‘Planes don’t run off batteries,’ declared my husband, his finger unerringly on the pulse of technology as ever. I had merely mentioned that two Dreamliner aircraft had earlier this year seen fire and smoke emerging from their batteries. The batteries do not make them fly, but are used for lights and brakes when the engines are not into operation. Another Dreamliner caught fire at Heathrow last week, when no one was aboard.
The name Dreamliner for the Boeing 787 was settled upon in 2003 by public competition. Alternative proposals were eLiner, Global Cruiser and Stratoclimber. Those who voted for a name were put into a sweepstake, won by Ross Coogan, of Auburn, Washington. He already had some experience of naming, for his 12-year-old daughter was call Kelsea. Kelsea saw its greatest popularity as a name in the 1990s, when Kelsea Coogan was born. That was the decade of the television comedy Frasier, starring Kelsey Grammer (a man). But the correlation is not necessarily causal, any more than that between Dreamliners and fire. Mr Coogan’s prize was a visit to the Boeing factory at Everett, Washington, and to the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Sounds a bit of a busman’s holiday, but he seemed grateful.
A Dreamliner is a kind of liner, and a liner is a surprisingly old thing. In 1786, the US Congress devised safer methods of conveying mail by a line of stages, and at sea, from the first half of the 19th century, liners plied along the routes determined for packet-boats since the 17th century.
An airline was a natural development. The word had already been in use to mean ‘a line drawn through the air’, as the crow flies. The aerial version of the ocean-liner was named before the thing existed. It was described in 1890 by Ignatius Donnelly in his novel Caesar’s Column. These air-liners are ‘huge cigar-shaped balloons, unattached to the earth, moving by electric power’, he wrote. ‘The speed of these aerial vessels is, as you know, very great — 36 hours suffices to pass from New York to London.’
Mr Coogan thought that Dreamliner evoked ‘images of back when flying was glamorous’. But, just like flying, dreams may be good or bad.