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Boeing 707

By Patrick Mondout

The Boeing 707 is perhaps the most important plane in civilian aerospace history. It was the first successful jet and put the Americans in a leadership role that is only now being challenged by the European consortium known as Airbus.

Who Will Lead The Jet Age?

The jet age - when airplanes first started using turbine-jet rather than propeller-based engines - can be dated back to the efforts of the Germans in World War II. But it was not until the early 1950s flights of the remarkable Comet that jet travel by civilians became a reality.

Boeing President William Allen saw the Comet at an air show in 1950 and knew he had seen the future of passenger transport. In an effort to catch up he convinced the board of directors to literally bet the company on the development of what would come to be known as the 707. (With what they were spending to develop the aircraft, Boeing would risk bankruptcy if it failed to produce a winner.)

In order to keep competitors from knowing what he was up to, Boeing called their project the 367-80, or the 80th design revision of the existing military Boeing Stratocruiser 367. In fact, Boeing built the 707 with a completely new design (though the engineers involved had learned a great many lessons from the B-47 Stratojet and B-52 Stratofortress jetbombers and had researched the feasibility of a jet transport as early as 1946). Development cost Boeing $16M - an amazing research and development expenditure in the frugal 50s. Much of this cost, however, was absorbed by orders from the military.

   
 

Boeing 707s are used in the military in a variety of capacities. They are known as the C-135 Stratolifter, KC-135 Stratotanker, EC-135 Looking Glass, NKC-135 Aerial Testbed, RC-135 Family, and VC-137 Stratoliner. This VC-137 was the first jet to be used as Air Force One - the president's plane. This plane also flew JFK to Dallas November 22, 1963, and was the scene of LBJ's swearing in that night. It is now parked at the Seattle Museum of Flight at Boeing Field.

 
   

USAF photo

   
 

Nevertheless, it was the Comet that inaugurated the jet age on May 3, 1952 with a British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) flight from London to Johannesburgh, South Africa. It had been a mere three years since the prototype had first flown. Not willing to give the spotlight entirely to the Brits without a fight, Allen issued a brief press release on August 30, 1952 stating:

"The Boeing Company has for some time been engaged in a company-financed project which will enable it to demonstrate a prototype jet airplane of a new design to the Armed Services and the commercial airlines in the summer of 1954."

This was a surprise to some as Boeing was then known as a defense contractor (with less than 1% of the civilian aircraft market) while Lockheed, with its Super Constellations, and Douglas, with its DC-6s, were the leaders in civilian aircraft.

First Flight

The Boeing 367-80 prototype made its first flight on July 15, 1954 with Boeing Chief Test Pilot Tex Johnston at the controls (check out our story of this memorable flight by a Boeing engineer who was there). It was a success and, with the Comet out of the picture, it took the lead in the hearts and minds of the all-important airlines.

Competition

Not to be outdone, Douglas announced its first jet, the DC-8, on June 7, 1954. Though the 707 was actually flying around and the DC-8 was barely on the drawing board, the announcement was enough to cause some airlines wait to see which plane would better for their needs.

Pan Am made their initial order for the 707 in October of 1955 and flew the first production model in December of 1957. By this time, the French were both selling and flying their Caravelle and work was well under way on yet another competitor: the General Dynamics Convair CV-880.

Boeing 707

N758TW, a TWA 707-131B seen at LAX in June 1979.

Image courtesy of AirNikon. Find more of his photos at Airliners.net


The Soviets more than kept pace by converting their Tupolev Tu-16 jet bomber into the Tu-104 civilian jet transport. They flew it to London on March 22, 1956 to show that they too were in the race.

The British aerospace industry, already reeling from the Comet disaster, was dealt a shocking blow on October 24, 1956 when BOAC placed an order for 15 Boeing 707s. While the British did produce the VC-10 and the innovative BAC One-Eleven, they never recovered their lead in jet aircraft.

While most airlines were quite happy with the progress Boeing was making, some wanted a smaller, medium-range derivative. Boeing announced the 720 on November 20, 1957. While it eventually filled this market segment with the all-new and more efficient 727, the 720 kept United and American happy in the interim.

The 707 was quite an achievement but the first model was too heavy and underpowered to make even a New York to London flight non-stop. In fact it was the BOAC Comet 4 that made the first true non-stop transatlantic flight of a civilian jet on October 4, 1958. These shortcomings were overcome in the early 1960s and the 707 dominated jet sales for years to come.

If you traveled across the Atlantic from 1960 to the early Super70s, chances are it was on a 707. As with other jets from this era, the 707 was too loud and too "dirty" to meet later environmental standards without millions of dollars worth of upgrades. Thus, you do not see non-military 707s in the friendly skies above the U.S. anymore. They are in service in other parts of the world - some of them are over 40 years old!

Boeing 707

Image courtesy NASA/Dryden


Boeing 707 at a Glance
Engines4 Pratt & Whitney JT3D-3B turbofans
Cruising Speed625
Passengers110-189
Range4700
Span145ft 9in
Length152ft 11in
Height42ft 5in
Weight333,600
Built915
Final Production1979
Mesurements refer to 707-320C

 

Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about the Boeing 707? Were you a member of the flight crew on one? Have you any interesting stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"I remember watching early Boeing 707's at Los Angeles International Airport in late 1959. They had less powerful engines than the later turbofan versions that came in the early 1960's. At takeoff, water injection was used to give a temporary increase in power, and because of this the exhaust stream was filled with heavy black smoke. This was very impressive to me, being just nine-years-old at the time. The power, the noise, the heat of the exhaust and the the sleek lines of the 707's helped to spur me into become a pilot myself. This I did at age 17, by completing private pilot training and licensing. I will always think of the Boeing 707 as a great airplane, and for guiding me into a life-long interest in aviation."

--Bruce Pasarow

"It's very rare to see a 707 flying these days, and whenever I do see one, it brings back very good memories of my childhood. The very first jetliner I remember flying on was a 707 (can't remember which series), and it was a flight from Phoenix, Arizona to St. Louis, Missouri back in 1964.
To me the Boeing 707 is the classic Mustang of jetliners, and it will always remain a classic for many aviation enthusiasts."

--Mike

"I'm a native of Phoenix, Arizona and I recall when Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport made the necessary changes to accomodate the Boeing 707 in 1961. Back then I was 4 years old and I remember hearing a loud thunderous noise above us and my dad would say "It's that damned new jetliner they're using these days". He was referring to the early versions of the 707, and it was loud. We lived quite a ways away from the airport, but airplanes still flew about 7000 feet above our house and it was still loud.
The very first time I've ever flown on a Boeing 707 was in 1964 on a flight from Phoenix to Chicago. The last time was in 1979 on a flight from Phoenix to St. Louis. The only thing I've always disliked about the 707 was the wing flutter in turbulance, for some reason, the weight of the engines accentuated the effects of turbulance.
The 707 will always be remembered as the jetliner that brought the entire world closer."

--Mike S.

"The 707 always has been, is and always be the most beautiful jet airliner in the world, second only to the constellation in total beauty."

--DwightHeath

"The 320B model was my favorite. It wore the airline colors very nicely..... TWA's twin globes, Pan Am's great blue globe (meatball). The one B-707 that stands out in my mind was a Tran Caribbean jet parked on the tarmac at McGuire AFB! What a neat paint job - Blue Tail with an Orange Palm Tree. Beautiful Site that I will always remember."

--Anonymous

"I'm proud to fly the Boeing 707 today. I belong to the U.S. Navy and am a reel operator on the Navy's version(E-6B). Great plane. We have bigger engines than originally designed, but most of the 707 is still here. Go Boeing."

--Anonymous

"The Boeing 707, a wonderful aircraft. It brought me all over the world in the almost 6000 hrs I was sitting in the cockpit of a 707, without experiencing any major emergency. It is a men's aircraft and fantastic to fly. It flies as high and as far and at he same speed as the modern planes, without all the fancy stuff of now-a-days. I enjoyed it a lot!"

--Hans Beunk

"I remember watching early Boeing 707's at Los Angeles International Airport in late 1959. They had less powerful engines than the later turbofan versions that came in the early 1960's. At takeoff, water injection was used to give a temporary increase in power, and because of this the exhaust stream was filled with heavy black smoke. This was very impressive to me, being just nine-years-old at the time. The power, the noise, the heat of the exhaust and the the sleek lines of the 707's helped to spur me into become a pilot myself. This I did at age 17, by completing private pilot training and licensing. I will always think of the Boeing 707 as a great airplane, and for guiding me into a life-long interest in aviation."

--Bruce Pasarow

"I'm very proud of flying the 707 as a flight engineer, and I hope to keep flying this fantastic bird for years to come. I started flying it in 1992 with the Italian Air Force tanker transport 707s (3F5C and 382B)and I'm now flying the NATO 707s (307C and 329C). It is getting more and more difficult to keep these planes flying but when the last 707 will eventually land for its last flight wherever in the world it will be a very sad day for the people that enjoyed like me flying this great machine."

--Anonymous

"My father, an American Airlines crew chief stationed at Kennedy, worked on these planes from the beginning and while they were still in the AA fleet. This was a very reliable airplane and the crews liked to fly them. Many of the pilots came out of the military and knew the aircraft well. The combination of seasoned, well trained crews together with a comfortable and durable aircraft made flying for AA's passengers a memorable experience."

--Mitch Blackman

"I think it was the most beautiful aircraft ever produced. Actually I rode on one, towards the end of the Awesome80s. 1989 to be exact. Yes they were still flying them then and I flew on one from Denver to Cancun. There is really nothing that spectacular about the Boeing 707, when you take into consideration, all of the perks that most wide-body aircraft have now, such as your own personalized movie screen (alas the 777) but for its time it (the 707) was the real deal. The original commercial jet aircraft used to transport large groups of passangers, long distances in quick time. It is still a beautiful piece of aircraft to look at. Its distinct feature of course is the antenna that portrudes from the front of the tail. "

--Priority Male

""One of my first flights aboard a Boeing 707 dates back to June 1969 on BOAC from Boston to London. We took off during a thunderstorm, and as a kid, you couldn't imagine what would happen if you flew in this type of weather. I recalled seeing a lightning strike off in the distance as we flew through the clouds. It certainly lit up the skies. I felt much better after we ascended above the cloud layer and into the crystal clear night sky. The flight was smooth as it was comfortable. All BOAC 707s were equipped with Rolls Royce Conway engines unlike the other 707s that were powered by the Pratt & Whitney JT3Ds. Both engine types were equally efficient at that time.

My last trip aboard this magnificent jet was on an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Toronto on August 6, 1978, and returning later on another the last day of that same month. I learned a few years later that another American Airlines 707 on the same flight - I believe this was August 7, 1978 - was on its way to Toronto, taking-off from San Francisco International Airport (a day after I left) and had just gotten airborne when three of its engines stalled and the fourth one idled. The flight crew quickly restarted the engines, bringing them back to a roar where the crew could make the turn and return for a safe landing back at SFO. I could imagine all those aboard almost panicked, thinking they could have crashed into the bay if it weren't for the quick thinking of the crew to return the plane in one piece. The passengers on that flight were placed on other flights. Still the 707, being the first American-built passenger jet since starting service with Pan Am in October 1958, remains a milestone for long distance passenger jet service, and over the years it provided a lot of backbone service. The plane was a real workhorse until its last flight with a major U. S. air carrier, TWA having the honors, on a flight from JFK to Miami in 1982. For the passengers and crew aboard this flight this was a sad moment. The captain was later interviewed after the flight and said it was like saying good-bye to an old friend. The passengers had a field day, stripping the plane of anything that could easily be taken as souvenirs. One of the flight attendants wrote a message with her lipstick, 'we'll miss you. '""

--Harald A.


 

FLYING FACTS

Roll-out of the Dash 80 on May 14, 1954.

Image courtesy of Boeing

Model: 707

Manufacturer: Boeing

Country: US

First Flight: July 15, 1954

First Passenger Flight: October 26, 1958

Launch CustomerPan Am


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