Technological Transitions and System Innovations
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Technological Transitions and System Innovations

A Co-Evolutionary and Socio-Technical Analysis

Frank W. Geels

This important book addresses how long term and large scale shifts from one socio-technical system to another come about, using insights from evolutionary economics, sociology of technology and innovation studies. These major changes involve not just technological changes, but also changes in markets, regulation, culture, industrial networks and infrastructure.
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Chapter 6: The Transition from Piston Engine Aircraft to Jetliners in American Aviation (1930–1975)

Frank W. Geels


6.1 INTRODUCTION This chapter analyses the transition from piston engine and propeller aircraft to jetliners in America from 1930 to 1975. This transition involved not only technical changes in engine components, but also changes in the aircraft as artefact, for example, wing structures, airfoil and electronics. The transition had further knock-on effects throughout the aviation system. The jet engine not only changed the form of aircraft, but also their performance characteristics. Because jet engines had more thrust than piston engines, they enabled a substantial increase in speed (see Figure 6.1). The dominant passenger aircraft in the mid-1930s, the DC-3, was capable of carrying 14–21 passengers, had a range of 1000–1500 miles and a speed of 160–190 mph (250–305 kmph; 130–157 knots). In 1958 the jet-powered Boeing 707 raised cruising speeds to 550 mph (885 kmph; 480 knots), accommodating up to 181 passengers and with a range of about 3000 miles. In 1969 the Boeing 747 raised the number of passengers to about 450–500, and had a range of about 6000 miles and a cruising speed of 600 mph (965 kmph; 520 knots). The jet engine not only allowed higher speed, but could also power larger and heavier aircraft, carrying more passengers, thus allowing economies of scale. Lower airfares and shorter travel times stimulated the expansion of passenger markets. Figure 6.2 shows that the transition from piston engine aircraft to jetliners coincided with a tremendous growth in American passenger transport. In particular, the wide-bodied...

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