Powering the World’s Airliners; Engine Developments From the Propeller to the Jet Age

Published on
October 23, 2020
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Reiner Decher
Other Publication Information
7” x 10”, Hardbound, 218 pages, 131 black & white and color photos, 2 tables, 11 drawings/diagrams
Provided by: Pen and Sword Books Ltd - Website: Visit Site


This book covers the development of aircraft powerplants as they relate to the airline industry, going back to the beginnings of air transportation in the twenties. The author is especially well qualified to write in this area because (1) his father was an engineer who worked on jet engine development in Germany during World War II, and later France and the United States, and (2) the author grew up with this background, and competed a Doctorate in Aeronautical Engineering at MIT, after which he worked for AVCO-Everett Research Laboratory and the Boeing Corporation, later pursuing a career teaching and doing research at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The Book

The book begins with a discussion on how powerplants were developed for aircraft, and how the decisions were made by company and airline operators on which types of aircraft and engines to incorporate in their designs. The early designs by Boeing, Ford, Fokker, Stinson, and later Douglas and Lockheed, are covered, and the military influences are also discussed. Why, for example, did the Douglas DC-3/C-47 series become so successful, whereas, the Curtiss C-46, which was larger and of slightly later design, did not do well with scheduled airlines after the war. A lot of non-scheduled and cargo carriers used them, however.

The author goes into extensive detail on the development of jet engines before and during World War II in the U.S., England, and Germany, , and how German technology was obtained by the victorious Allies in their postwar developments in aeronautical engineering. After World War II, the airline industry was closely related to military developments, as the Cold War was soon going strong, and both sides required jet engines for bombers that were increasingly efficient and more powerful. Another factor covered is the reduction of required maintenance that accompanied the development of more efficient jet engines, and the various innovations that made jet propulsion replace the outmoded internal combustion engine as the major airline power source.

Towards the end of the book, the subject of modern jet airliners is discussed in detail, including the various types and how their engines affected their commercial success. In addition, there were some very interesting people involved in the business, notably Howard Hughes, and the author gives some very interesting perspectives on how the top management of the aircraft producers and the airline companies maneuvered to get the best airplanes delivered to their favorite lines while trying to put competing airlines at a disadvantage.

The book is very well illustrated, although quite a few airplanes are mentioned but not really illustrated well, so a reader unfamiliar with earlier airline types will have to look elsewhere to find pictures of these aircraft. However, the photographs are by and large of excellent quality, and serve to illustrate the major types of aircraft in airline service.


The average modeler should find this book excellent reading, and a good source of basic information. It is written from an engineering viewpoint, and the explanations are highly technical but certainly understandable to anyone well acquainted with commercial and/or military aviation. I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read, and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.

Thanks to Phil Peterson and Pen and sword Books for the review copy. I shall treasure it.


Add new comment

All comments are moderated to prevent spam

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.