DALLAS – Today in Aviation, Pan American World Airways (PA) received the first commercial jet airliner in the United States when Boeing handed over the first 707-120 in 1958.
The historic handover of the maiden jet, appropriately registered N707PA ‘Jet Clipper America,’ heralded the beginning of the ‘Jet Age’ and followed many months of work between the American airline and plane maker.
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Boeing vs. Douglas
Pan Am’s Chairman Juan Trippe had placed an order for 20 707s, along with 25 of the rival Douglas DC-8, on October 12, 1955. The order was valued at US$270m at the time. The company’s 1957 annual report to shareholders stated, “The new jet fleet will telescope greater technical advance in speed, comfort, range and capacity than achieved over the past thirty years.”
By ordering both jets, PA would not only become the launch customer but would hold the title of the only American operator of a commercial jet airliner for at least a year.
Following the handover, PA used the jet for crew training before being christened in a special ceremony attended by President Eisenhower at Washington National Airport (DCA) on October 17, 1958. It entered commercial service on October 26, between New York (JFK) and Paris (LBG).
Pan Am also operated the -300 series, as well as the smaller 720. It introduced the 707-300 in 1959, and the jet helped the airline become the leader in transatlantic air travel. Nine 720Bs would be operated between 1963 and 1974, predominately used for the Caribbean and Latin American routes.