Article ID: CBB709933101

The Green Airliner That Never Was: Aerodynamic Theory, Fuel-Efficiency and the Role of the British State in Aviation Technology in the Mid-Twentieth Century (2020)


Two aerodynamic concepts theorized in the early twentieth century – laminar-flow control and flying wings – offer the potential for more efficient aircraft. However, despite compelling advantages on paper and optimistic predictions, the fuel-saving benefits of these technologies have not yet been fully realized. This paper documents British work on these concepts, with a particular focus on laminar-flow control. Faced with an increasingly difficult funding context and a lack of a clear military rationale, these potentially significant advances in aircraft efficiency were stymied by a catch-22: the government was only prepared to provide financial support for the development of an operational prototype if operational performance had already been demonstrated. This case also highlights the challenges faced in the commercial uptake of radical aviation technologies, even when they appear to offer greater efficiency and environmental benefits.

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Authors & Contributors
Kharuk, Andriy
Vleuten, Erik van der
Hamilton, Kelly Ann
Millard, Douglas
Eckert, Michael
Hashimoto, Takehiko
Research in the History of Technology
Perspectives on Science
Technology and Culture
Historia Scientiarum: International Journal of the History of Science Society of Japan
Metascience: An International Review Journal for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science
The Journal of Transport History
Science Museum
Museum of Victoria
University of Chicago Press
Bentley Publishers
Yale University
Crampton-Moorhouse Publishing
Aeronautics; aviation
Aviation, commercial
Aircraft; airplanes
Aircraft industry
Wittgenstein, Ludwig
Bairstow, Leonard
Duigan, John Robertson
Porsche, Ferdinand
Hilda M. Lyon
Time Periods
20th century
20th century, early
20th century, late
21st century
Great Britain
United States
United Arab Emirates (UAE)
British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC)
Great Britain. Royal Air Force
Federal Aviation Administration
British Airways

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