Thursday, July 15, 2010

Boeing 367-80, or "Dash 80", or 707

Noisy and still in operation.

"July 15, 1954: Boeing 707 Makes First Flight"


Jason Paur

July 14th, 2010


1954: The Boeing 367-80 makes its first flight from Renton Field southeast of Seattle. The jet-powered airliner will become the Boeing 707 and usher in the jet age for passenger travel.

Boeing was not the first company to produce a jet-powered airliner. But just as Ford’s Model T popularized the automobile despite being a latecomer in the car world, the Boeing 707 would be the airplane to popularize jet travel.

Nearly five years before the prototype of the 707 first flew, the British-made de Havilland Comet completed its first flight. The jet was popular thanks to its high speed, but a string of accidents involving the Comet in 1954 forced the company to take the airliners out of service to fix some design flaws.

By that time, Boeing was already nearly two years into the development of its own jet airliner. The company flew its first large jet-powered aircraft, the B-47 bomber, in 1947. With the success of the speedy bomber, the company started looking into building a passenger aircraft that could take advantage of the quickly evolving jet-engine technology.

Boeing engineers started work in 1952 on an airplane that would be jointly developed as both a midair refueler for the Air Force, and a passenger-carrying jet for the airlines. The Air Force was the first customer for the airplane. With the accidents of the de Havilland Comet still fresh in people’s minds, commercial airlines continued to rely on piston-powered propeller aircraft such as the Douglas DC-6 and Lockheed Constellation to carry passengers in safe, well-known designs.

The new model 367-80 was simply known as the “Dash 80,” and development continued despite the cool reception from the airlines. These days, hundreds of orders were on the books for Boeing’s new 787 before the airplane ever flew. But back in the early ’50s, Boeing had to continue developing the passenger version of the Dash 80 on its own. The company was confident that an airplane flying twice as fast as the propeller airliners of the time would eventually bring in the business to make the investment worthwhile.

A year into flight-testing, Boeing invited representatives from the airline industry and aviation community to Seattle to attend the annual hydroplane races on Lake Washington during the summer of 1955. The Dash 80 was scheduled to make a simple flyby to impress the crowds.

But a simple flyby apparently wasn’t enough for Boeing test pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnson. As he approached the lake-shore crowd at low altitude, Johnson gently pulled up on the controls and performed a graceful roll in the airplane. The crowd was in awe as the four-engine airliner completed the maneuver, something usually only seen in airshows performed by aerobatic pilots.

Boeing president Bill Allen reprimanded Johnson, but the pilot pointed out the roll was a simple 1-g maneuver and the airplane was never pushed beyond its limits. The pilot continued working for Boeing for many more years.

The famous roll in the Dash 80 apparently helped the marketing effort of the new airplane. Pan American World Airways and American Airlines both placed orders for the new 707 by the end of 1955. But Boeing had competition from its old rival Douglas Aircraft, which had introduced a similar-looking jet airliner, the DC-8. Both Pan Am and United Airlines placed orders for the DC-8.

The two manufacturers were locked in a battle to deliver the new jets. In October 1958, Pan Am made its inaugural jet flight from New York to Paris in a Boeing 707. The swept-wing airliner captured the imagination of the flying public.

It would be nearly a year before the DC-8 would enter service. Boeing won the race to enter service first and, along with Pan Am, became synonymous with the jet age.

The original Dash 80 never flew with paying passengers. Instead the airplane continued to serve as a test aircraft into the 1960s until it was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution. The prototype aircraft can now be seen on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.

The Boeing 707 would go on to serve almost all the major airlines of the world, as well as serving numerous roles in the military, including the first purpose-built Air Force One for presidential use. By 1991, when production finally stopped, Boeing had turned out 1,010 of the 707s.

The Boeing 707 continues to fly active duty as the KC-135 tanker and the E-3 AWACS in the U.S. Air Force, as well as other air forces around the world. It also serves some smaller cargo airlines around the world and is still flying passengers in Iran. Actor and pilot John Travolta owns a former Qantas Airlines 707 and flies it from his Florida home.

Boeing 367-80 [Wikipedia]

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