If It Ain’t Boeing – I Ain’t Going. The Iconic Boeing 707 Story

If it ain’t Boeing – I ain’t going is quite a bold statement. However, consider the context at the time. This was the beginning of the jet age – with the de Havilland Comet becoming a synonym for “mid-air explosion”, the Boeing 707 came at the right time. Douglas and SUD were lagging behind and introduced their DC-8 and Caravelle jet aircraft a year later than the 707. The Tupolev Tu-104 was behind the iron curtain. Because of this, it had no chance to impact anything culturally outside the Soviet sphere of influence.  Thus, this allowed the Boeing 707 to become an icon and symbol of a new and revolutionary way of travel.

Culturally, October 17th, 1958 was the day that the jet age began in the minds of everyone. Or maybe restarted?

 Anyhow, let’s roll back a bit and conceptualize what are the reasons why the 707 become such an icon.

A Jet Engine.

The first reason was that the Boeing 707 was a jetliner. At the time, the only commercial jets were flying behind the Iron Curtain. The de Havilland Comet was grounded after a series of crashes. That is why, when Boeing 707 introduced a reliable and safe jet-powered aircraft, it certainly did change the way we travel.

As I have previously already talked about the jet engines and the reasons why they will definitely replace piston jets in the Tupolev Tu-104 story, I won’t go too much into detail. To summarize, there were three reasons:

  • Piston-powered engines were coming to their maximum as to how much power they can produce. To squeeze more, engineers made them more complex and that is the reason why maintenance costs shot up. Fuel consumption to engine power ratio was not ideal either;
  • Passenger comfort. Piston engines are loud, they vibrate a lot (especially on a plane like the Constellation with 4 piston engines) and generally make passengers uncomfortable. With the price tag at the time for a ticket, they certainly did not provide a luxurious experience;
  • The demand for trans-Atlantic flights has risen significantly. While Piston props could theoretically do trans-Atlantic flights, they usually had to stop to refuel. Their cruising speed was slow, so the flights took much longer than with jet engines.

Pratt & Whitney JT3D Boeing 707 Jet Engines

Pratt & Whitney JT3D Boeing 707 Jet Engines

Laying Down The Foundations

One of the most important facts to know is that Boeing risked everything with the new 707. It was literally a make it or break it situation. The current Boeing company president at the time, William Allen, committed $16 million to develop 367-80. The money was everything that the company had earned after the war. So, if the 367 was a bust – the company would go bust as well.  Subsequently, the public nicknamed it the “Dash 80“. The 367 was an early Boeing 707 and Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker prototype.

Boeing’s strategy was simple – change the general perception that jet aircraft were unsafe. So, they developed and built the 367-80 to go on a tour around the United States to prove to the public and CEOs of Airlines alike that a jet-powered aircraft can be safe while showcasing a flying example. You got to hand it to Boeing – if the aircraft were to fail during these demonstration flights, the company was gone. However, they did a brilliant job of designing and building it and it encountered no issues after preliminary taxi and flight tests. After engineers completed the early designs in 1952, Boeing decision-makers approved it. Just two years later, in July of 1954, the 367-80 commenced its first flight.