When we think of the Boeing 747-8I, the Boeing 777-300ER, and the Airbus A350-900, we see them as sleek, very beautiful, and graceful birds flying in the skies. Did you know though that the original concepts of those three jets were far from what they are today? Yes, the classic 747 wasn't first envisioned as an airplane with a half upperdeck. So yes, the Airbus A380 was not the very first full-length double deck aircraft conceptualized.
The Boeing 747s Original Concept
When Boeing first conceptualized the 747, they wanted to create an aircraft that would serve both as passenger and freighter aircraft so in the event that the sales of the passenger version decline, they still have a freighter version. It also needed to support containerized freight hence, the cockpit has to be mounted high and the nose can open for front loading, similar to the C-5 Galaxy. It should also be bigger than the Boeing 707 and other passenger airplanes during that time to address airport congestion issues during that time. This then gave birth to the first concept of the 747 which was a full length double deck aircraft. This also had eight-across seating and two aisles on the lower deck and seven-across seating and two aisles on the upper deck.
This concept did not push through due to concern over evacuation routes and limited cargo carrying capability. Instead, the concept of an single deck with a shortened upperdeck cam about so they can still open the nose-cone of the aircraft for cargo loading. This would also permit more passenger carrying capability to address airport congestion. This design made the Boeing 747 the longest selling and most popular aircraft in the world.
The latest version of the 747 is the 747-8, both available in freighter and passenger versions. Up to now, the aircraft is still in production, with the freighter version of this present model outselling the passenger version.
So is Airbus the second company to conceptualize the full-length double deck aircraft? Well not really, as before their was the Airbus A3XX concept, McDonnell Douglas came in with the MD-12 concept.
McDonnell Douglas wanted to build an aircraft bigger than their tri-jet MD-11 but with greater capacity. They wanted to make something with even greater carrying capacity than the Boeing 747, hence, a full double deck design was conceived. However, the plan was scrapped as it did not receive any orders.
When we think of the Airbus A380, we think of it as the first double deck airplane to fly. Well not really. Before the A380, there was the Breguet Br.763 Deux Ponts, a 1940s to 1950s full double deck aircraft built by the French company Breguet Aviation.
The Boeing 777 was originally conceptualized as a tri-jet!
The Boeing 777, particularly the Boeing 777-300ER is the most popular and best selling twin-engine widebody aircraft in the world. It also became the perfect replacement of 747s in many of the today's airlines. However, did you know that the triple 7 was first conceptualized as a tri-jet, the 777-100 concept?
It was in 1978 that Boeing revealed three concepts, the 757 to replace the 727, the twin-engine 767 to take on the Airbus A300, and a tri-jet 777 to compete against the DC-10 and Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. The 757 and 767 were a success due in part to the Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards or ETOPS during the 1980s. ETOPS regulations allow twin-engine aircraft to operate across oceans at up to distance from emergency diversionary airports. Under this new regulation, airlines used the 767 in long flights that did not need the use of larger aircraft. The tri-jet 777 concept was dropped due to airlines favoring 757 and 767 long haul operations.
However, Boeing had to fill the gap between the 767 and 747. In the 1980s, the DC-10 and L-1011 were nearing retirement. McDonnell was developing the MD-11 while Airbus was developing its A330 and A340 series. Boeing was trying to introduce longer variants of the 767 as an answer, like the 767-X. Airlines however did not buy the stretched 767 idea as what they wanted was an aircraft with a wider body, lower operational costs, and can fly longer routes. Boeing then came up with a clean sheet of paper and revived the 777 concept, as a twin-engine aircraft.
The Airbus A350 was supposed to be another "A330/340".
After Boeing introduced the 787 concept, Airbus decided to move into creating a competitor. The first concept was a of the A350 was simply a redesigned A330, as they would be using the common fuselage and cross section assembly. A new wing design, and new engines, all complemented with the use of composite materials and production methods applied to the fuselage would make this first concept of the A350 an almost all-new aircraft.
However after being criticized by its two biggest customers and branding them as "a band-aid reaction to the 787", Airbus was forced to redesign the A350 with a new clean sheet of paper and eventually gave birth to today's A350 that you now see flying.