During the 1960s race to build the first widebody jetliner, each of the three major engine manufacturers was racing to put out a high-bypass engine for one of those jumbo jets:
- Boeing went with Pratt & Whitney’s JT9D for their 747.
- Douglas (which soon became McDonnell Douglas) chose General Electric’s CF6 to power the DC-10 (Airbus also chose the CF6 for the A300 when they jumped in a couple of years later).
- Lockheed, for the L-1011, put their money on Rolls-Royce’s RB211.
Of the first three widebodies, only the DC-10 (whose power plant was a fairly straightforward conversion of the TF39 used on the C-5A Galaxy, which had been the first high-bypass turbofan ever to enter production) escaped being held up by engine difficulties; the L-1011 was held back for years when the RB211 ran into serious delays which allowed the DC-10 to beat it to market and strangle the TriStar in the schoolyard, 1 nearly bankrupting Lockheed in the process.
What isn’t as well known is that Boeing experienced delays of similar severity with the JT9Ds that were to power the 747; for a long while, there were rows upon rows of 747s sitting on the ramp at Boeing Field, complete but for having concrete blocks hanging from their pylons in place of the engines that could not yet be trusted on a production airliner. Only Boeing’s massive head start enabled the 747 to beat the DC-10.2
Did Boeing or Lockheed ever seriously consider releasing an interim widebody with low-bypass turbofans (for instance, a 747 with eight JT8Ds mounted two to a pylon in conjoined pods, B-52-style) while they waited (and waited) for the high-bypass engines to become ready?
1: It wouldn’t be accurate to say that it strangled the TriStar in the cradle, given that the L-1011 did, in fact, manage to enter production and sell 250 aircraft.
2: Enabling Boeing to remain solvent in the process, as Boeing, like Lockheed, had bet the farm on their jumbo jet. Unlike Lockheed, they didn’t lose it; however, if the 747 had been a failure, it would have bankrupted Boeing.