Photo: Robert Deering 1969
Will Rogers World Airport
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The Boeing 707 is a four-engine commercial passenger jet airliner developed by Boeing in the early 1950s. Boeing delivered a total of 1,010 Boeing 707s, which dominated passenger air transport in the 1960s and remained common through the 1970s. As of October 2006, 68 Boeing 707 aircraft (of any variant) were reported to be remaining in airline service, just one airline flying passengers, Saha Airlines of Iran. Boeing also offered a smaller, faster version of the aircraft that was marketed as the Boeing 720, but sales of this version were few.
Although it was not the first commercial jet in service (that distinction belongs to the De Havilland Comet), the 707 was the first to be commercially successful, and is credited as ushering in the Jet Age. It established Boeing as one of the largest makers of passenger aircraft, and led to the later series of aircraft with "7x7" designations.
The 707 was based on an aircraft known as the 367-80. The "Dash 80", as it was called within Boeing, took less than two years from project launch in 1952 to rollout on May 14, 1954. This was powered by the Pratt & Whitney JT3C engine which was the civilian version of the J57 used on many military aircraft of the day including the F-100, F-101, F-102, and the B-52.
The prototype was conceived for both military and civilian use: the United States Air Force was the first customer for the airframe, using it in the KC-135 Stratotanker midair refueling platform. It was far from certain that the passenger 707 would be profitable. At the time, Boeing was making nearly all of its money from military contracts: its last passenger transport, the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, had netted the company a $15 million loss before it was purchased by the Air Force as the KC-97 Stratotanker.
The first commercial orders for the 707 came in 1955, when Pan Am committed to 20 707s and 25 Douglas DC-8s, a dramatic increase in passenger capacity over its existing fleet of propeller aircraft. The competition between the 707 and DC-8 was fierce. Several major airlines committed only to the DC-8, as Douglas Aircraft was a more established maker of passenger aircraft at the time. To stay competitive, Boeing made a late and costly decision to widen the 707's fuselage by 6 inches (150 mm) compared to the original 367-80 and KC-135, so as to be a little wider than the DC-8.
Pan Am was the first airline to operate the 707; the aircraft's first commercial flight was from New York to Paris on October 26, 1958. American Airlines operated the first domestic 707 flight on January 25, 1959. Airlines which had only ordered the DC-8, such as United, Delta and Eastern, were left jetless for months and lost market share on transcontinental flights.
The 707 quickly became the most popular jetliner of its time. Its popularity led to rapid developments in airport terminals, runways, airline catering, baggage handling, reservations systems and other air transport infrastructure. The advent of the 707 also led to the upgrading of air traffic control systems to prevent interference with military jet operations.
In order to become a new major player in the commercial airliner business, Boeing was quick to bend to customer's desires. While the 707-120 was the initial standard model with Pratt & Whitney JT3C engines, Qantas ordered a shorter body version called the 707-138 and Braniff ordered the higher-thrust version with Pratt & Whitney JT4A engines, the 707-220. The final major derivative was the 707-320 which featured an extended span and larger wing. The penultimate version was 707-420, a -320 equipped with Rolls-Royce Conway turbofan engines. Most of the later 707s featured the more fuel efficient and quieter JT3D turbofan engines and flaps on the leading edge of the wings to improve takeoff and landing performance. These were denoted with a "B" suffix such as 707-120B and 707-320B.
As the 1960s drew to a close, the exponential growth in air travel led to the 707 being a victim of its own success. The 707 was now too small to handle the increased passenger densities on the routes for which it was designed. Stretching the fuselage was not a viable option because the installation of larger, more powerful engines would in turn need a larger undercarriage, which was not feasible given the design's limited ground clearance. Boeing's answer to the problem was the first twin aisle airliner - the 747. The 707's first-generation engine technology was also rapidly becoming obsolete in the areas of noise and fuel economy.
Production of the passenger 707 ended in 1978. In total, 1,010 707s were built for civil use, though many of these found their way to military service. Trans World Airlines flew the last scheduled 707 flight for passengers in the US on October 30, 1983, although 707s remained in scheduled service elsewhere for much longer. Middle East Airlines (MEA) of Lebanon flew 707s and 720s in front-line passenger service until the end of the 90s, and now only Saha Airlines of Iran fly 707s in passenger service, on domestic runs from Tehran to Mashhad, Kish Island and Shiraz. The purpose-built military variants remained in production until 1991.
Traces of the 707 are still found in the 737, which uses a modified version of the 707's fuselage, as well as essentially the same external nose and cockpit configuration as the 707. These were also used on the previous Boeing 727, while the Boeing 757 also used the 707 fuselage cross-section.
Photo: Robert Deering 1971