Continuing my series of arbitrary passenger jet rankings (Boeing, Airbus), we look at probably the most interesting set yet. Mostly covering the early jet age, these planes came from a time when you had many competitors and no clear idea as to what a jetliner should look like. Far from the current crop of various twinjets we have aircraft in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
Anyway, on to the rankings:
1. Aérospatiale/BAC Concorde
Could it be anything else? The Mach 2 Anglo/French joint venture is an aviation icon. High running costs restricted it to expensive business travel, while relatively short range and high noise levels limited it to transatlantic service, but none of that challenges its status as technological marvel.
2. de Havilland Comet
The original, and one of the most elegant jetliners ever made, the comet featured four engines mounted in the wing roots, a distinctive tail that would be more at home on a WWII bomber than a modern jet, and (on the Comet 4 version,) large fuel tanks on the wing to help reach the distant reaches of Britain’s then still-extant empire. Troubled early by crashes caused by its rectangular window design, it eventually became a solid airliner, serving passengers into the early ‘80s. Unfortunately for de Havilland, by the time of the definitive Comet 4 version was available, the world was entering the era of the bigger, faster, and longer-ranged 707 and DC-8 leaving little room for the Comet to have success.
3. BAe 146/Avro RJ
So Cute! The diminutive regional jet’s surprising quadjet configuration was designed for quiet operation from short runwayed urban airports, especially London City Airport. The added expense and complexity of the four engine setup was a major deterrent to commercial adoption, but the 146 is still the best-selling British jetliner.
4. Sud Aviation Caravelle
The world’s second jetliner and first intended for short-haul flights, the Caravelle was intended to complement the longer range Comet (Sud actually licensed the Comet’s cockpit from de Havilland for use in the Caravelle). Sud’s engineers solved the fatigue problems of the Comet by using distinctive triangular teardrop shaped windows. More importantly, they introduced the rear engine design used on many future jets. This creates cleaner airflow over the wing for superior performance, and helps protect the engines from runway debris, at the expense of increased noise in the cabin.
5. Dassault Mercure
Hoping to secure a place in the civilian aviation market for Dassault, the Mercure was intended to provide a larger alternative to the 737 and DC-9. However interest was hindered by the plane’s short range, and the economic shock created by the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo forced it’s cancellation after only 12 aircraft had been produced, leading to large losses for Dassault.
6. Vickers VC10
Intended to supplant the Comet on long range overseas routes, the VC10 was designed with special attention paid to high and hot handling characteristics, and short runway performance so it could service far flung locations around the British Empire. It featured an unusual design placing all four engines at the back of the aircraft to achieve these goals. However, it was more expensive to operate than the 707 or DC-9, the British Empire grew smaller, airports got bigger to accommodate jets, and the introduction of the 747 gave the world a true long range option, all of which eliminated the VC10's niche.
7. Fairchild Dornier 328JET
I’m calling this one German, as it was designed an built there, though Dornier had been bought by America’s Fairchild prior to the 328JET going on sale. A rare example of a propeller aircraft redesigned to be powered by jets, the 328JET is a modestly successful regional jet. The type is no longer in production, but is now owned by a Turkish company which hopes to use it as a starting point for a new larger aircraft.
8. Hawker Siddeley Trident
A 727 competitor with a similar configuration, the Trident (or HS 121) was hamstrung by frequent requirement changes, allowing the 727 to beat it to market. It never enjoyed much success beyond the state-owned BEA.
9. Fokker F100/F70
A Dutch regional jet, the F100 and it’s F70 variant enjoyed some success but couldn’t save Fokker from bankruptcy, or survive in the highly competitive regional jet market of the 1990s.
10. BAC One-Eleven
The second short haul jetliner, the One-Eleven was a competitor to the Caravelle and later the DC-9 and Fokker 28. The type stayed in production for decades, being licensed to a Romanian company after its British production run ended in 1982 and continued there for the rest of the decade.
11. Fokker F28
Another early short-haul jet, the F28 provided a design that was simpler and cheaper to maintain than many of its competitors, allowing it to gain a foothold in the market.
12. VFW-Fokker 614
A dismal commercial failure with only 13 airline sales, the 614 proved to be expensive and difficult to maintain. It’s notable for it’s engines mounted over the wing (similar to the modern HondaJet), which allowed for flaps to be deployed without obstruction for better low speed and short runway performance.