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November 15, 2007

Horizontal Gothic


Blackballed by Airbus for his unflattering remarks about their new product, Patrick Smith makes an intriguing claim which leads me to ask: The Boeing 727, goth or not goth?*

"Perhaps in ten to fifteen years," offered Geoffrey Thomas in last month's issue of Air Transport World, "the A380 will be described with the same passion and affection as the Sydney Opera House or the Eiffel Tower, two of many global icons that were bedeviled by controversy during their early years." Not this time.

Did it need to be this way? Is it true, to cite a quote attributed to an Airbus engineer some years ago, that "Air does not yield to style"? Jet age romantics recall the provocative curves of machines like the Caravelle; the urbane, needle-nosed superiority of Concorde; the Gothic surety of the 727. You're telling us that planes need to be boring, or worse, in the name of efficiency and economy. No, they don't.

A fair point.

* Now to be serious: Gothic or not gothic? While the allusion is fascinating I cannot see anything gothic in the 727. It is beautiful, yes, but without ornament and conveys no sense of awe or the numinous. Nor, I think, is it meant to. I suppose the silhouette might work as negative space for a vault if the vehicle was sat on its tail...

Posted by Ghost of a flea at November 15, 2007 07:04 AM


727..? nah, so not gothic. conjures up images of men in skinny ties and women in pink coats and pillbox hats...
gothic aircraft..? first one that comes to mind is the Gotha G.V., of WWI fame.

Posted by: the sad old goth... [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2007 08:59 AM

Yes, extremely so. It has that sense of being massive and enclosing lots of space but being spindly and airy at the same time.

I think this chap must have been referring to the arched shape of the 727's nose. Otherwise I cannot imagine what he means.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2007 09:05 AM

I think he is trying to mix metaphors between architecture and aviation, without much success. Gothic architecture generally equates to ecclesiastical structures, except in Canada where it's also a significant style for civic buildings. So the "Gothic surety" line is supposed to invoke imagery of soaring medieval cathedrals full of peasant faithbots.

If there's an airliner embodiment of world-changing medieval faith, then it is the 727's older brother, the 707. The 707 is the Martin Luther of the airliner world. First American turbine-powered passenger airliner and father of several different family trees of Boeing civil and military aircraft.

The 707 nose, cockpit and fuselage shape was re-used in later refinements, like the 727 and 737. And the 707 itself would spawn countless military and civil variants of itself, like the C-135 line, the C-137 (VIP airlift/Air Force One) the E-3, E-8, etc. And many of them, civil and military, are still flying today, 50 years after the first one was built.

727? So not goth.

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2007 10:53 AM

I think the Caravelle was slightly goth. The nose isn't "standard" jetliner, the windows and tail are kinda retro....

Posted by: JohnAnnArbor [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2007 02:56 PM

My nominee for Gothic Airliner Idol is the Armstrong Whitworth Argosy (dig that crazy topside open cockpit and pasted-on nose engine).

Also like the Handley-Page HP42 / HP45 and the Short L.17 Scylla, but they are not really goth.

Plenty more pictures of all here at the BA Museum)

Posted by: Chris Taylor [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2007 03:46 PM

This zeppelin gangway qualifies.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 15, 2007 04:43 PM