The dynamic growth of the commercial airline industry in the United States catapulted it from a curiosity in the 1920’s and 1930’s to a major element in commercial transportation by the 1960’s and 1970’s. Clive Irving relates in accurate and exciting detail the evolution of commercial planes from ungainly trimotors with limited range, cruising at low altitudes and carrying four to eight passengers and a payload of mail at 120 miles an hour, to the airborne palaces Boeing’s 747 have become, stolid leviathans gliding forty thousand feet above the earth at speeds exceeding six hundred miles an hour, capable of flying halfway around the world without refueling.

WIDE-BODY is more than a book about the 747—it is a history of commercial aviation in the United States that provides intriguing insights into the early operations of such pioneering companies as Boeing, Douglas, and Northrop. The book is impressive for the information it conveys and for Irving’s superb writing style, consistently maintained throughout.

Irving portrays the pioneers of the airline industry as people of unique vision concerned primarily with aerodynamics. Aircraft design changed rapidly as mock-ups in the air tunnel at the California Institute of Technology revealed better and safer ways to achieve higher speeds with greater payloads. The move to wide-body planes was an initial step in this direction, as was the emphasis on streamlining that affected many areas of industrial design.

As the industry grew, its executives were less visionaries concerned with aerodynamics than business people concerned with marketing and the bottom line. Irving relates in dependable, often harrowing, detail the politics of the airline industry as it currently exists.