1969 – A year for the aviation history books

The year 1969 marked the history of aero­space like virtually no other with the moon landing, the foun­dations of world-class aviation groups, the start of the jumbo jet age and super­sonic pas­sen­ger travel.

03.2019 | Text: Denis Dilba

Denis Dilba holds a degree in mechatronics, is a graduate of the German School of Journalism, and founded the “Substanz” digital science magazine. He writes articles about a wide variety of technical and business themes.


A selection of the key events in aviation history from 1969

The an­ces­tor of the jum­bo jet, Boe­ing’s “RA001” 747 pro­to­type, takes off from the U.S. com­pa­ny’s air­port in Everett near Seat­tle. With a wingspan of 60 me­ters and dis­tinc­tive cock­pit hump, this 70-me­ter gi­ant is still pow­ered ex­clu­sive­ly by Pratt & Whit­ney JT9D en­gines. From 1973 on­wards, the jum­bo would be equipped with the pop­u­lar CF6-50 en­gine. To­day, the CF6 se­ries—for which MTU has been a risk and rev­enue shar­ing part­ner since 1971—re­mains one of the world’s most suc­cess­ful en­gine fam­i­lies.

Con­corde takes off from Toulouse-Bla­gnac on its first test flight. Over the next few months, the su­per­son­ic pas­sen­ger air­craft de­vel­oped by the French and British avi­a­tion in­dus­tries to­geth­er would fly be­low the speed of sound; on­ly in Oc­to­ber would it first break the sound bar­ri­er. Con­corde en­tered com­mer­cial ser­vice in 1976. How­ev­er, su­per­son­ic pas­sen­ger flight did not turn out to be big busi­ness, so much so that the two op­er­at­ing air­lines Air France and British Air­ways re­tired the Con­corde in late Oc­to­ber 2003 af­ter one of the jets crashed. Thanks to its slim­line de­sign and a top speed of up to 2,400 km/h, this air­craft still reigns as the queen of the skies.

At the Paris Air Show in Le Bour­get, French trans­port min­is­ter Jean Chamant and Ger­man eco­nom­ic min­is­ter Karl Schiller sign the con­tract to build what would be­come the Air­bus A300. A year af­ter the con­tract sign­ing, the Air­bus In­dus­trie con­sor­tium was found­ed. This marked the be­gin­ning of the end for the Unit­ed States’ un­con­test­ed su­prema­cy in the pas­sen­ger air­craft mar­ket.

Fol­low­ing its maid­en flight on New Year’s Eve 1968, the Tupolew Tu-144 be­comes the first com­mer­cial su­per­son­ic air­craft to break the sound bar­ri­er in June 1969. How­ev­er, the tech­ni­cal­ly un­der­de­vel­oped jet would en­joy just as lit­tle suc­cess as its West-Eu­ro­pean coun­ter­part: the Tu-144 trans­port­ed just 3,284 pas­sen­gers on 55 flights. The de­vel­op­ment pro­gram was halt­ed in 1983. Of the 16 air­craft pro­duced, to­day on­ly 5 are avail­able to the pub­lic, in­clud­ing at the Tech­nik Mu­se­um Sin­sheim in Ger­many.


Jumbo jet: Until 2005, the Boeing 747 was the world’s largest passenger aircraft.


Queen of the skies: Despite its speed and sleek shape, the Concorde did not manage to make supersonic passenger flights into a sustainable business.


Droop nose: Both the Concorde and the Tupolev Tu-144 featured a nose cone that pilots could lower to improve visibility on the ground.


Groundbreaking: Founded 50 years ago, MTU München became MTU Aero Engines in the year 2000.


Vertical takeoff aircraft: To this date, the Do 31 remains the world’s only transport aircraft to achieve vertical takeoff and landing. In the picture: the prototype outside the Dornier museum in Friedrichshafen.


Short but sweet: The Trident 3B flew for only 17 years. Competition from Boeing with its quieter and more efficient aircraft was simply too tough.

On Ju­ly 11, MTU Mo­toren- und Tur­binen-Union München GmbH MAN May­bach Mer­cedes-Benz was found­ed, known as MTU München for short. Ba­sis for the foun­da­tion is a con­tract be­tween MAN Turbo GmbH and Daim­ler-Benz that de­fined the con­sol­i­da­tion of the two com­pa­nies’ tur­bo air­craft en­gine and high-speed diesel en­gine ac­tiv­i­ties; in ad­di­tion to MTU München (air­craft en­gines), MTU Friedrichshafen (diesel en­gines) was al­so found­ed.

On Ju­ly 21 at 3:56 a.m. CET, U.S. as­tro­naut Neil Arm­strong be­came the first man on the moon. He was fol­lowed by Buzz Aldrin. Some 600 mil­lion TV view­ers ex­pe­ri­ence the event via live broad­cast. Michael Collins, the third as­tro­naut on the Apol­lo 11 mis­sion, stayed on board the Co­lum­bia moth­er­ship, which could not or­bit the moon in­de­pen­dent­ly. On Ju­ly 24, Apol­lo 11 re­turned to Earth.

The Brazil­ian gov­ern­ment founds Em­pre­sa Brasileira de Aeronáu­ti­ca, bet­ter known as Em­braer. Af­ter its pri­va­ti­za­tion in 1994, the avi­a­tion group ris­es to be­come the fourth largest air­craft man­u­fac­tur­er be­hind Air­bus, Boe­ing and Bom­bardier Aero­space.

Made by J. Wag­n­er He­li­coptertech­nik, Friedrichshafen-Fis­chbach, the FJ-Sky-Trac is the first he­li­copter de­vel­oped in Ger­many since the Sec­ond World War and re­ceives type ap­proval from the Ger­man Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Of­fice.

The Ger­man gov­ern­ment ends the de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for the Dornier Do 31 ver­ti­cal take­off air­craft: due to a new NA­TO doc­trine and a shift in Ger­man Armed Forces re­quire­ments, the con­cept is de­clared to have no fu­ture for mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tions. The Do 31 is nev­er­the­less a tech­ni­cal mas­ter­piece and marks a mile­stone in avi­a­tion his­to­ry. To­day it re­mains the on­ly jet-pow­ered trans­port air­craft to achieve ver­ti­cal take­off and land­ing.

Tri­dent 3B, made by British man­u­fac­tur­er Hawk­er Sid­de­ley, takes off for the first time. Orig­i­nal­ly a three-en­gine air­craft, this Tri­dent mod­el was equipped with a fourth en­gine on its tail as­sem­bly to pro­vide ex­tra thrust dur­ing take­off. This ex­ot­ic air­craft was de­vel­oped spe­cial­ly for British Eu­ro­pean Air­ways (BEA) and of­fered space for 180 pas­sen­gers. Loud­er and con­sum­ing more kerosene than its ri­val, the Boe­ing 737, the 3B was re­tired by BEA in 1986.

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