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Boeing SST

By Patrick Mondout

In the early years of the jet era, some visionaries in the American aviation industry were already looking to the day when commercial jets would fly faster than the speed of sound which would allow them to cross the Atlantic in under five hours. These visionaries' dreams would remain just dreams in the end. Although Congress finally provided funding to Boeing for the creation of the first prototype in late 1965, the funding would be cut by a more environmentally-friendly Congress before the first American SST (Supersonic Transport) would be built. 

Competition Abroad

In the early 1960s, the British and French agreed to produce their own SST called Concorde. The Soviets used their own know-how and the not inconsiderable efforts of the KGB to produce their own version called the Tu-144 which has the distinction of being the first commercial SST flown. The race between them was legendary

Boeing 2707

This wood mock-up is as close as any American company came to making a civilian supersonic transport in the 20th century. Will we make on before the end of this century? Stay tuned!

Image courtesy of Boeing

Competition At Home

Talk is cheap but Congress put your money where its collective mouth was when it appropriated $100M in the fiscal 1964 budget toward the development of the American SST and in October of '63, TWA and Pan Am stepped forward with $2.1M towards the purchase of 21 SSTs. The question then became who is going to build it? North American already had a remarkable military SST known as the Valkyrie, but Boeing beat out the Lockheed L-2000 and the North American NAC-60 (Douglas was too strapped for cash to compete) for the contract. Boeing would one day wish it hadn't won.


Lockheed L2000 mock-up.


Image courtesy of Lockheed.


While Boeing had to notice the breakneck pace the Soviets and Anglo/French teams were proceeding at in a race to be the first with a supersonic transport, Boeing proceeded at a more deliberate pace believing that by delivering the biggest, fastest, and most efficient design, they would quickly recapture any market share temporarily lost to the Europeans. It's also true that they could not actually get innovative design they had won with to work!

Lockheed's SST team members, which had all moved on to other projects, were none too amused when the "new" SST Boeing came up with in lieu of the failed design looked a lot like the original Lockheed L-2000!


The Air Force conducted a six month experiment with military SSTs in Oklahoma during 1964 to see what the effects of constant sonic boom (created when the aircraft goes faster than the speed of sound) would be. The results? Over 8,000 complaints and 5,000 claims for damages. The Air Force noted that they recieved complaints even on days when they weren't flying! The plane was starting to get a bad reputation and it wasn't even off the drawing board yet.

Grumbling at Home

As it turned out, the biggest obstacle to the Boeing turned out to be a bit closer to home: American environmentalists. They saw the SST as a very noisy, gas guzzling polluter. And they had unprecedented power in Washington at a critical time in the development of the SST.


The evolution of the Boeing SST from the swept-wing design to the the massive 2707-300.


Courtesy of NASA


President Nixon proclaimed on September 23, 1969, "The SST is going to be built." Over $500M in federal funds had been devoted to the project at that point - an unprecedented amount for a single non-military project - and pressure was mounting from Senator Proxmire and others to stop spending taxpayer money on what was a civilian project.

Demise of SST

On May 18 1971, the Senate put the final nail in the coffin by voting to end payments to the various participants in a 58-37 vote. White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler blamed Boeing's unwillingness to negotiate from its demands of between $500M and $1B to restart the project. Congress's actions were vindicated by the decision a few years later of almost all airlines to cancel orders for the Concorde.

While this may have been considered a loss of prestige by some Americans and certainly disappointed many at Boeing (who lost their jobs and were part of the biggest economic disaster in the Seattle area since the depression), the airlines yawned. With rising fuel costs and the success of the 747, they were no longer convinced they needed the aircraft (though Boeing had received commitments from 26 airlines for 122 aircraft at one point).

Ask Not What Your Boeing Can Do For You...

Most Americans recall President Kennedy's "Moon Speech" where he challenged American to put men on the moon by the end of the 1960s. They may not remember his June 5, 1963 speech calling for government and private sector funds to develop "a commercially successful supersonic transport superior to that being built in any other country in the world." LBJ and Nixon carried on this dream until the US Congress pulled the cord on funding and Boeing did not believe it worth their while to continue the project with their own money.

In Retrospect

As the official Soviet airline Aeroflot bailed on their own SST within a two years of taking delivery of them and as both Air France and British Airways have given up Concorde and donated them to museums, the Americans should be glad they didn't pour any more money into the project than they did. 

I've Seen the Future and it Works

Airline industry analysts have predicted there will be a market for 300-500 third-generation SSTs by the 2020s. Of course, they've been wrong in the past. Rest assured that if the demand is there, Boeing and Airbus will be there too - with or without public funding. In fact, they Boeing recently worked with the Russians to learn what they could about their Tu-144. Read more about the development of High-Speed Transports (HSTs) here.


Boeing SST at a Glance
Engines4 General Electric GE4/J
Cruising Speed2000 (Mach 3)
Span174ft 3in
Height46ft 3in
Final ProductionN/A
Mesurements refer to proposed B-2707-100 from August, 1966


Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about the Boeing SST? 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 heard that the remains of the prototype are in some junkyard in Florida somewhere. What a sad legacy."

--L.I. Airplane Fan

"As an aerospace afficionado from before the term even existed, not to mention a stint in SAC as an aircraft on a B-52G, followed by 14 years in line service with United Airlines, during which time I used my employee travel privileges extensively to go to both the Paris and Farnbrough airshows, the latter of which was even followed once taking up a personal invitation to the Concorde main assembly plant in Filton, the SST episode is riveted in my memory. Which is why I am so perplexed that the foremost detail in the SST saga,i.e. the REAL reason the program failed, has been hastily danced past, glosed over, shamelessly misrepresented, or dodged altogether. In a few words, JFK's successor, LBJ, for reasons that were (not surprisingly) purely political, took the SST program out of the Dept. of Transportation where, as a commercial transport(!!) it had originated, and moved it to the Dept. of Defense, which placed it under the control of(dum de dum dum) Robert S. ("the Edsel WILL sell"/"light at the end of the tunnel" in Vietnam) McNamara, who, in another of his infamous snap decisions, based on back-of-an-envelope calculations, and stubbornly adhered to even when proven disastrously wrong by events, decided that a big.big ten(!!) percent of SST developement costs could be saved if the originally planned competitive fly-off between the Boeing and Lockheed prototypes was cancelled and the best design picked by feeding the respective specs into a!!!) and letting it decide the winner according to which looked the best on paper. Which was Boeing's variable sweep wing design, because they had not yet begun to "cut metal" and thus had not yet found (as they would) that the amount of materiel needed to give the wing hinge mechanism the structural integrity mandatory for commercial ops was so much greater than originally thought that the overage alone was (literally) equal to the plane's entire(!) payload (ca. 50 TONS!!!), leading to a scenario in which, if produced to those specs, the 2707 would have been at max ATOG before the first passenger even set foot on board, and overgrossed by their combined weight once they all were, and reducing the plane's range performance to that of another Lockheed aircraft,.......the F-104!!! Unfortunately, this design flaw was only disovered AFTER all the government money originally appropriated had been spent, the environmentalists having been defeated at each vote, leaving Boeing in a position of either doing a major redesign on their own "dime" or going back to the U.S. trough. They opted (a no-brainer there) for "plan-B", but were doomed when the word leaked out that the fixed=wing re-work wasn't much better than the variable sweep original, thus causing Congress to bail on the scheme altogether, citing hysterical (and phony as a Confederate $3 bill) "environmental concerns" as a cover for a FACE-SAVING(!!) exit from what was actually shaping up as the biggest technological failure in the history of aviation and a bodyblow to the prestigious (and lucrative) legend of U.S. technological supremacy. In short, it was all politics. If LBJ had left well enough alone, Lockheed would have won, going away, and third generation L-2000s (sporting synthetic foward vision instead of a 'droop snoot", fly-by-wire controls, FADEC-controlled JTF-17s, uprated to allow taking off (quietly) on fan power alone power alone, and using electric field generation to control the sonic boom) would be filling the skies today. And THAT'S the "rest of the story". "

--Bob the Dog

"The Boeing SST, well part of it, has been fully restored at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos California (San Carlos is located somewhere between San Francisco and San Jose)."




The wings on the original design moved out for takeoffs and landings and in for supersonic flight. Boeing could not get the design to work, however.

Image courtesy of Boeing

Model: SST

Manufacturer: Boeing

Country: U.S.

First Flight: None

First Passenger Flight: N/A

Launch Customer: N/A

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