In the 1960s, Lockheed and Boeing were both contracted by the US government to build a supersonic transport. Which one was better, and who was ultimately selected to move forward?
Why did America want to build a Concorde?
In the early 1960s, the United States was blindsided by the development of the British and French supersonic Concorde project. They believed that it would be so superior to American aircraft offerings (such as the Boeing 707) that Concorde aircraft would replace all other variants, totally decimating the local aviation industry.
Congress decided to put out a government tender to build and develop an American version of the Concorde. As this type of aircraft would be so expensive, the US itself would fund development. The final proposal would have to be able to carry up to 300 passengers and have a cruising speed near to Mach 3.
Lockheed, Boeing and North America Aviation put their hands up with proposals and got to work.
Who won the contract?
There were now three models in competition.
- Lockheed’s L-2000
- Boeing’s 2707
- North America Aviation NAC-60
The first to drop out at the early start to the race was North America Aviation and their NAC-60 variant. Its design was too slow and too small compared to the bigger and more ambitious proposals. This left only Lockheed and Boeing in the battle for the contract.
In December of 1966, both teams presented full-scale mockups of the aircraft to Congress. During the judging, Congress decided that the Lockheed design, while simple and quicker to build, was too performance heavy at low speeds. The Boeing design was more complicated and advance but was more prestigious over the ‘low-tech’ Concorde. Congress wanted to show it to its European counterparts and selected the Boeing design.
How did the three aircraft compare to each other?
Here is how all three compared to the other two Concorde supersonic transport projects that were operating at the time (Soviet and European).
|Builder||Design Model||Passengers||Range (nautical miles)|
|North America Aviation||NAC-60||187||3389|
What happened next?
As exciting as the technology was, in 1971, Congress had a change of heart and decided to end development. At the time, it was claimed that sonic booms would prevent the aircraft from traveling overland and that it was too expensive to develop. The only supersonic transport to be built would be the Concorde, and it would go on to serve between Europe and New York.
Interestingly, the Boeing 2707 project was quite delayed and had the Lockheed project (or even the NMA NAC-60) been chosen instead; the prototype may have been built on time and flying before the cancellation of the project. This might have rallied public support for the project and pushed it to enter active service.
At the end of the day, no one company won the battle to build an American Concorde. Now, all we can do is look at the sky and wonder what could have been.
What do you think? Which design is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.