What do you think was the biggest technological achievement in aviation (not including the first powered flight), and why?

By | May 13, 2022

The Concorde, by far.

The reason I say that is because it accomplished the most difficult goal in civilian aerospace, and it accomplished it using completely normal materials and parts that were common on any other aircraft of the day. In fact, many of its parts were already outdated by the time it first flew. It actually used turbines from the subsonic Vulcan bomber, which was already obsolete at the time.

The Soviet and American supersonic airliners tried all sorts of exotic designs and failed miserably, but the Concorde succeeded using whatever the engineers had on hand at the time. It didn’t require any special new technology.

It also cost of fraction of the development cost. It cost about 30% less than the 747 to develop, and taking inflation into account cost about 35% of what the 787 cost to develop.

The old obsolete bomber engines were given minor modifications for supersonic flight. And they were equipped with an intake ram that mimicked the intake of the SR-71 and XB-70, but was a fraction as complex. It provided around an 8:1 pressure boost, only slightly below the much more complex SR-71 intakes.

And the control system that made this possible was also remarkably simple. The Brits inverted the engine controls so that instead of the engine commanding the intake ramp, the ramp detected the current conditions and adjusted the engine controls instead. It required no major additional parts, yet resulted in a vastly more stable powerplant.

It was only slightly more complex than any other airliner of the day, yet met every single one of its performance goals. While the more complex aircraft were all total failures.

This would be like a car winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans using nothing but off the shelf parts, including many obsolete parts.

It is an absolute marvel of engineering ergonomics.

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