Pilot Journal
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Contact: Functional Beauty

"Beauty was the by-product, not the target."

The other evening, I was flipping through the channels looking for something to watch on TV when I landed on a show about Concorde’s final flight, back in October 2003. Hard to believe it has been almost five years. Knowing that last flight would occur sooner rather than later, I flew Concorde New York to Paris return in the spring of 2000, just a couple months before its first and only crash, on July 25, 2000. It was something I just had to experience, and I’m glad I did, because it seems the days of supersonic airliners are behind us, at least for the foreseeable future. And because my flight was also before 9/11, I spent some time during our 11-mile high, Mach 2.02–cruise sitting in the jump seat at the pointy end, which, in Concorde, is really pointy. (Can’t imagine that happening now.)

While watching Concorde’s last flight on the big screen and reliving my own sine pari first-class experience crossing the Atlantic, I was struck by a comment from one of the engineers who created Concorde. Regarding Concorde’s design, he said, “Beauty was the by-product, not the target.” I can think of a few airplanes where that was not the case, but seriously, it seems there’s a certain organic and often graceful beauty that appears to be a by-product of the desire for an aircraft to fly faster, higher, farther and more efficiently.

A couple years ago, I sat down for a cocktail with Joe Clark, CEO of Aviation Partners, at the Soho Grand Hotel in New York City. In a gallery adjoining the lounge was an art installation teeming with denizens of the downtown art scene. Checking out the exhibition, I thought how apropos it would be if one of Aviation Partners’ sensuously curved, blended winglets were also on display next to the other pieces of modern art. They’re that attractive—the winglets. Surely, they could stand on their own in a gallery installation were they not tipping the wings of Hawkers, Gulfstreams, Falcons and Boeings, helping them fly higher, quicker and farther on less fuel, reducing their carbon footprint. MoMA, are you listening?

“The interesting thing about our product is that it looks elegant and works so well,” said Clark over a Pellegrino. “We call it visible technology; it has panache.” Indeed, they sometimes say, if it looks good, it flies good, and whether we’re talking about blended winglets, Concorde, the Beech 18 on page 30 or the Corsair on page 42, I have no doubt it’s true. In fact, I challenge you to send me a photo of a heartbreakingly ugly plane that flies fabulously.

Jeff Berlin, Editor

Labels: ColumnsFeaturesJourneys


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