History Mini-documentaries


  • Creating an Aircraft Industry

    Examine the early days of aviation and what led Bill Boeing to industrialize the Wright Brothers’ invention, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. One hundred years ago, air shows thrilled large crowds of people. Even though the wood, wire, and cloth airplanes were noisy and somewhat unsafe, they caught Boeing’s imagination. He embarked on building an airplane manufacturing business, filling military orders at first. When World War I ended, he began making planes to transport the mail. Through airmail transportation, Boeing set the groundwork for today’s domestic airline network. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Design Innovation for Jet-Powered Flight: The Swept Wing

    Discover the origins of the swept wing and podded engine design, two technologies that helped engineers harness the speed potential of jet engines, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. Today, most jetliners share a common design: wings that sweep back from the body of the plane, with engines mounted beneath them. This design dates back to the end of World War II, when Allied military forces discovered secret German research that had been meant to be destroyed. Swept wings delay the formation of shock waves at higher speeds, and podded engines suspended below the wings help bring wing vibration under control. Together, these technologies enabled stable flight at speeds twice as fast as those that propeller engines had previously generated. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Engineering the Jet Age

    Trace the emergence of the passenger jet from its military origins and learn about the obstacles and opportunities that Boeing’s president Bill Allen faced taking the company into the jet age, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. After World War II, Boeing relied on sales of the B-47 bomber to keep the company afloat. This plane, which flew nearly 600 miles per hour at 35,000 feet, inspired Allen to conceive of a future in which commercial airline passengers would fly in jets. A decade after the close of World War II, Boeing delivered the 707. Within a year, more travelers were crossing the Atlantic by air than by sea. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering Collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Air Travel for the Masses: The 747

    Learn about the origins of the Boeing 747, at the time the largest and most complex passenger aircraft ever built, and the engineer who built it, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. Responding to a challenge set by Juan Trippe, founder of Pan American World Airways, Boeing engineer Joe Sutter led a program to develop a passenger jet that would seat twice as many passengers as any other airplane at the time could carry. Sutter’s team designed a widebody plane that had two aisles instead of one. To accommodate a freight-loading door at the front of the plane, the cockpit was positioned above the nose, giving the 747 its characteristic hump. Developed in just 39 months, the 747 flew for the first time on February 9, 1969. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12
  • hd video

    The 21st Century Mission: The 787

    Discover how The Boeing Company’s decision to abandon one revolutionary airplane design led to another successful design, in this video from WGBH and The Documentary Group. In 2000, as aerospace manufacturer Boeing considered its next major airplane design, it was fixed on the Sonic Cruiser, a passenger plane that flew near the speed of sound and whose design was unlike any ever seen before. But rising fuel costs and the events of September 11, 2001 prompted the company to revise its plans. Responding to its customers’ needs, Boeing would focus instead on building a plane that operated more economically. To accomplish its goal, Boeing used advanced composite materials, which are lightweight, strong, and durable. In 2009, the 787 Dreamliner—the culmination of Boeing’s efforts and innovation—took to the skies. This resource is part of the Aerospace Engineering collection.

    Grades: 6-12

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