Master Articles: “What Plane is That? An Airfleets Primer

This article was not at all written by me. Credit goes to the author, Patrick Smith. Section from the book “Cockpit Confidential”
I wanted to share this article with you guys.

“Almost every jetliner sold in the world today comes from one of two camps: the storied Boeing Company, founded in Seattle 1916, or the much younger Airbus consortium of Europe. It wasn’t always this way. For years we had McDonnell Douglas, Lockheed, and various throw-ins from North America and abroad: Convair, British Aerospace, Fokker. All of
companies are gone now.
And we shan’t neglect the Russians. Things are quieter now, and Tupolev assembled tens of thousands of aircraft over the decades. While the bulk of these were Western knockoffs turned Cold War pumpkins, hundreds remain in service, and a handful of newer prototypes have been introduced.
America’s first jet was the Boeing 707, third in commercial service behind England’s star-crossed Comet and the Soviet Tu-104. The 707 debuted between Idlewild and Orly (That’s New York and Paris) with Pan Am in 1959. Boeing has since given us the 727 through 787. The number sequencing merely chronology and has nothing to do with size. There was also a kind of short-bodied 707 called a 720. The 717 designation (See below), was reserved for a military version of the 707 but never used in that capacity. The original Airbus product, the A300, didn’t debut until 1974. Subsequent models range from small twins like the A320 to long-ranging widebodies widebodies like the A330 and A340. The numbers follow a pattern similar to Boeing’s, but they jumped a few and haven’t kept as firm with the chronology. The A350, for example, is still under development, while the A380 has been flying since 2007. The A360 and A370 were skipped entirely; who knows why? Minor variations of the Airbus numbering system are enough to drive a plane-spotter mad. The A300-600 is really just an extended A310 is really just an extended A310. An A319 is nothing more (or less) than a smaller A320. It was shortened even further as the A318, then stretched again into an A321. This mishmash of numbers, in this traditionalist’s opinion, cheapens everything. That each model wasn’t simply given a “dash” suffix is irritating. On our side of the ocean, a 737-900 is still a 737. But then, when Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas and took over the company’s production lines, it took the MD-95, which was really just a souped up MD-90, which was really just a souped up MD-80, which was really just a souped up DC-9, and rechristened it the Boeing 717. The DC-9, first flown in 1965, was now brand new, as it were, as the 717. That just isn’t right. McDonnell Douglas, for its part, had previously abandoned its popular DC prefix, and switched to MD, scrambling up the digits for good measure. Everyone’s heard of a DC-9, but what the heck is an MD-80, MD-83, or MD-88? Answer: a modernized DC-9. Everyone’s heard of the DC-10, but what’s and MD-11? Answer: a modernized DC-10.
A lot of older planes carried non-numerical designations. Names, in other words. Most were good choices, under-stated and dignified: Constellation, Trident, Vanguard, and most memorably, Concorde. There was something so wonderfully evocative about the sound of that word: Concorde. It described the plane perfectly: sleek, fast, stylish, a little bit haughty and probably out of your league. Others used names in conjunction with numbers, like Lockheed’s L-1011 Tristar. There was also the British Aerospace One-Eleven, which in its proper spelled-out form was both a name and a number.
The 787 falls in the name-number combo category, though I’m not especially fond of the “Dreamliner” designation. Somehow the imagery there is a little too wobbly and ethereal. People don’t want their planes nodding off. It could have been worse, though. Back in 2003, before Boeing had settled on a name, Dreamliner was in contention with three other possibilities. They were: Global Cruiser, Stratoclimber, and eLiner. Global Cruiser sounds like a yacht or a really big SUV. Stratoclimber sounds like an action hero, and eLiner is almost to awful to contemplate, sort of like “iPlane.” Regional jets; RJ’s as they’re known, come primarily from Canada’s Bombardier and Embraer of Brazil. China, Russia, and Japan have recently entered the field. Oddly, for all of their prowess in the big-plane market, American manufacturers have never developed an RJ. Older regional planes, including several turboprop models, have been exported from Canada (de Havilland), Sweden (Saab), Holland (Fokker), the UK (British Aerospace), Germany (Dornier), Spain (CASA), and Indonesia (IPTN). Even the Czechs (LET) manufactured a popular seventeen-seater.”

I can not stress enough how I DID NOT WRITE THIS. All credit goes to Patrick Smith, from the book “Cockpit Confidential”. ctions/dp/1402280912
Buy it on Amazon. It is amazing! The opinions expressed are not mine. Thanks for reading!


I like the article, but we have manufactured RJ’s like the Beech 1900, Caravan, Metroliner, etc.


I agree with you, but clearly this guy didnt😂

Loving these “Master articles”, keep up the good work! @Pilotmaster2129

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