Wright Brothers and Gustav Whitehead only managed to get their contraptions of wire, wood and canvas into the air in 1903. It took only 66 years from the first filmed flight at Kitty Hawk to see Joe Suttons majestic 747 lift many hundreds of passengers across the Atlantic.