In the past days, the first episodes of the documentary “The Age of Aerospace” were released. The documentary consists of a series of 5 episodes each one lasting about 45 minutes and divided in a few chapters. The series, produced by The Documentary Group, covers much of the history of aerospace with a special focus on The Boeing Company, which celebrates 100 years in this 2016.
The series is progressively released in Science Channel, Discovery Channel and American Heroes Channel. It can also be watched via streaming at the website created for the documentary, here.
So far, I have watched the first four episodes, find some notes and comments below:
1 – What Can’t We Do?
The episode covers the initial years of flight: the creation of Boeing, the hiring of Wong Tsu (its first aeronautical engineer, fresh from MIT), the air mail expansion, the creation of United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (including Boeing, Hamilton, Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, United Air Lines… among others), its split after the Air Mail scandal and the investigation led by senator Black, the early retirement of William Boeing, the Boeing 247, the Clipper, the B-17 Flying Fortress.
2 – Miracle Planes.
This episode covers how WWII gave new life to Boeing. From having been wiped out in the commercial aviation by Douglas and having lost to Douglas the contest for a new bomber with the B-17, due to a crash of the prototype, to a new emergence due to Roosevelt’s call for mass production of defense assets: including the success of the Flying Fortress with over 12,000 units produced in 10 years (“some days you would see 8 to 12 coming out”). Black Thursday with the lost of dozens of B-17s and the finding of the need for fighter coverage; the North American P-51 Mustang (Göring: “When I saw Mustangs over Berlin, I knew the war was lost.”). The Big Week in early 1944 and D-Day. The need for a longer range bomber for the pacific, the B-29 Superfortress.
3 – Shrinking the Earth.
This episode covers the jet age, from the operation LUSTY (LUftwaffe Secret TechnologY), the revamp of the swept wing technology originated by Adolf Busemann, the Boeing B-47, the taking over as president of Boeing by Bill Allen, to its inclusion in commercial aviation: the Comet, the prototype Dash-80 (including Tex Johnson‘s unexpected promotional double barrel roll flight), the Boeing 707 (Pan Am’s Juan Trippe: “Tomorrow you will see in the press that I have invented the jet age“), and 747 (Boeing’s Joe Sutter to Trippe: “You are sitting on a 747 in this conference room“).
4 – In the Vastness of Space.
This episode covers the Space race. From the first warnings of Soviet Union breaking of frontiers to the launch of the Apollo program, the accident of the Apollo 1, its investigation and the need for more supply chain oversight and systems integration, the successes of the Apollo 8 (orbit around the moon), the Apollo 11 (landing in the moon), the Space Shuttle, International Space Station…
5 – The Dreamliner.
(Yet to be released in streaming) [Updated on March 29, 2016]
This episode covers the launch and development of the Boeing 787, the Dreamliner, a “game changer”. The launch of new programmes put manufacturers future at a stake, and after Airbus’ launched the A380 in 2000, Boeing had to define its next move. It first intended to launch the Sonic cruiser, but the 9/11 attacks changed the landscape and Boeing’s bet changed from speed to the economics of flight. Boeing challenged the hub-and-spoke strategy and launched a middle-sized aircraft that could connect middle cities far away from each other more economically. The documentary covers as well other innovations introduced in this programme: extensive use of composite materials, design of large components outsourced to risk sharing partners (check out the images of the giant Mitshubishi’s autoclave), the development of the 747 Dreamlifter to transport sections between partners… It covers as well the development issues (sections not fitting, quality, rivets…), the 3-year delay, the first flight at the end of 2009, the first delviery to ANA and the issue with the Lithium-ion batteries which caused the fleet of 787 in-service to be grounded by the FAA in 2013 for four months (a first in Boeing’s history). This last chapter conveys quite well the size of the undertake that is the launching of a brand new airplane.
I will conclude this review post recommending the documentary and leaving its 3-minute trailer: