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Though it may sound similar, this is not a duplicate of this. The core difference is that the question there is limiting the development of all aircraft, but this is about limiting development of specifically jet aircraft. Because my goal is for there to be a few more generations of high performance propeller aircraft, not just for planes to be less effective overall.

The aim is to make it so that jet aircraft only become dominant around 1959-1961, so that high performance prop planes are still dominant in the air later for a few more generations. I don't mind if there's an in between generation of mixed power or turboprop aircraft or jet aircraft are still around, only that some kind of propeller aircraft remain the primary way of fighting in the air into the late 1950s.

Note that piston aircraft cannot be heavily delayed as a side effect of this, because that would defeat the entire point of trying to make high performance prop planes last longer. Piston engine helicopters like the CH-37 or H-34 shouldn't be heavily delayed either, although i don't mind if gas turbine helicopters are delayed.

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    $\begingroup$ But why, please? Everyone here seems to assume making it so that jet aircraft only become dominant around 1959-1961 and high performance prop planes are still dominant for a while really is the aim but what would the point? Aren’t there enough tales out there with no powered flight, if any, or any number of whiz-wow new technologies sufficiently advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic? Why aim for such a slight, or specific difference? $\endgroup$ Feb 8 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ @RobbieGoodwin i like playing with relatively minor technological and environmental differences. Yeah it won't completely change the world but if your interested in aircraft engineering and the details of military organization and operation it poses a lot of unique challenges to think about. For me it's not really a story thing more so creating a world full of minor technological differences that when explored in depth can be really interesting. $\endgroup$
    – OT-64 SKOT
    Feb 9 at 5:06
  • $\begingroup$ Then again, aren’t there enough tales out there? More power to your keyboard, though! $\endgroup$ Feb 9 at 17:03

14 Answers 14

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Just remove WWII. Jet engines were designed in the early years of the 20th century, just like fusion reactors which were originally designed in the 1950's (although never constructed). The reason we have jet engines, but no fusion reactors, is that we're not in a hurry.

Both fusion reactors and jet engines have one thing in common: they were known to have better performance than what we had (and have) at the time, but there was a problem with materials. We couldn't engineer anything that could handle the extreme temperatures those things need to operate.

Jet engines use high-pressure high-temperature gases, which would melt the steel used in the combustion chamber, and possibly the post-combustion section too. The Nazis spent a lot of money investigating a way to prevent their jet engines to not blow away, and ended with complicated air-cooled ventilation fluxes through the whole chamber to achieve that. Jet engines didn't really become a thing until titanium-steel alloys were perfected. Without a World War to be fought, you can expect a delay of 15-20 years until advanced alloys were available, since piston engines worked very nicely.

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    $\begingroup$ A nickel-chrome-aluminum-titanium alloy suitable for jet engines was patented in 1929, a full decade before the war started. Whittle designed his jet engine in 1930. There would always be demand for metals that could withstand high temperatures, so it wasn't just jet engines that would push that development, jet engines were merely the beneficiary. $\endgroup$ Feb 16 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison Interesting. When was commercially viable, though? From patent to productions there's quite some way, usually. We already have plenty of patents over graphene and carbon nanotubes applied technology, but just vaporware to show. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Feb 19 at 7:39
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Skepticism

New technology can easily run into skepticism. At the time people felt planes were already going plenty fast. If you then have a new engine that is guzzling fuel like crazy, and might even need a more powerful cocktail of fuel, it is easy to dismiss it as uneconomical. When the first commercial jetliners were build, it was completely unknown if they were actually economically viable. You need someone to take that risk. After it was build, they saw a lot of advantages. The fuel economy was better than expected due to flying at higher altitudes, as well as it being much smoother and faster.

Skepticism is easy to explain. Look at supersonic flight. Here companies also took a risk to develop it. It did not pan out, because of many factors. A ban on overland supersonic flights because if the noise, making the plane have a terrible fuel economy and losing most of it's speed advantages are some of the big ones. Even without these rules it could have failed economically.

There's more examples outside of flight. Take batteries for example. For a long time the battery industry was nearly stagnant. Sure there was progress here and there, but we used the same batteries for a long time. Then wearables like portable music players, phones and headsets became big and we needed better technology. Only then they started pumping much more resources in new technology. Before there was simply too little demand. No demand, no risk taking to develop new technologies at scale.

In your world you can push jet development back by simply having no large company take the risk. The population might also not clamour for this new development, as they simply can't know about the advantages and how widespread and cheap it can become. Trains and current planes might be enough for them. That doesn't mean the jet technology is stagnant. There might be some military or rich 'hobby' flight enthusiasts that try it out. Maybe there is one or two jet options, but the economics of scale make it horrendously expensive and elite. Without major commitment it'll stay a novelty. It'll stay out of your proposed story for all intends and purposes.

The same can be applied to keep the prop aircraft around the same technology if you wish. Economically not as viable, and people are satisfied with the current setup.

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    $\begingroup$ Probably the most plausible explanation, but it requires reducing the number of players in the market and combine with @Rekesoft answer about removing WWII. With lots of players or a few players but some are really desperate, someone will start experimenting. $\endgroup$ Feb 7 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ FTFY ;) "Then wearables like portable music players, phones and headsets became small and we needed better technology." $\endgroup$
    – zovits
    Feb 8 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ Scepticism works best when its rooted in reality. Take the Hindenburg as an inspiration. Have an early jet plane blow up spectacularly during a public demonstration and have the press publish some gruesome photographs. Let the explosion kill the engineers and maybe burn down the whole workshop so that the plans are lost. Then it doesn't matter that everything was due to an unrelated problem and safe jet engines can be built. To figure that out now you need funding, which nobody will now be willing to give. Even if they believe in it, there is no market in what the public sees as flying bombs. $\endgroup$
    – mlk
    Feb 8 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ @mlk You don't need a Hindenburg event. I once read a military historian saying that, from the 50 most important improvements in naval warfare in 1850-1950, the Royal Navy had rejected 45. Armed forces are extremely conservative. When the Me-262 appeared, they were so slow and unresponsive at low speeds that the Luftwaffe had to put fighters (Fw190) to defend their fighters. That alone would have cancelled the project in peacetime. I maintain my opinion that, without WWII, the armies of the world would have squeezed all the juice from propellers before changing to jets. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Feb 9 at 7:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft Sure it would work, but that is kind of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Cancelling WWII requires rewriting a large part of 20th century history and would result in a world so completely different that jet engines vs. piston planes would be a minor footnote. $\endgroup$
    – mlk
    Feb 9 at 11:49
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No specific reason is necessary.

15-17 years is nothing. If you are writing an alternative history, it is completely plausible that jet engine development was delayed. There is no need for alternative physics, atmosphere or geology. Development of ideas and technologies is not a strict science, nothing in our world dictates exact dates of development and adoption of this technology.

Open Wikipedia, find a scientist who made key advancement in the field and assume that he died in bar fight before making his discovery. Done.

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    $\begingroup$ You mean find the three most important scientists from Germany, Great Britain and from the USA and kill off all three of them. $\endgroup$
    – MikeB
    Feb 8 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ The chapter with the fatal three-way bar fight at the 1937 Fédération Aéronautique International annual dinner will certainly be a page-turner $\endgroup$ Feb 12 at 7:27
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I see some serious problems with your goal.

Looking at the history of jet engine, we see that first patents were granted around 1906, with development ongoing until 1939 saw the Heinkel He 178 first flight.

A possible option would be to delay the material science development which enable manufacturing performing enough turbines, but turbocompressors are used also in propeller airplanes, and I don't see a way of enabling them only on the propeller side.

What you can try is possibly taking rid of all (or most) of the figures involved in the jet engine development in those 30 years. You won't completely stop the jet development, but you can manage to delay it by some years.

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    $\begingroup$ Removing people won't help as that means removing all UK engine developers - look at those who switched from piston to jets, OK not the inventors but they were developing their own jets within a couple of years. e.g. de Haviland engines, halford etc. $\endgroup$
    – mmmmmm
    Feb 7 at 14:52
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Lower fuel abundance

As with cars' development causing increase of oil digging and refining, airplanes also cause demand for highly refined fuel (say, in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines fuel system blocking by impurities was a cause for at least one emergency landing, and that film is pretty based on real history), and here you can put a roadblock in form of not so much easily accessible oil for initial demand of aircraft. A jet airplane eats more fuel per flight, so when the fuel is already scarce, spending a ton for jet engine experiments targetting aircraft would be too expensive. Cars could still run on steam, fueled by coal, and the process to convert coal into propane/butane wasn't developed early (partly because there's enough oil over here to not worry about coal conversion), so when aircraft would rise, you can make it so that existing oil drilling industry would not be able to supply too many aircraft at once, also forcing cars to stay on coal power. Past then, the abundance of oil can be regulated by placing deposits deeper, so that extra tech advances would be needed to reach for them, effectively delaying both development of jet aircraft, proliferation of piston aircraft, proliferation of diesel/petrol cars (some might exist, as petrol/diesel could be sourced from elsewhere) and development/proliferation of diesel-based naval vessels.

As a side effect, your humanity could concentrate efforts for rocketry on either cryogenic or solid fuel engines, compact and/or refined steam engines/turbines for cars, trucks, ships and probably also airplanes for propeller-based engines, coal processing to produce polymers of variable length, say polyethylene, leading to eventual cracking that or plain coal into shorter fractions like octane, which would eventually supplement the need for jet quality fuel. As an alternate way of developing oil refining industry, some very deep deposits might start to become possible to drill into, like today's shale oil (tech wise), which would cause petrol prices to drop to acceptable levels to finally develop petrol-based (kerosene, whatever) jet engines for aircraft and rockets.

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  • $\begingroup$ Unlikely that would work. The first operational jetfighter, the Me 262, was developed in germany that at the time was already very oil starved. $\endgroup$
    – LazyLizard
    Feb 7 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ @LazyLizard if the entire world would be oil starved, things might be different. And, not exactly, as Wiki states Me-262 did its maiden jet flight in 1942, before them being defeated under Stalingrad, losing ground to access Caspian oil; and even in 1945 they weren't as starved as I envision the would would in this answer. $\endgroup$
    – Vesper
    Feb 7 at 12:30
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Two changes: Frank Whittle was never born, and operation paperclip never existed.

The jet engine was invented independently by Englishman Frank Whittle and German Hans von Ohain in the 1930s. Without Whittle, jet engine research on the allied side would have been delayed significantly, USA jet development was based on a donated engine design from the British in 1941.

Second without operation paperclip and similar Soviet recruitment of Nazi scientists following world war II it would have taken much longer to reverse engineer the German designs, again delaying jet aircraft. For a fun comparison look at the Mig-15 and the F-86 both built in 1947; they look nearly identical as they were both based on Germans designs.

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  • $\begingroup$ The F-86's airframe was based on German research, but its J47 engine was a derivative of Frank Whittle's design. $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Feb 9 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ The Community is starting the process of updating our Tour and primary Help Center page. This will include policy decisions and it's a great opportunity to help us define the next stage of Worldbuilding. Please join us at this Meta page and share your thoughts. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 10 at 16:49
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The outbreak of WW2 is delayed or else never occurs

While as another poster has pointed out research into jet engines commenced and patents were taken out many years before the development and wide scale utilization of jet engines the impetus for getting jets 'across the line' and into service was national survival.

Practical rockets, computers, radar, atomic energy/weapons and jet engines? All these things were direct outgrowths of the the fight for survival by nations during WW2. It was the war that saw governments invest the money, resources and pool the intellectual talent needed to rapidly accelerate the development of all these technologies. (If nothing else getting shot at tends to make you reassess your immediate priorities.)

Without the war development of all the above would no doubt have continued but at a more sedate pace. In the case of jet engines there was already commercial investment in piston engine aircraft and commercial aviation in general during the inter war years. But with no commercial incentive to spur the investment of large sums of capital in jet engine R & D or in new plant and equipment the development of piston engines would have just continued on apace until they reached the point where they were starting to hit their performance limits. And these limits were what turned the attention of the military to jet engines during WW2 in the first place.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Community is starting the process of updating our Tour and primary Help Center page. This will include policy decisions and it's a great opportunity to help us define the next stage of Worldbuilding. Please join us at this Meta page and share your thoughts. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 10 at 16:49
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Great Depression extension by 15-17 Years.

Although it is plausible for fuel supplies to be constrained, or to limit the individuals involved in Jet Engine development - in reality an economic depression is far more likely to prevent innovation from being implemented, even if the invention would result in higher efficiency.

Without general economic growth, then investment in new emerging technologies cannot be made, even if the system is already 'on the drawing board'.

And the Great Depression could have extended by another 15 years very plausibly - all efforts to contain the Great Depression actually stymied growth, ie tariffs were introduced (reducing international trade) causing growth to slow, banks could not invest money so no corporations could ask for funds to improve systems or inventions. All that is required is a stubbornness of governments to continue trade tarrifs, cut spending or nationalise industries, increase tax, which makes economies focus on simple survival, and the cycle continues.

In your case:

  • Old stock of airplanes would be far more likely to be re-used or upgraded than for companies to spend money on innovative systems that although may result in better efficiency, are higher risk.
  • Infrastructural change is a lot harder to implement during Recessions or Depressions, as governments are criticised for not support public services. This makes projects like higher octane fuel refinement, or longer airport runways to be delayed.
  • Private industries cannot obtain funds not just for research and development, but for grants, tax support or incentives to implement them. Governments continue to not have the money to support them. This prevents inventions from being 'mainstream' even if already existent.

The only reason the world came out of the Great Depression was the enormous expenditure of WW2 in the late 1930's - which was essentially Governments pushing money into economies instead of extracting it. In your case, if the US did not enter WW2, this may have been sufficient for the Great Depression to be extended, and economic malaise causing delays in the infrastructure necessary and the mainstream uptake of jet engine technology.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Great Depression proper only happened between 1929 and 1933, the USA had mostly recovered from it by 1939 which was before it entered WW2, so it's incorrect to claim that war spending was what caused the end of the GD in the USA. $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Feb 9 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ The Community is starting the process of updating our Tour and primary Help Center page. This will include policy decisions and it's a great opportunity to help us define the next stage of Worldbuilding. Please join us at this Meta page and share your thoughts. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 10 at 16:51
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Third-world warfare

It's common for least-developed countries to rely on airplanes decades behind the state of the art. Some can't afford or maintain jet fighters, even early generation ones. And really - you don't need jet fighters all that badly, if you're not facing enemy jets. Propeller aircraft are quite effective against each other and ground targets.

Why high-performance? Because high-performance piston engines are still way cheaper than turboprops - cheaper to design, to build, to maintain, to fuel, and basically to fly. The difference can be as much as 2x even for two airframes of similar performance, fitted with piston vs turboprop engines.

Jets are further much more expensive. This means that developing high-performance piston airplanes will keep making sense, as long as they're not as expensive as jets.

And to get a jet race out of the picture, remove or delay the Cold War. Without the Cold War, it's quite possible that early WWII jets could get shelved as fuel-guzzlers, the world went to disarm a little, and stepped down to practical and maintainable planes. Or, ideally, stop early jets at failures like the Me-163, and have advanced ones brew slowly in "skunk works" style labs once the war is over. It's only a year's shift in war technology.

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Volcanic Ash

An atmosphere with a lot of volcanic ash would definitely change the development of aviation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volcanic_ash_and_aviation_safety

An internal combustion engine typically has air filters that can filter out particulates, and I could imagine a society designing filters to handle this issue well.

Jet engines don't have air filters. The ash often contains particulates that have a low melting point, which can melt and then stick to the engine itself and can lead to engine failure. It can also damage windshields and propellers, but those are much easier to inspect and replace on a propeller plane. The cost to inspect and repair a jet engine would be significantly high in an environment where they get damaged constantly. Any research and advancement would be spent on getting around the particulate issue, which might make them less efficient.

Once the volcanic activity dies down and the atmosphere clears up, jet engines become more practical. Or they spent that extra 15-20 years mastering the particulate issue before they could focus on making them more powerful.

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Instead of trying to delay the onset of jets, move it forward! However, due to aforementioned material problems there was an explosion--killing high ranked observers--at the unveiling demonstration. Further there was a very high profile confidence man who raised millions from a plethora of military, government, corporate, and investor sources from faked demonstrations--who subsequently left massive debts which caused a run on the bank and bankrupt companies.

The whole thing is a cautionary tale that massive and overwhelming proof is going to be needed to overcome. A combination of unsafe at any speed and FTX.

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WWII delayed jet development. If you want to further delay it, extend the war by making some rather minor adjustments that further reduce the viable roles for planes that had a sortie time of a few minutes and needed a new engine every 90 minutes. Suppose Germany managed to establish a beachhead in England and thereby caused the fighting to be more concentrated there and caused reduced England-based bombing of German manufacturing. The German prop planes would have been produced in greater quantities. The war could have dragged on for many more years.

It was the ending of the war that spurred jet development, not the war itself.

The tech would have developed for better turbocompounding, better reliability, better power to weight ratios, and better aircraft endurance. Piston engines still had a lot of development potential along these lines.

Edit - A little digging suggests the MBTO of the Me262 Jumo was up to 25 hours by the end of the war. That's more than what I had ever heard of prior to this recent search.

Or not - "The Americans also tested a Me 262A-1a/U3 unarmed photo reconnaissance version, which was fitted with a fighter nose and a smooth finish. Between May and August 1946, the aircraft completed eight flights, lasting four hours and forty minutes. Testing was discontinued after four engine changes were required during the course of the tests, culminating in two single-engine landings."

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Gearbox

On early stages of development (maybe) there are a belief that first (front) stages of compressor must have lower rotation ratio than turbine and second compressor stage, and gearboxes for that speeds are hard do make and prune to failure. This belief also states that jet engines will otherwise be not effective and can not compete with piston engines.

Those gearboxes are not very popular in jet engines even now, so this could be a reason to delay jets development for any term from 5 to 70 years.

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No Korean War

The end of WW2 saw a huge cut in military budgets and a glut of WW2 surplus. WW2 jets were expensive and loaded with flaws, while even better piston aircraft coming off the production lines. Without a major war, militaries could return to their relatively slow 5-10 year development cycle, not the hectic 1-3 years of WW2.

Then North Korea (backed by the Soviet Union) invaded South Korea (backed by the UN), and the world entered the Cold War; an era of constant war-like military budgets. Money poured back into military procurement, and new designs poured off the production lines.

But if the Korean War didn't happen, the major powers wouldn't be at each other's throats, and there would be less pressure to technologically one-up each other. Smaller conflicts could be handled with existing stockpiles. The whole Western Pacific might have avoided decades of destabilizing foreign imposed ideological divisions and proxy wars. Militaries and their budgets would have remained more complacent delaying the domination of jets.

WW2 Jets Were Expensive Prototypes

The first generation jets of WWII had many problems yet to be solved before they could become truly superior to piston aircraft. These were more prototypes than production aircraft. They were hurriedly designed, fuel hungry, low endurance, maintenance intensive, and expensive. Jets began to push into the transonic, a poorly understood area of aeronautics where some of the air flowing over the aircraft goes supersonic and some is subsonic, and the straight-winged designs of the 1940s could not cope.

For example, the US P-80 Shooting Star and the Soviet MiG-9.

P-80 Shooting StarMiG-9

The end of the war also saw piston fighter aircraft reach their pinnacle with record-breaking aircraft such as the Twin Mustang, the F8F Bearcat, and the Soviet La-9.

F-82 Twin Mustang F8F Bearcat La-9

Who's going to pay for it?

A few years after the war saw refined designs with reliable engines, acceptable endurance, and swept-wings to solve the problems of transonic flight. For example, the US F-86 Sabre and Soviet MiG-15.

F-86MiG-15

These were both operational in 1949/50 and dominated the skies... once there were enough of them, but who's going to pay for it?

After WWII, the Western Allies wanted to get on with rebuilding and generally returning to life as normal. They found themselves with a huge military surplus and no major threats... except their nominal allies the USSR. Production orders were slashed. Experimental projects were ended. Post-war armies would largely be made up of WWII surplus, with low production numbers of promising designs. Why build expensive jet aircraft when you had huge stockpiles of piston aircraft which worked just fine? That was the plan.

War Were Declared

The Western Allies were in the process of demobilizing when war were declared. North Korea had invaded South Korea, and the UN was going to stop them.

Initially the war was fought with surplus WWII equipment, but production lines quickly ramped up and the new post-war jets appeared in large numbers to dominate the skies...

...but only high-performance fighters. The rest of the air fleets were still piston-engined: bombers, attack aircraft, transports, etc. They got the job done; in many cases jets of the time were not capable of performing their missions requiring high endurance and many frequent sorties, and would not be for decades. The low numbers and many drawbacks of the jet fighters of the time meant even piston-engined fighters remained in front-line service.

What if Korea united as intended?

WW2 ended with formerly Japanese-occupied Korea now occupied by the Soviets in the north and the US in the south. The Soviets and US agreed in principle to withdrawing, but required a five year "trusteeship" of divided military occupation, much like Germany. And much like Germany, the divergent political philosophies and mistrust between the powers created a divide which previously hadn't existed.

What if the foreign militaries withdrew and allowed Korea to form a government peacefully? The Koreans hated the trusteeship; after decades of Japanese rule they were ready to get on with self-government. With an independent Korea a major (proxy) war between the US, Soviets, and China would be averted and the occupying armies could withdraw.

A more stable Western Pacific?

A stable Korea means no US troops in mainland Asia to inflame the Soviets and Chinese. The Soviets and Chinese no longer had to worry about a US army on their doorstep, and the US would feel less need to keep military forces in Japan. Without the Korean War to inflame US-Chinese relations, the US may not have felt compelled to get involved in the Chinese Civil War allowing that conflict to definitively end.

Your world could see a more stable Western Pacific. Without US and Soviet blood being spilled in the Korean War, the wars of decolonization against the Western Powers would not be seen as an ideological struggle against Soviet Communism, the US would be less compelled to intervene on behalf of the British, Dutch, and French, and the region could sort itself out. For example, with no US assistance, Vietnam could have gained its independence after defeating their French overlords in 1954 avoiding decades of proxy warfare in the region. With the conflict no longer being seen as a proxy war, no destabilizing partition of Vietnam would be necessary.

You don't need expensive jets for brush wars.

Without the major powers in active conflict, there would be less pressure for an arms race. Smaller countries and rebellions would not have the resources to compete technologically and could be handled with existing stockpiles and low production runs. Without the pressure of combat against a peer adversary, designs would evolve slower and with more missteps. Better jets would come, but slower, fewer in number, and less refined.

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    $\begingroup$ By the end of WW2 every major power understood that jets were the future of aviation, it was by then simply a question of refinement. In the environment of the Cold War there was never any question that jet aircraft development would continue at a frenetic pace; the Korean War may have added a little more fuel to that particular R&D fire, but that fire was already burning incredibly hot anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Feb 9 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ @IanKemp I don't disagree that jets were inevitable, I point it out, but it takes a lot of money to rebuild an air force. It's been 25 years since the F-22 flew, yet the US is still primarily flying conventional aircraft; they still work. It took about five years after WW2 for the Cold War to really get going with Korea pouring gasoline on it. Without the tensions and then shooting war in Korea, "the environment of the Cold War" could have been very different. Like with stealth today, jets could supplement existing, cheaper piston aircraft for another decade. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Feb 9 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ The Community is starting the process of updating our Tour and primary Help Center page. This will include policy decisions and it's a great opportunity to help us define the next stage of Worldbuilding. Please join us at this Meta page and share your thoughts. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 10 at 16:51

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