Boeing just unveiled its first real, live, fully painted 737 MAX in Renton, Washington, the company's latest jetliner. The aircraft is getting ready for its first flight in early 2016, before first customer deliveries happen in the third quarter of 2017. (Southwest Airlines, which operates 737s almost exclusively, is the launch customer.)
The plane looks a lot like the 737s that have been dominating the skies for decades — the 737 line is the most prolific jet airliner in the world, after all — but there are some key differences: giant split winglets, for instance, and a new generation of engines called LEAP-1B that improve fuel efficiency and performance. Boeing promises that the 737 MAX will be 20 percent more fuel efficient than the so-called 737 Next Generation aircraft they replace, which is not a small figure.
Considering that the first 737 flew nearly a half century ago in 1967, it's likely that Boeing will eventually need to go back to the drawing board for its small, single-aisle airliners — in fact, that was the plan for a while — but in the meantime, the MAX fills that role, spurred in part by Airbus' introduction of the mildly refreshed A320neo. Considering their overwhelming popularity, the odds are good you'll be flying one of these two machines in the next several years.