Home Columns Anantha Narayan A Jumbo sized mystery

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    Got any naming tales woven around planes? Mail them to anantha@albertdali.com.

    The disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight is fast turning into a whodunit mystery from a whathappened thriller. Everyone is bandying about a homespun hypothesis. My inner Agatha Christie believes it could be an Orient Express like crime where everyone on the coach were complicit in the plot. All I am speculating is, there could be a substantial number of hijackers (assuming it’s a hijack) because it’s near impossible for two or three people to steal a plane in the sky by eluding radars, satellites and even Rajnikanth’s hawk eye.

    However, there’s a bigger puzzle that needs to be solved: Why on earth is the aircraft called MH370 instead of MA370? I got the answer when I looked up the IATA (International Air Transport Association) codes assigned to airline companies. Given IATA’s penchant for illogical nomenclature – 9W for Jet Airways, 6E for IndiGo – I wasn’t exactly shocked to discover that MA stands for ‘Malev Hungarian Airlines’ and MH for ‘Malaysia Airlines’. Shouldn’t the abbreviations have been the other way around? Maybe the airheads at IATA think and talk in Klingon!
    Talking of aircrafts, have you ever wondered why Boeing gives its fleet, names such as 707, 717, or 777?  It can’t be numerology as the numbers keep changing from model to model. One fascinating theory, that keeps popping up in classrooms, speculates that the angle of the wing sweep with the plane is about 45 degrees. And sine of 45 degrees happens to be 0.707. Hence the designation ‘707’. Unfortunately, like all clever theories, it’s too good to be true. The truth is that the wing sweep angle is 35 degrees and it has no connection with the name.

    Boeing chose the 700 series as the previous numbers had been used up for other models. For example, the 600 series was reserved for missiles and 500s for gas turbine engines. But the company admits that the choice of 707 was entirely the call of marketing mavens who felt that the repetition of ‘7’ made the model more memorable. As regards Airbus and its obsession for labelling aircrafts after the 300 series, well, they say it all started when they began making planes that could seat 300 passengers or more. Sounds like quite a flight of fancy, no?

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