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Three Epic Aircraft Development Programs

Any aircraft certification is hard. These were insane.

The Leonardo AW609 civil tiltrotor -Epic Aircraft Development Programs
The Leonardo AW609 civil tiltrotor has traveled a long and winding path over the course of more than two decades to get to what its current owner says is the stage where it’s close to certification and production. Photo by Leonardo

Developing a new aircraft isn’t for the faint of heart. The risks are everywhere. Unlike in other industries, like automotive and electronics, where shorter development times and project secrecy are the rules, in aviation, it takes years, sometimes decades, to get a truly new aircraft to market, and the failures are there for all to see. And Cirrus is an exception to the rule, in that it ultimately succeeded, whereas most startup plane makers fail. Those failures, by the way, seldom make headline news. Though sometimes, the failure is so stupendous that everyone gets to witness the pain. 

With all that in mind, here are the stories, well, at least summaries of the stories, of some of the most epic aircraft development programs in history. To top it off, each of these programs faced very different hurdles to success.


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