August 14, 2014
HELP ME OUT HERE. Let’s put aside the Boeing 787’s well-publicized technical foibles for a moment and focus on the lines of the thing — the way it looks. I can’t decide how I feel about it.
Mostly, I think, I like it. If nothing else it’s got something that too many jetiners sorely lack: personality. The scourge of jetliner aesthetics nowadays is same-ness. Gone are the days when each aircraft, even those of similar sizes, had a distinct profile, and even the casual planespotter could tell a DC-10 from an L-1011 or 727 from a DC-9, from five miles away. Then you had the outliers, the really unique beauties like the Caravelle or the Concorde, or the Soviet-made Ilyushins and Tupolevs. Today, every plane looks like every other plane. There’s the 747, of course, which is beautiful, and the A380, which is the opposite of beautiful, but mostly they share the same generic blueprint: two boring engines, a nondescript tail, and a nose that could be any other nose. Planes used to look sculpted. Today they look like snap-together kits of interchangeable parts.
So, kudos to the 787 for venturing outside this boring box. And unlike the A380 it does so in a way that is, for the most part, tasteful and stylish.
We love the rakish, steeply canted wings, for example. Man, those wingtips must be thirty-five feet off the ground. And there’s something almost organic in the way they curve and taper. The scalloped engine nacelles (it reduces noise) are sexy, as are the twisty-curvy blades of the engine fans. It looks strong. It looks fast.
The beauty of any plane, though, is lost or made in the nose and tail. Here the 787 gets mixed grades…
Based on other people’s comments, the nose seems to be one of those like-it-or-hate-it things. For me it works nicely. The cockpit windscreens are exceptionally sleek, almost fluid in the way they blend with the fuselage. It’s an unusual look to be sure — we’re so accustomed to the boxy, sharp-cornered windows typically found up front (see the 737 for an example of how an ugly cockpit can handicap a plane’s profile) — but in the name of aerodynamic smoothness it’s the way the cockpit windows should look. It’s the nose of a bullet train, or a sports car, and it helps the plane appear modern, even a touch futuristic, in a way unlike any other contemporary jetliner. It evokes the Caravelle, and the Comet.
Plenty of people don’t like the nose, but I think a bigger problem is the jet’s overall stubbiness — it’s a smaller plane than people expect, and there’s something sausage-like about it — and the tail. It isn’t an ugly tail, exactly, but it’s awkwardly undersized and curved at the top in a way that makes the entire plane look…well…fishy. Like a fish. A graceful fish, but not a sexy fish. A salmon, maybe, as opposed to a shark or a barracuda. That’s better than a steroidal beluga (the A380), but these oddly anthropomorphic curves and the skewed proportions are distracting. The lengthened 787-9 variant has a sleeker and more balanced look.
Overall it’s a good-looking plane, if not quite a beautiful one. Better than anything else, it’s daringly distinctive, which is more than you can say about most modern jets.
PHOTOS BY THE AUTHOR
Ethiopian Airlines 787 at Accra, Ghana, in June 2014.
Qatar Airways at Kastrup Airport, Copenhagen, in July 2014.
Wing picture aboard Japan Airlines, 2012.