Jumbo: 1969 predictions for the future

Edit: I wrote this on the fly while watching the documentary, on my iPhone. I was amazed. Even more amazed that Joe Sutter, the JUMBO’s chief designer and project leader was still alive and still giving interviews.

Then this morning 31st August, 2016 it was announced that the great man had died at 93 years old. Few people get to change so many lives and influence the direction of history as much as he has. It probably never crossed his mind at the time quite how much of a game changer this aircraft was to be.

Travel broadens the mind and opens us up to new ideas and understanding. 11% of American citizens’s have a passport. 87% of British citizens do. British Airways had more 744’s than all the US Airlines combined.  Sutter may not have transformed his own countryman’s desire to travel abroad, but it certainly transformed the rest of the world’s.

Long may he rest in peace, and long may he be remembered for changing our lives in no small way.

RIP Joe Sutter, a true engineering genius

The BBC now offers some amazing archives for UK licence payers on the BBCiPlayer platform.

A 1969 documentary called Jumbo, shown on August 12th, just a few weeks after men landed on the Moon for the first time, predicts and comments on the future and consequences of Boeing’s imminent introduction of the 747-100 and what it would mean for the world (especially Britain).

I can only warn you that you’ll need to read this alone, and in a Very British Accent. It’s not in the least bit funny. It’s hysterical. It’s evidence that there should be a global ban on anyone publicly stating their view of the future.

Here are the highlights of a Very British Documentary:

Boeing 747 introduction:“Airports are afraid that the engines will blow out their windows”.

“Stewardesses will have to make sure people understand the wings aren’t on fire, it’s just air pressure and vapor”.  Well I’m glad we cleared that up.

“Fully stocked hover kitchens will enable quick change overs”. Gosh look still not in use today, wonder why?

PanAm VP James Montgomery: “We haven’t explained they are not flying in a tomb, a long grey tomb. It’s more of a flying living room, we need to make this known to the people who use her”

Tourism is the answer to so many new seats: “Group Travel is the solution, plans developed to deal with overcrowding at London tourist sites include; creating plastic copies of the Crown Jewels, and having the Buckingham Palace Guards change four times a day, not two”. Oddly enough Her Majesty was having none of that!

“Air France were introducing an upper deck sauna and an immigration office”. Years later the A380 was supposed to have similar facilities- it never did.

“To stop problems with insect contamination in economy class, insecticides will be pumped through the air-conditioning system”.

Nice, and only for economy class you’ll notice. VERY British.

Removing an incapacitated 747-100 from a runway in a hurry: “…the only way of doing it would be a couple of sticks of dynamite and a large brush”. This from a man wearing a large coat and Wellington boots going by the name of Nigel.

Description of the Cockpit by a soon to be pilot of a 747, and head of the British version of ALPA Capt. Laurie Taylor: “The wheels are so far back and so far below we should have closed circuit television to see what we’re doing. The cockpit is terribly small, a design opportunity has been missed, indeed I would describe it as a pimple stuck on top of the biggest aspidistra in the world”.

Aspidistra lurida Green Flame.jpg

A blister, on an aspidistra. What was he talking about?

“I think 500 passengers is inviting a riot like that at a football game, we should have surveillance installed so we know what’s going on“. Bloody commoners, totally incapable of controlling their base instincts.

“The airplane is going to be so big it will be highly conspicuous to people on the streets of London”.  Oh my, how terribly irritating!

The narrator continues, “by 1975 at least 20 of these aircraft will land each day, in 20 years it will be 20 each hour”  God knows what they would think when Heathrow is landing around 54 an hour at peak these days!

The head of Aer Lingus worried that “passengers would be pampered beyond their class, and they will come to expect exotic air bridges and concourses”. 

How very dare they! Note that beyond their class slug too…

Lufthansa complained it would take 70 vehicles to service a 747 including a 70 ton tractor.

Addressing concerns about air traffic volume can be solved: “inner city vertical take off aircraft airports are the answer“.Roll out the Dornier VTOL 40 seater.


Booking computers will be overwhelmed by the seat numbers of 12 747’s operating at Heathrow

Worries about passport examination overwhelming immigration as tens of thousands of people arrive on Jumbos: ‘Magnetic passports would keep out a long list of global undesirables‘. This was said while admitting in the next breath that, ‘of course undesirable types could change the details on the magnetic strip‘. Oddly enough this too did not come to pass.

Suitcases would overwhelm airports with an avalanche of thousands of cases. “A problem that can only be solved by an electronical computer“. As opposed to one powered by steam?

‘Luggage would be loaded from the passengers car, directly into a self service booth, the passenger would then use a magnetic tag to tell the cart which flight the luggage would be allocated to’. It didn’t cross anyone’s mind until 1988 and Lockerbie that maybe all luggage needed checking all the time and that it should fly with the passenger on board.

‘Eventually of course giant nuclear powered leviathans would enable even larger planes’ 

Then again, maybe not. It didn’t stop Lockheed telling potential clients it’s C5 was big enough to carry, and be powered by, its own nuclear reactor!


The future of the 747: ‘These planes are temporary, the supersonic age is approaching at quite some speed’

– oh look there it is in the rear view mirror…