The publication of “Giganten der Luftfahrt” (Giants of Aviation) could hardly have happened at a better time. The very last Boeing 747 had just rolled out of the Everett hangars to transport air freight for Kuehne & Nagel, and the book was already on display in the stores. It was written by two proven aviation experts: Heinrich Grossbongardt and Dietmar Plath. They have succeeded in producing a piece that is a must-read for everyone who works in aviation or is otherwise associated with this fascinating industry.
How to write a book on a subject whose achievements (and failures) are extremely well-documented and commonly known, without presenting old wine in new bottles? This was the key question the two
authors faced before writing the first syllable. The outcome: Both decided on a compendium that begins with the legendary “Flyer” manufactured and first brought into the air by the brothers
Wilbur and Orville Wright, and ends after 168 pages with a tribute to Boeing’s Dreamlifter and the Beluga XL built by Airbus.
Before highlighting the key contents, some brief remarks about the authors who themselves are part of the industry: Dietmar Plath, previously Airbus’ long-serving communications officer in Hamburg, is a multiple award-winning photographer and publisher of the aviation magazine, Aero International. Heinrich Grossbongardt, who was Boeing's PR manager in Central Europe for almost a decade, has since analyzed and expertly commented on current aviation developments in print media, on radio, and in television broadcasts.
No, readers expecting sensational revelations should not spend a cent on the book. Others, however, who are interested in precisely documented aviation history and technical developments, are offered an excellent overview of successful or failed projects in commercial aviation.
Unsurprisingly, the authors focus on the eye-catching giants, specifically Boeing's Jumbos and their commercially less successful but technically brilliant European counterpart, the A380. Both products are put under the microscope, including the technical and commercial aspects. Their protagonists, too, such as the congenial designer Joe Sutter (B747), or the "father" of the A380, Jürgen Thomas, are sufficiently honored.
However, the authors also remind us in their richly illustrated work that some concepts disappeared again shortly after first prototypes were presented and are widely forgotten today. For
example, the huge Boeing 2707, the Ca.60 Transaero of the Italian designer Giovanni Battista Caproni, or the H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" of the eccentric billionaire, Howard Hughes. The focus,
and this runs through the book from the first to the last page, is the enormous achievement of this industry in developing ever more efficient, faster, larger, and safer aircraft to carry
passengers and air freight around the globe. Only thanks to flying machines, have people been able to connect directly with each other in greater numbers, and shippers and forwarders succeed in
establishing robust intercontinental supply chains as prerequisites for a global and closely timed economy. This is the achievement of Boeing, Airbus, Antonov, and others, which cannot be praised
highly enough, benefitting producers, consumers, trade, and the entire transport industry. The merits for society of these agile and finely tuned air transportation chains could be seen during
the recent Covid-19 pandemic, when hygiene materials and vaccines had to be transported at breathtaking speed in order to limit the spread of the virus.
In the meantime, the era of the giant, four-engine powered jetliners is largely over. Today, the mega twins B777-8, -9, and future -10, or the A350 variants are successively replacing the B747 Jumbos and double decker A380s.
Three critical points should be noted: There is no in-depth look at future developments, although there is a chapter entitled “Giants of Tomorrow”. However, with the U.S. start-up, Natilus, and the hydrogen Airbus, ZEROe, the topic is touched on rather cursorily.
It would also have been desirable to have a more in-depth presentation of the special challenges facing the industry, caused by the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gases in aviation. It is probably the industry’s “hottest” future topic and will strongly influence the design of aircraft as well as their outer shape.
And last but not least: Unfortunately, the book is only available in German. It deserves English and Spanish versions, too. This way, more people would be given the opportunity to enter the fascinating world of commercial aviation.
Publisher: GeraMond Media GmbH, 2023, €32.99, ISBN: 978-396453-251-0
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