Today most airliners look the same, with the possible exception of the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet and the Airbus A380. Almost all of the rest are low-wing twins of various sizes but indistinguishable shapes. It wasn't always so. Click on the image above to see it in detail.
I came across the above picture recently, taken at Manchester Airport probably in the 1970s, and it got me thinking. It shows five airliners typical of the time, and each is distinctive. It's true that even back then there were similarities between some types; the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC8 might have needed a second glance to differentiate them, for instance. But mostly, airliners of the time were easily identifiable and the variety of designs made 'aeroplane watching' more interesting than it perhaps is today.
The aeroplane nearest the camera is a Vickers Viscount, which with its Rolls Royce Dart engines (remember that distinctive whistle?) was a highly successful short haul turboprop. Behind it is the attractive French Caravelle, a de Havilland Comet 4, a Douglas DC8, and finally perhaps the most graceful airliner after Concorde, the Vickers VC10.
It's interesting that three of the five are British designs (we don't build any airliners at all these days) and all except the DC8 have Rolls Royce engines. And look at the front end of the Comet and Caravelle - they are the same. Sud Aviation used the de Havilland design of nose when they built their pretty twin-jet, yet in spite of having identical nose sections the two aeroplanes are of completely different appearance. These two aircraft also share the Rolls Royce Avon engine, and all of them except the Viscount were incredibly noisy on take off!
In the background can be seen the Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope standing sentinel over the Cheshire fields then, as it still does today.