The Most Successful Aircraft – The Story Of The Boeing 737

Sometimes the phrase “the most successful” can be a bit vague. However, that is not the case with the Boeing 737.

Boeing’s third commercial jetliner, the Boeing 737 paved the way for the company to be as dominant as they are now. In the 20th century, there we are a lot of big aircraft manufacturers – namely Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, de Havilland, Sud Aviation and many more.

All of them had two things in common. Firstly, they all built commercial airlines to compete with Boeing. Secondly, they did not succeed in doing so, as all of them are either merged into other companies, bankrupt or do not build commercial aircraft anymore.

One of the reasons why? The Boeing 737, which helped Boeing dominate the commercial aircraft market for 52 years now. Today, it is the most-popular jetliner in the world. Airlines all over the world have ordered over 1500 Boeing 737s, while Boeing themselves made and delivered 10.510 of them so far.

And on this day in history, on April 9th of 1967, the first Boeing 737 took flight.

Ever since making its debut flight, it seemed like the 737 was destined for success. However, nowadays the type is associated with two deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that seem to tarnish its reputation as one of the most reliable and successful jets in history.

But how did we get here?

Let’s dig deeper into the story of the 737 and explore the reasons why it even came to be as an airliner.

Saving time and money on the development costs of the Boeing 737

The late 50s were a great time for Boeing. Their first commercial jetliner, the Boeing 707 made a huge impression on the general public and airlines. It became a cultural icon.

Boeing had proved everyone wrong and made a point – commercial aircraft with jet engines are here to stay. The same year that they released the 707, in 1958, Boeing announced they are conducting a design study to complement the Boeing aircraft family.

The new 2-engine jet would stand alongside the 4-engine 707 and the 3-engine 727. As the 737 had only two engines, people nicknamed it the “Baby Boeing”.

United Airlines Boeing 727

Nevertheless, even before the newest Boeing aircraft was released, the Seattle manufacturer faced stiff competition. Boeing knew that there was an increasing demand in the short-haul market and airlines wanted more efficient twin-engine aircraft.

There was the French Sud Caravelle, which began commercial flights in 1959. Douglas had already begun their study of the same short-haul market. The study would conclude in the DC-9, which began commercial flights in 1965. Lastly, the BAC One-Eleven began serving passengers around the world in 1965 as well.

Boeing was behind its competitors. It had to act fast and offer something that no other competitor did, in order to attract customers into buying the 737.

So, in order to catch up quickly, Boeing appointed John Edward “Jack” Steiner to be the chief engineer. Jack had designed the 727, which saw even more success than the 707.

The plan was to use as much of the Boeing 727 as possible for the fuselage and borrow interior parts from both the 707 and the 727 to save time and money.

In 1964, the design was complete.

Never seen before

The main competitors of the Boeing 737 mounted their engines on the back of the aircraft. However, to introduce something that the world has never seen before, Jack Steiner asked Joe Sutter, the father of the Queen of The Skies, to help out with the design.