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Mindboggling aviation statistics

May 12th, 2011 · Posted by Skuds in Technology · No Comments · Technology

For some reason I was looking at the Wikipedia page for the B-24 Liberator WWII heavy bomber, saw the numbers that were built and it got me thinking.  It sounded like a lot (18,482 built in 6 years) so I started looking around at the numbers built of other aircraft for comparison and came up with a mind-boggling result:

There were more B-24s made during the Second World War than there are currently large passenger jets in service in the whole world today!

I think so anyway. I looked at figures for production and numbers still in passenger service for all the Boeing and Airbus jets, plus a few others like the Tristar, DC-10, MD-11, Embraer E-Jet, Ilyushin, and ignored all the small and regional aircraft.

In just over 50 years there have been a total of about 22,700 large passenger jets made of which about 15,700 are still in service as passenger jets – a few thousand short of the number of B-24s built during the war.

Of course, bombers during the war were lost a lot quicker than airliners are for obvious reasons so there were nowhere near 18,000 B-24s in service at the same time, but that was only one model.  Add in the B-17, B-19, Lancaster, Halifax, and Stirling and you have at least 51,000 US and British heavy bombers built during and just before the war.

The most-produced civil airliner is the Boeing 737: 6687 built in 44 years, and 4500 still in service.  In 6 years we build nearly as many Halifax bombers (6178) and even more Lancasters (7377).    When it comes to the American bombers, there were more B-24s built between 1940 and 1945 than all the Boeing 707, 720,717, 727, 737, 747, 757, 767 and 777 planes ever produced between 1958 and today by a considerable margin.

Wow.  We talk about our crowded skies, and living next to Gatwick we see a lot of jets but during the time of WWII there were more than twice as many big military planes built as there have been big passenger planes built in all the years since – and bear in mind that the current fleet is truly global: at any time a lot of them are criss-crossing the Atlantic, doing coast-to-coat US flights, in South America, the middle East, Australia, etc.  During the war most of the big planes were probably in Europe or Japan.  OK, so the big bombers weren’t as big as some of our big airliners, but I find those numbers hard to imagine.

It really makes you think about the scale of manufacturing at that time – at the peak there were more B-24s produced in three months than there have ever been Boeing 747s!  We think the 747 is quite a common plane, but there are a few less than 800 in service right now.   On the first night of the Dresden raids there were two waves of Lancasters. 770 of them in total!

So in one night a single city was bombed by nearly as many Lancasters as there are currently 747s in service in the whole world.   I am finding it hard to get my head round that.  On the same night, a further 360 Lancasters and Halifaxes bombed Bohlen so we had 1110 heavy bombers over Germany in one night.  That is what you call crowded skies. Try to imagine every 747 in the world in one place and you more or less have Feb 13th 1945. Not our finest hour in retrospect.

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