the airport history blog
A 1967 Boeing image showing a contemporary airport concourse, surrounded by Boeing's existing models at the time: the 707, 727 and 737 as well as its upcoming Boeing 747 and two different variations of the supersonic Boeing 2707. With a length of 306 feet (93 meters), the Boeing 2707 was quite a bit longer than the 747 at 231 feet (71 meters). Credit: Boeing
For this post, I dug up a few classic shots of airports and SST for your viewing pleasure. I will also provide some background on the vision and reality of SST. The images will give you an idea of how airports were planning to adapt to a supersonic future. Enjoy the ambition in these photos!
THE FUTURE THAT WASN'T
It’s hard to imagine now, but in the late 1960s, the expectation was that by the late 20th century, the majority of commercial air passengers would fly in supersonic aircraft.
At the time, all major aircraft manufacturers in Europe, the US and the USSR were developing concepts for 'supersonic transport aircraft', or SST.
In anticipation of this development, Boeing designed the 747 with the characteristic hump, so that it could be easily converted into cargo aircraft if its design became obsolete for passenger transport.
Despite their spectacular design and performance characteristics, SSTs were designed to make use of existing runways and terminals.
The largest model, the Boeing 2707 would carry 300 passengers, 60 passengers less than the first 747 in a three-class layout. The Anglo-French Concorde carried between 92 and 128 passengers.
SST IMPACT ON AIRPORT LOCATION
SSTs did impact the design of airports though, or to be more specific, their location. SSTs were extremely noisy. Hence, greenfield airports that were planned in the 1960s and early 1970s were often planned very far away from the cities they served.
Prime examples are Montréal Mirabel (1975) and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (1974), but also unbuilt airports such as the Everglades Jetport (Miami) and the Palmdale Intercontinental Airport (Los Angeles).
Several cities such as Los Angeles, London and Stockholm studied off-shore airports in order to find space to grow and effectively deal with aircraft noise.
END OF THE SST
Due to environmental and design issues, by 1971 funding for the American SST program was discontinued. Only 14 Anglo-French Concordes, flying for Air France and British Airways, operated on a limited number of routes between 1976 until 2003.
Ironically, with the exception of Paris de Gaulle, most Concorde routes operated from existing, older airports such as Heathrow and New York's Kennedy Airport.
Washington Dulles (1962) was one of a handful of airports that saw frequent Concorde service for a number of years. This image was taken on May 24th, 1976, when both Air France and BA simultaneously began thrice-weekly service to Washington Dulles. However, due to low demand, Air France cancelled its Washington service in October 1982, while British Airways cancelled it in November 1994.
This final image is an illustration from a 1969 children's pictorial dictionary, depicting an imaginary airport in the "near future" with what appears to be a mixture of supersonic and jet aircraft. The passenger terminal seems to be inspired by 1970s Newark (wait, the future was Newark?!). I first saw this image when I was five years old and I would stare at it for hours on end. Hence, even though it's from a children's book I thought it was cool to show it here. Hey, it's my website!
Hope you enjoyed! This was just a snapshot of SST's vision and impact but we are aiming to turn this into a full photo special or article.
Would you like to see more vintage photos involving airports and SST? Please share your thoughts below ↓
With a title inspired by the setting of the iconic 70s film "Airport", this blog is the ultimate destination for airport history fans.
Some of the content we'll feature:
✈ Unique airport design
✈ Never built projects
✈ Fascinating statistics
✈ Future airport concepts
✈ And more!
Marnix (Max) Groot Founder of AirportHistory.org. Max is an airport development expert and historian.