Many of our Gizmodo '79 posts have illustrated just how far we've come in the past three decades, but in one important tech example, 1979 kicks 2009's ass: The Concorde Jet.
The Concorde, first launched in 1977, was a joint British-French governmental venture to create a commercial, passenger supersonic jet. It ran over budget (six times over, actually) and was banned in various spots around the world (including New York City, temporarily) due to concerns over safety and the thundering sonic booms that resulted from the jet's breaking of the sound barrier. It lost a tremendous amount of money for both England and France and ran its final flight in 2003, at that point a bit outdated—the cockpit, while impressively techy in 1979, was full of analog dials and displays that looked silly in the 21st century. Only 20 Concordes were made, and there was no real motivation to update them, due both to a lack of competition and a distinct lack of profitability. Yet it was also an iconic, incredible achievement, capable of flying New York City to Paris in 3.5 hours, and still current holder of a ton of speed records.
Nothing we have now can touch it. A flight from NYC to Paris today takes over seven hours, compared to the 3.5 it took the Concorde. Plane travel has, for better or for worse, become more about economy than luxury, speed, and style. Sure, a cross-country flight on Southwest will only run you $150, but there's no thrill, no sense of the cutting-edge. The Concorde had those qualities in spades.
While researching the Concorde, I found a lot of interesting sidenotes to the story. For one, many of the same design team that created the Concorde went on to engineer the Airbus, the populist economy plane of our modern, boring times. But funniest to me is the continual hatred the British have of the French, and how it manifested in the forced alliance between the two countries to build the Concorde.
In response to a "perceived slight" by the French President Charles de Gaulle, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan pulled what I now think of as a Bushian move: He changed the spelling of "Concorde" to the more "English" Concord. Even funnier, when the British Minister for Technology, Tony Benn, later changed the spelling back, there was mass nationalistic outrage in England. To diffuse it, Benn had to specify that the reconstituted E on the end of the word stood for "Excellence, England, Europe and Entente (Cordiale)." Yeah, right, Benn. I'm sure the E stood for England. Unbelievably, this quelled the Francophobe anger, though Benn would later mutter about how ridiculous the whole mess was in his memoirs.
Gizmodo '79 is a week-long celebration of gadgets and geekdom 30 years ago, as the analog age gave way to the digital, and most of our favorite toys were just being born.