Celebrates 'Birthday' Of Modern Jetliner
On Thursday, Boeing marked the 50th anniversary of the first
flight of its 707 jetliner, and the point in commercial aviation
history when propellers gave way to the jet age and air travel
became affordable and available.
On a typically cold and rainy Northwest Friday afternoon
December 20, 1957, Boeing's chief of flight test Tex Johnston, his
copilot Jim Gannet and flight engineer Tom Layne sat on the
drenched runway at Renton Municipal Airport in the first production
707, checked weather reports and waited for the chance to take the
new airplane up for its maiden flight.
At 12:30 pm, the decision was made to go. But as the 707 climbed
over the city of Renton, the unpredictable weather immediately
closed in around the airliner and forced a landing at nearby Boeing
Field after just seven minutes in the air. Later that day, the sky
cleared enough for the crew to take the 707 up for a 71-minute
The historic day was the culmination of five years of hard work
and gut-wrenching decisions, according to the planemaker. With the
707, Boeing President William Allen and his leadership team had
"bet the company" on a vision that the future of commercial
aviation was in jets.
The prototype model 367-80 or "Dash 80" led to a revolution in
air transportation. Although it never entered commercial service
itself, the Dash 80 gave birth to the 707 series of jetliners. Much
larger, faster and smoother than the propeller airplanes it was
replacing, the Boeing 707 quickly changed the face of international
The first commercial 707s, labeled the 707-120 series, had a
larger cabin and other improvements compared to the prototype.
Powered by early Pratt & Whitney turbojet engines, these
initial 707s had range capability that was barely sufficient to
cross the Atlantic Ocean. Boeing soon introduced the long-range
707-320 Intercontinental that in May 1959 flew 5,382 miles nonstop
from Seattle to Rome in 11 hours and 6 minutes. A number of
variants were developed for special use, including shorter-bodied
airplanes and the 720 series, which was lighter and faster with
better runway performance.
Pan Am World Airways was the first 707 customer, signing up for
20 Boeing 707-120s in October 1955. In 1962, Pan Am also took
delivery of the last 707-120 series airplane.
Production of commercial 707s ended in 1978 after 878 had been
built. The number rose to more than 1,000 by 1994, when limited
production of military variants ended. Most civil 707s left in
service today have been converted to freighters, while a number are
used as corporate transports. Approximately 130 remain in