Journal: The Incomparable Style Of Vintage Airliners

The Incomparable Style Of Vintage Airliners

By Petrolicious Productions
July 3, 2015
17 comments

Forgetting for a few minutes that modern aircraft are more reliable, more comfortable, faster, and more fuel-efficient than earlier designs, we’re highlighting some of the spectacular passenger airliners that are simply not around anymore.

Sure, you can see them at air shows, vintage photos, and the odd documentary, but unlike classic cars, owning a vintage aircraft is far out of the reach of most. And if it’s not used on commercial routes, well, there’s little chance to fly back in time as a passenger on one of these beautiful aircraft.

There’s little we can add about the DC-3 that hasn’t already been said. From its first flight in 1936, the DC-3 is still being flown regularly. That’s right—the saying, “The only replacement for the DC-3 is another DC-3” holds true even today.

Not on major commercial routes, of course (you won’t likely see Virgin Airlines adding one to its fleet) but among smaller businesses and operators, nearly 1,000 are believed to still be in limited service today. Finding and taking a short hop on a DC-3 is still possible, and we recommend you do it—the aircraft is still as strong, striking, and sexy as it was back in the ’30s.

Rarely seen in North America, the IL-18 was the workhorse that kept the Soviet Union—and a number of countries’ commercial airlines—humming along from 1957 until…well, it’s still in service! You’ll have to book a flight on North Korea’s Air Koryo (or a few other airlines you probably haven’t heard of), but it’s incredible that the plan is still flying today.

Known for its very strong construction, early teething troubles led to a series of improvements that saw the model remain in production until 1978. In that time, more than 600 were made, and delivered initially to Soviet air carriers.

The “Jet Age” gets mentioned here from time to time, and apart from the fanciful names and slogans attached to decidedly not-jet trademarks through the ’50s and ’60s (on vacuum cleaners, luxury cars, radios, and the like), the big daddy of the era is probably the Boeing 707. Originally called the Dash 80, the aircraft was named

Legendary for its barrel roll at the hands of test pilot Tex Johnson to wow potential customers, the 707 quickly formed the backbone of the type of air travel we expect today: clean, quiet, fast, reliable, and comfortable. It’s been flown all over the world, and more than 1,000 entered commercial service—with a further 800 built to military specifications.

Most have been replaced by more modern jet aircraft, but from its first Pan American World Airways flight in 1958, the 707 was the de facto aircraft seen in many airports until the early ’90s. Even Frank Sinatra bought one—now, that aircraft is owned by John Travolta!

The Concorde needs no introduction. The fastest passenger aircraft ever—no, don’t try to bring up the Tupolev Tu-144—the Concorde was a collaboration between the best aerospace engineers in Britain and France. Speed was a big thing when a supersonic aircraft was first posited in the ’50s, but it wasn’t feasible until its launch in 1976. Borrowing heavily from designs seen in Britain, the U.S., and Canada, its eventual performance was out-of-this-world.

New York to Paris? Less than 3.5 hours. For those with the money (and little time to spend), it was the only way to travel. A big crash just after take-off in 2000 (caused by a piece that fell off of a DC-10) and lower instances of air travel overall in the wake of September, 2001 helped to seal the fate of the Concorde. It was taken out of service on June 27, 2003.

If there’s a competition for the “sexiest airliner in the world”—and there should be—we have a feeling it’d be between the Concorde and the Constellation. The two aircraft are as different as chalk and cheese, however, both sought to revolutionize air travel…but only the Constellation managed to pull it off.

First designed as an airliner, but due to the Second World War, the Constellation was introduced as a military aircraft in 1943. Lockheed was working at the behest of the Howard Hughes-owned TWA, who sought a revolutionary aircraft that would give them a leg up on the competition. It looks like Hughes fingerprints are all over the design, and he is credited somewhat for its design.

Long, cigar-shaped, and often seen in polished aluminum, it could outrun the Japanese fighter aircraft of the era and once into commercial service in 1945, it quickly won passengers over as the first pressurized aircraft—a feature that greatly improved efficiency and comfort. Updated over the years, it left commercial service as late as 1990—the expensive-to-maintain Constellation is sadly a rare bird these days.

Image Sources: jitterbuzz.comwikimedia.orgimeche.orglarevueautomobile.comairandspace.si.eduaeroporto.fvg.itwikimedia.orghistoryofwar.orgdouglasdc3.comwikimedia.org

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Miguel Souto Neto
Miguel Souto Neto

yeah they were really cool when they were not falling out the sky lol

Peter McCormick
Peter McCormick

As a child and young man I’ve flown on C-47s, VC-10s, Vickers Viscounts, Super Connies, 707s, DC-9s. All were very loud, relatively unreliable, cramped, and compared to aircraft today, dangerous. The food sucked. Nostalgia is false god, although the C-47 remains a wonderful memory.

Ian Miles
Ian Miles

Concorde seemed to be a constant part of childhood. It flew into Farnborough in 1969, when I was three, I still remember playing in the back garden and it coming over so low that it left a shadow on the ground. Apparently I screamed and would not go outside for three days. Whenever it flew over when playing sports, we would all stop to watch even during matches. In connection with work I visted BA’s chief mantenance engineer. His office overlooked a gantry capable of taking two rows of Concordes, for maintenance. At that time there were four in, best… Read more »

Douglas Anderson
Douglas Anderson

At a time in my career I worked for a company that had several aircraft , one in particular was a Convair 360 or 380, I believe it was a retro fitted DC3 but am not sure. It was far and away my favorite for business trips over the Hawker , G-2 and the helicopters.
I flew as many as 14 trips per year to Europe , and I can attest to the terrible level of service and comfort towards the end. Needless to say I only fly today under very certain circumstances and do not enjoy any part of it.

Konradek Nie
Konradek Nie

Why don’t bring up a plane which in fact WAS faster then Concorde? It was airliner and it was faster. Just facts.. In fact it even look better then Concorde with its sharp lines.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

So hows about telling us which plane that might be ?

Michael Banovsky
Michael Banovsky

I’ve been inside the TU-144 at the Sinsheim Museum in Germany—it’s [i]not[/i] an airliner. Compared with the Concorde, it’s much closer to a military aircraft inside than anything I’ve seen with passenger seats.

But yes, it’s sexier to look at. 🙂

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Ha ! Another fine example as to why Wikipedia and the net in general [ pun intended ] are hardly ever a reliable source for the facts . Wikipedia claiming the TU-44 / TU-144 was a civilian airliner while everyone else and his/her brother [ including JANES ] says it was for military use only . In light of zero available manifests etc as well as any evidence/documentation beyond Wikipedia’s claims and photo one wonders if perhaps a couple of TU-44/144 bombers were modified for use by Soviet and DDR mucky mucks , generals and party leaders back in the… Read more »

Christopher Burton
Christopher Burton

Every child deserves to see the Connie fire up her engines at least once…pure excitement!

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

For that head over to the KCMO Airline History Museum at the Wheeler downtown airport . They got a real beauty there that err … KCMO’s mayor told a certain hollywood celebrity where to stick it when said celebrity put pressure on both the city and the museum to sell it to him . Trust me . It got real ugly . With Mr celebrity walking away with his tail between his legs

David Allison
David Allison

I’m old enough to remember when flight attendants were actually young and attractive! Now they are usually frumpy middle-aged women, “male” flight attendants, or hirsute fat chicks. Yuck!

M Webb
M Webb

I am old enough to mourn how far we have fallen as a society.

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

Amen …. sigh ………………….

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

PS; What I’m also bemoaning of late is the rapid demise of customer service in general thinking in particular about our recent forays into the real estate market . Nine out of every ten Buyer’s Realtors we’ve interviewed expect Us .. the buyer .. to do all the searching , driving etc . With seven out of ten expecting Us … the buyer to pay the Buyer Agent’s commission . As I’ve told each and every one [ still have yet to find a realtor by the way ] on the first point … ” Considering the hefty commission you… Read more »

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

I’ll tell you what . Being of a ‘ certain ‘ age I’ve had the privilege of flying everything from a ‘ Connie ‘ cross country right up to the beginnings of the ‘ Jet Age ‘ from public to private and right on down to the contemporary age of flight and nothing … and I do mean nothing can compare to the glories of the ‘classic ‘ era . From the amount of legroom .. to the width of the aisles and right on down to the quality of the seats themselves as well as the service you got… Read more »

Michael Banovsky
Michael Banovsky

That’s amazing. I’ve taken a few private flights in my life (thankfully not out of my own pocket!) and what you describe sums up [i]that[/i] experience to a T. Maybe we’re just not spending enough to really enjoy it! 🙂

There’s this great story well worth a read: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2002/10/stewardesses-golden-era

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger

What’s amazing about that article is its about the fourth one on the same theme I’ve seen in the last 12 months along with a one hour documentary on Smithsonian . Which err .. kind of tells you where most folks heads are at when it comes to flying be it seats , service or the stewardess’s mode dress these days . Definitely worth the read though ! As far as not spending enough ? Trust me Michael . Unless you own the plane outright … all the crew are under your direct employment and you’re ruling the roost with… Read more »