Why the Boeing 787 Dreamliner looks good but not beautiful

Why the Boeing 787 Dreamliner looks good but not beautiful

Is the Boeing 787 Dreamliner a flawed beauty, asks pilot and aviation blogger Patrick Smith.


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 Boeing 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.


Patrick Smith is an airline pilot, host of www.askthepilot.com and author of The New York Times bestseller Cockpit Confidential.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

 

24 comments

  • Serg

    Serg

    24 Nov, 2014 10:04 am

    "Today they look like snap-together kits of interchangeable parts."

    Sad, but true

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  • Serg

    Serg

    24 Nov, 2014 06:37 pm

    LOL!!!! Those minuses only prove me that it is true!!!

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  • sim86on

    sim86on

    24 Nov, 2014 10:08 am

    I dislike how boeing has restricted most airlines to white engines, apparently white paint is more aerodynamic....

    I believe BA are a notable exception though.

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  • am

    am

    24 Nov, 2014 12:23 pm

    BA and about a dozen others. 

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  • Phalanger

    Phalanger

    25 Nov, 2014 05:22 pm

    The restriction was to a single colour to gain laminar airflow.

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  • TheRealBabushka

    TheRealBabushka

    24 Nov, 2014 10:32 am

    I think in large, the beauty of the 787 from an Australian perspective is diminished by being graced with Jetstar colours.

    Internationally, key airlines like Singapore and Emirates have not been launched customers. As a result the marketing of the aircraft hasn't received that superstar hit that is sometimes required.

    The airlines who have been taken delivery of the 787 have been mainly, from a marketing perspective, B-list airline celebs (e.g Ethiopian, ANA, United, Air India etc.)

    The exception is Air NZ and maybe BA. But on their own, they don't have the pull factor. Saying that, the Air NZ's Black Venus is majestic.

    I'd suggest a more positive hype if the 787 were in Qantas colours flying routes to Asia and Hawaii.

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  • Brett G

    brettg

    24 Nov, 2014 03:13 pm

    @TheRealBabushka Good point. You would barely know that they even came to Australia if you weren't an avgeek!

    I personally love the dreamliner, but it feels like I'll never get to be able to fly on one. I see them in Melbourne from Air India, Royal Brunei and Jetstar. If Qantas had taken them on, I'm sure that I'd be flying with them every week instead of VA.  

    Unfortuantely the bean counter running Q saw fit to make his budget airline numbers look better by taking the economical planes, so they've gone to Australia's worst airline.

    I won't be flying on a dreamliner any time soon unless I can figure out how to get on that Air NZ one...

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  • watson374

    watson374

    24 Nov, 2014 04:01 pm

    Australia's worst airline? I object - Jetstar has mod-cons like online check-in that a certain other LCC doesn't.

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  • Brett G

    brettg

    24 Nov, 2014 04:37 pm

    Just my humble opinion. When I first started regularly flying I took many a Jetstar flight. I even took some flights out of Avalon. I came to realise that the airline was designed from the ground up as a trap! Got a bag? Gotcha! Want to carry on? Gotcha! We broke you bag? Screw you!

    Ever tried to deal with an issue at Jetstar? Now that is an experience. In order to work there in customer service, you must surely be tested to ensure an adequate amount of self loathing. It's all in the fine print.

    It's probably no worse than any other LCC... Heck, it may even be better! But in my experience of Australian Airlines, it's the worst.

    But it's still an LCC and I'd take the bus before going there again. There came a point when I realised that it is worth paying a couple of extra bucks for my own sanity.

    Not even a 787 ride would tempt me over there now. But that's just me!

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  • watson374

    watson374

    24 Nov, 2014 05:47 pm

    I am merely attempting to point out that as much as Jetstar constitutes an expensive torture ride, it's still less awful than Tiger.

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  • LondonAussie

    LondonAussie

    25 Nov, 2014 06:24 am

    I think that really depneds on own personal views.

    I am an avid Qantas Fan, and will at every point fly with them and other OW carriers. But, in the past, I have been forced on a Jetsatr flight and have every time, hated it.

    in 2012, I managed to score some State of Origin Tickets last minute (like, the day before). Only Flight I could find from BNE to MEL at such short notice, for a reasonable (i.e. not rip off) price, to suit getting to game and not leaving work at ridiculous o'clock, was from Tiger.

    Now, I new exactly what I was up for, but I still managed to leave work in Toowoomba, get back to the city, collect wife from work and get to Melbourne with enough time to spare to get to the hotel before the game. ...And I only paid $58 for the both of us.

    Return flight was on QF :)

    Now, will I fly Tiger again, Probably Not, but I it was down to either Jetstar or Tiger...... I would be hard pressed not to consider them.

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  • eminere

    eminere

    24 Nov, 2014 10:56 am

    It's the nose that bothers me. I'm firmly in the hate-it camp.

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  • TheRealBabushka

    TheRealBabushka

    24 Nov, 2014 11:37 am

    Careful...you might be labelled an anticomposite!

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  • Phalanger

    Phalanger

    25 Nov, 2014 05:05 pm

    Not as bad as the A350.  They took the deck and nose gear from the A380 to save design time, then had to mash them together into a smaller space....

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  • johnaboxall

    johnaboxall

    24 Nov, 2014 12:24 pm

    Nothing beats the VC-10 :)

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  • Chris_PER

    Chris_PER

    24 Nov, 2014 12:31 pm

    Such an american-propaganda article.  The 787 certainly doesn't deserve the tag name "dreamliner" imo.

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  • johnaboxall

    johnaboxall

    24 Nov, 2014 03:35 pm

    You design and manufacture an aeroplane, you can call it whatever you like. 

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  • Andrew Gunn

    _andrewgunn_

    24 Nov, 2014 04:10 pm

    Hmmm, i never thought of the a380 being a Beluga and the wing of the 787 been a un-sexy Salmon. By that logic the a320 is a Blobfish.

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  • tronek

    tronek

    24 Nov, 2014 10:22 pm

    The A300-600ST (Super Transporter) quite proudly calls itself a Beluga. It even says so on the side in large friendly letters.

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  • AirportAddict

    AirportAddict

    24 Nov, 2014 04:27 pm

    ...after all, airliner aesthetic is the deal breaker ;)

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  • David

    icanfly

    26 Nov, 2014 11:00 am

    Weird you start out by saying the 787 s not distinc then go on to say all the unique feautres about it like the scalloped narcelles, raked wingtips and nose..

    Anyhoo I really like it looking forward to seeing the stretched 787-9 in the flesh. I would prefer the nose of a 777 but I figured it was chosen to be more aerodynamic?

    What I want to know is, who has the right idea? Boeing go for raked wingtips and the scalloped narcelles, Airbus still have a blended winglet on their A350 and non-scalloped narcells.. If the scalloped narcelles were a great idea wouldn't airbus have come up with their own or is this trademarked by Boeing?

    As for the wings, Boeing think a raked wingtip would reduce wake vortices and drag more so if this was proven correct why would Airbus opt for the blended winglet still?

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  • ozboy62

    ozboy62

    26 Nov, 2014 05:32 pm

    I think the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a beautiful looking aircraft and a great plane to travel on bigger windows, less jet lag on long haul flights. I prefer Boeing to Airbus. If there is an ugly aircraft it would have to be the Airbus A380, which I have no desire to fly on, but each to their own.

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  • Peter Riddell

    Pericon9

    26 Nov, 2014 07:43 pm

    Not a fan of the nose though I wouldn't say I'm a hater.  Love the "flexi" wings and it certainly is quieter to fly in.  After a couple of trips to India with AI, jetlag is almost a thing of the past.  But sadly on Air India the aisles are so narrow it becomes an uncomfortable aircraft to fly in, given I try and walk around a fair bit while in the air.  Give me a noisy old 747 or 707 for looks.  Who can tell a 777 or 767ER from all the various Airbuses these days?  Bleh!

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  • Darryl Polzot

    GLOBALFIRST

    26 Nov, 2014 11:22 pm

    The Queen of the Skies is still the 747. The 747-8 Intercontinental is an Icon and the most beautiful plane flying.  The Concorde was amazing as well. The 777-300 is beautiful and an amazing plane. I cannot wait for the 777X

    The A-380 is an ugly whale of a plane. It is a "BUS"

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