MIAMI — The first production Boeing 707 rolled out of Boeing’s Renton, Washington, plant on October 28, 1957. To say the number seven became a lucky number for Boeing is an understatement, so to mark the 57th anniversary of its unveiling in 1957 (see the the sevens?), let’s look back at this commercial aviation icon through the years.
Boeing designated the number 700 for its planned line of transport jets, but the marketing department saw 700 as too mundane for this new series of aircraft. Therefore, Boeing came up with a catchier designation starting and ending with the number seven that continues to this day. Moreover, the 727 and 737 series retained basically the same nose shape and fuselage width. The military variant was initially called the 717 and also had its KC-135 U.S. Air Force designation. Both the civilian and military variants were the modified offspring of the Dash 80 that had made its debut in 1954.
To meet customer demands, as well as compete with the Douglas DC-8, which entered service in 1958, the fuselage of the 707 was 148 inches, compared to the Dash 80’s 132-inch width. Less than two months after the roll-out, the 707 had its maiden flight on December 20, 1957.
The full designation for this aircraft was Boeing 707-120. The FAA certified the 707 11 months later on September 18, 1958, and Pan Am became the first airline to start service with the type on October 13, 1958. This initial model used four Pratt and Whitney (PW) JT3C turbojet engines, but the PW JT3D turbofan, with better fuel consumption and higher thrust, eventually became the dominant 707 engine.
Continuing to keep customer needs in mind, Boeing reduced the fuselage by 10 feet for Qantas, which needed to fly longer routes, and designated this variant as the 707-138. The -220 derivative had higher-thrust PW JT4A engines, and Braniff was its first customer. The -320 series had an extended wing span and was powered by JT4As. British Airways (BOAC at the time) ordered the -420, which was identical to the -320, with the exception of the Rolls-Royce Conway turbofan engines. In addition, British certification requirements for engine-out procedures resulted in Boeing increasing the height of the tail fin on all 707s, and this modification also mitigated a yaw instability known as the “Dutch roll.”
Boeing also developed the shorter length and range, but high-performance, 707-020. United Airlines was very interested in the model but had previously decided to order the DC-8. To avoid public relations problems for the airline, Boeing was still able to sell the model to United by designating it as the 720. Other carriers, like American, also ordered the 720 but referred to it as the 707.
The capacities of all 707 variants spanned from 140 to 189 passengers and 2,500 to 5,750 miles in range. Production of the civilian passenger models 707 lasted 21 years from 1957 to 1978 and a total of 1,010 were built. Military production continued until 1991. Today, the only commercial 707 operator is Iran’s Saha Airlines.
Personally, I had the opportunity to fly on the 707 when it operated for Colombia’s national airline Avianca, which first flew the 707 in 1960. I remember domestic flights in Colombia and form Miami to Bogota in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Furthermore, my AvGeek father told me that my first 707 flight was when I was eight months old on an Avianca flight from New York York to Bogota in 1971. Happy 57th birthday to one of the pioneers of the commercial jet age!
Pan Am 707 Promotional Film from 1959
British Airways (BOAC) 707 Promotional Film from 1964
John Travolta’s 707 landing at Gatwick in 2009
Avianca 707 landing at LAX