Before the A380, Lockheed Martin had an idea for a double checker super transport plane. An insane aircraft designed in 1996 that was bigger than a 747, carried more passengers than an A380, and would have dominated the skies.

Back in the early 90s there was a problem with airports. Air travel was increasingly becoming popular and airlines were struggling to get enough airport landing slots for all the demand. Some airports like Heathrow were utterly full and were selling landing slot pairs for millions of pounds.

Thus if you could not increase the number of planes landing at airports, then it was time to make the planes bigger. Boeing had started the trend with the Boeing 747 and Airbus was following with the A340 series. Lockheed Martin, who had left the commercial aviation division after its L1011 trijet design, decided to think of the next logical step in aircraft design.

They created a program called the Large Subsonic Transport, a series of designs for an aircraft that would be the natural evolution of the Boeing 747.

This aircraft would solve the problem of limited airport capacity, but naturally, fill rising demand in places like China and be the next military aircraft for the US air force.

The design that they came up with was this – the Lockheed Very Large Aeroplane.

It had a takeoff weight of 1.4 million pounds or 635 metric tonnes with four powerful engines. It had a wingspan of 282 feet (85 meters) with folding wingtips, much like the Boeing 777X today that brought it down to 211 feet (64 meters) the same as a Boeing 747.

It was 262 feet long (79 meters), making it one of the longer planes around in the world today. Needless to say, this aircraft would have dominated the airports around the world and required modifications to runways and gates like the A380 would ten years later.

It would have carried around 900 passengers onboard, with 450 split on each deck in a three-class cabin configuration. This aircraft was impressively wide, so passengers might have found themselves in a cabin 17 seats acorss, or 3 – 4 – 3 – 4 – 3 configuration with four asiles.

Lockheed Martin also planned for a cargo version of the aircraft with intermodal containers.The plane would have been able to hold 16 of them on the lower deck, and still carry 450 passengers on the upper deck.

In the design document, the plane only had a range of 3,200 nautical miles, or 5,900 km. This is shockingly small compared to the Boeing 747 with 7,730 nautical mile range or 14,320 km, or the Airbus A380 that could fly 8,000 nautical miles or 15,000 kilometers. Flights between London and the New York, a distance of 3008.39 nautical miles or 5571 km would have been possible but routes over the pacific would have to land in Hawaii. This would have made it unpopular for Asian airlines and those in the middle east as it could not fly far enough.

Lockheed Martin was optimistic however, and believed that they would have a market for around 280 to 370 aircraft. For comparison, the Airbus A380 only sold 242 units, 38 less than the minimum number predicted for the Lockheed martin very large airplane. Each of these aircraft would cost around $200-300 million USD, which is around half a billion dollars in 2020.

For once, an aerospace firm showed hubris and the report Lockheed Martin admitted, it had neither the resources nor the knowhow to build the plane. It suggests that it would have to partner with Boeing AND Airbus simultaneously to bring it to the market. A total development cost of $18 billion US.

There were several other disadvantages to the design:

  • First it would be incredibly noisy during takeoff and landing.
  • It would also create a considerable air vortex that would delay planes landing or taking off behind it
  • The aircraft would require all new gates to be built and new service vehicles to perform turn around tasks. It would also take a long time to board
  • It was so heavy that it would crush most runways, and if it landed in the sea during an emergency, it would sink almost immediately
  • Speaking of emergency, it was apparent that passengers would have a difficult time evacuating.

Lockheed Martin was not entirely sure how it would fly in the sky. Alas, this proved all too much for the company that had only recently moved out of commercial aviation and the project was shelved.

And Lockheed Martin made the right move. Airbus would go-ahead to build the A380 and it would never really be that successful beyond initial orders, and the world of superlarge aircraft came to a close. Today, point to point travel with ultra-efficient aircraft are all the range, and the Lockheed martin dream has become a vision of a forgotten future.

Source: YouTube

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