While many may not appreciate good design, we’d all agree that aircraft design matters. The challenge, however, is that design isn’t a consistent thing that humans do well. And when their creativity, curiosity or courage runs out – things stagnate.
The bad news of this post is that we are in such a stagnation place now. The good news is that awareness is 90% of the problem. As long as you recognize that you have a problem, you stand a good chance of rectifying it.
But if good design takes a holiday, we needn’t accept that a year or two can turn into decades. Fortunately aviation is new. We only have to look back a few decades to see the pinnacle of human aviation design development.
We put people on the moon with rudimentary computers.
Kelly Johnson got his group to develop and fly the SR 71 in 18 months.
The SR-71, PT-6, the LR 35 and the DeHavilland Twin Otter were all born in the 1960s.
The SR-71 “Blackbird” however, deserves special mention.
18 months? Yes, look at the F-35, Osprey or any similar (lesser you might say) challenge, and you’ll be amazed. The Skunk Works at Lockheed knocked it out of the park, early and under budget.
Lesson learned? Kelly Johnson credited their ability to manage their managers. Keep the Air Force committee, micro-managers and bosses away and your team had infinitely higher chances of success.
In a recent interview, Burt Rutan (the designer of Space Ship 1 – the first private / commercial space ship) offered:
Progressive evolution of design requires the three C’s: Curiosity, Creativity and Courage. The three C’s teach us that innovation vs. stagnation is a fact of life. Rapid evolution, which leads to obsolescence for legacy aircraft, needs certain ingredients. The US, sadly, is entering an era devoid of such nourishment. Heavy government involvement and even bigger corporations can stiffle creativity. Don’t believe me? Read the past 10 years of Aviation Week and Space Technology and explain the Osprey, the F-35. We just don’t build airplanes like we used to.
How does this affect jet aircraft for sale?
Innovation in aerospace has had a great run. Ofcourse we’d rather not talk about it in the past tense. But many industry thought leaders would agree – we covered amazing ground since the early 1900’s. Until about 1970 ish… then it gets quiet. You might say the pinnacle was Kelly Johnson’s SR-71. The “The Skunk Works” is tied into American lore of Area 51, rapid prototyping and fast track development. That was almost 50 years ago.
What have we been doing since? Mostly not taking chances, not pushing and hoping the private sector can sort it out.
So when you think of jet aircraft for sale, think about evolution. Where are you buying on the spectrum of where things are, where they have been and where they are going.
The Phenom 300 and Pilatus PC 12 represent amazing category leaders, but how innovative are they?
The Phenom is a better Lear Jet – which was a big deal in its time, revolutionary in fact, and the Pilatus PC-12 you might argue is a smarter King Air. But that is about it: Small changes to already proven design.
The Animals and Designers
Biomimicry and Rutan like design risks and successes lead to things that look like this:
Notice how the wing meets the fuselage. Wait, there is no fuselage per se, or is there?
See where this is going? This design group looked at how a bird’s wing met its body. And they built that. It took a risk to go that route, but also fuel economy, capacity and lift capability all pulled things one way:
Always question – never defend.
A classic design and engineering adage, this principle is what allowed the designers to leave the conservative tube with wings and look what a blended wing body design will do.
When you look at airliners and private jets, no matter how advanced their engines or avionics are – one thing holds true – it is a tube with a main wing and tail feathers.
Boeing in fact, who took a large gamble on the Boeing 707 (and wrote history with it) was, in the end, afraid to launch this:
The Sonic Cruiser was to be what the 787 later replaced in their pipeline. While my aviation analyst and forecast colleagues might disagree, I’d say they took the easy path. And by easy they earned humans another 30 to 50 years of design stagnation.
Sure it has all new electric stuff, no bleed air to speak of and huge design improvements. But it is not the game changer Space Ship One, The SR 71, or the Boeing 707 was.
The Value of Knowing
The value of understanding jet aircraft for sale is knowing your candidate – where does it live, relative to potential Darwinian events?
While this may seem like a bit of oogie boogie and a reach in terms of forecasting, just remind yourself of the last 50 years. How little has happened, in terms of major strides, and use that filter as you look at your airplane you want to buy.
When you see a jet aircraft for sale, ask yourself, how long does it have before it faces some steep depreciation? And I’m not taking “I”m feeling old and tired depreciation.” I’m talking buggy whip manufacturer around the time the car is invented. Clues to how you might know, can be divined using methods such as our Jet Owner Index which look at key factors against its peers:
Efficiency: In terms of fuel burn, load carrying and non-fuel DOC’s.
Popularity: Was the production run “thick”? (Were many made – why?)
Value: How much longevity does its hull value have now? Historically? Does its value per pound matter?
Forecast: Given what we know in the “what’s on the horizon” what is a reasonable forecast for an analyst to make?
If divining how your money should properly flow into an airplane, then you are reading in the right place. We lie in bed awake at night with such questions. And when we are sleeping our dreams include better design, Tesla like transformation and Rutan style revolutions.