“One of the Great Airliners of All Time”
The Boeing 707-120
On 15 August 1958, Pan American World Airways took delivery of Boeing’s Construction Number 17588, a 707-121 registered N709PA and named Jet Clipper America (later changed to Jet Clipper Tradewind). This event ushered in what became the Jet Age. The story leading up to that delivery was typical Juan Trippe, Pan American’s leader who, although the idea of commercial jet travel did not become viable until well into the 1950s, explored the idea of jet propulsion during World War II, along with Charles Lindbergh and Pan American’s Chief Engineer Andre Priester.
Boeing 707-120 – Mike Machat drawing from Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, by Ron Davies
The 707 was developed from the Boeing 367-80, a prototype jet that made its maiden flight on 15 July 1954 from Renton Field, the 38th anniversary of the Boeing Company.
According to the Boeing website, production go-ahead for the Dash 80 was announced by Boeing 30 August 1952, as a company-financed $16 million investment. The airplane rolled from the factory less than two years later, on 14 May 1954.
Boeing 367-80 Roll-Out (NASM Archives)
From the Boeing website:
“Powered then by four Pratt & Whitney JT3 turbojets, mounted under wings swept back 35 degrees, the Dash 80 established the classic configuration for jetliners to come. It also set new speed records each time it flew. This was illustrated 11 March 1957, when it flew from Seattle to Baltimore in 3 hours 48 minutes at an average speed of 612 mph.
“The Dash 80 was retained as a Boeing test aircraft and underwent major structural and aerodynamic changes in the course of developing and testing advanced aircraft features. Many test programs were aimed far beyond aircraft flying today, such as airborne simulation of flight characteristics and systems concepts for a U.S. supersonic transport.
“The Dash 80 flew with a fifth engine mounted on the aft fuselage to test installation feasibility for the trijet 727 and with three different types of engines installed at the same time. It investigated engine-thrust reversers, engine sound suppressers, rigs designed to cause in-flight engine icing conditions, air conditioners, and wing flap and slat modifications.
“It was also used to test radar and radar antennas, and even different paints. In one test series for landing gear, the 707 prototype was outfitted with oversized tires; it landed and took off from mud fields barely able to support the weight of passenger automobiles.
“The 707 prototype also flew special landing-approach studies at Moffett Field, California, for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. A high-lift, slow speed system featuring special wing flaps for direct-lift control was used in steeper-than-usual landing approaches designed to alleviate community noise in airport areas.
“During its early years, the airplane was the center of attraction in the aviation world, giving many airline pilots, airline executives, and military and government officials their first taste of jet flying. It has approximately 3,000 hours of flight recorded in its logbook.
“The prototype led to a revolution in air transportation and it gave gave birth to the 707 series of jetliners. Much larger, faster and smoother than the propeller airplanes it was replacing, it quickly changed the face of international travel.
“The first commercial 707s, labeled the 707-120 series, had a larger cabin and other improvements compared to the prototype. Powered by early Pratt & Whitney turbojet engines, these initial 707s had range capability that was barely sufficient for the Atlantic Ocean.”
As part of the Dash 80’s demonstration program, Boeing CEO Bill Allen invited representatives of the Aircraft Industries Association (AIA) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) to the Seattle 1955 Seafair and Gold Cup Hydroplane Races held on Lake Washington on 6 August 1955. The Dash 80 was scheduled to perform a simple flyover, but Boeing test pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnston instead performed two “barrel rolls” to show off the jet airliner.
The next day, Allen summoned Johnston to his office and told him not to perform such a maneuver again, to which Johnston replied that he was simply “selling airplanes” and asserted that doing so was completely safe.
The Pan American Order
As mentioned above, Juan Trippe, Charles Lindbergh and Pan Am Chief Engineer Andre Priester explored the idea of jet propulsion during World War II. However, the idea that jets would eventually become commercially viable did not have its genesis until the early 1950’s. Then, there was no jet airliner even in the design stage in the United States. Britain had been developing the “Comet” jet, but it lacked range. In December 1951, BOAC (predecessor to British Airways) took delivery of its first Comet, notwithstanding its poor economy and range. What Pan American wanted was a plane that could carry at least 65 passengers from New York to London at 500 miles-per-hour. In mid-1952 Pan Am engineers Priester and John Borger made the rounds to Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed. What was seen was disappointing. The manufacturers, however, soon began focusing on a commercial jet because by September 1952, jet airliners had become inevitable. Boeing developed the Boeing 707 prototype as described above and Douglas was working on its DC-8 project. At the same time, the turboprop engine had been developed and airlines were lining up for the likes of the Lockheed Electras and British Viscounts. Pan Am was not in the line because its engineers were of the opinion that propellers were the cause of most mechanical breakdowns.
Other problems had to be dealt with, most foremost were the lack of airports that could handle jets, lack of fuel to “feed them”, lack of tugs to tow them, lack of suitable stairways and lack of adequate hangers to overhaul their engines. Other issues included the engine to be used, the size of the aircraft and its range, and its economics, pitting the air-frame manufacturers, the engine manufacturers and Pan Am on seemingly a collision course, given the different needs of each group.
After hard negotiations, Pan Am got what it wanted: The Boeing 707 and the DC-8. And on 13 October 1955, Juan Trippe made his announcement. In an email, former Pan American Captain Don Cooper described the events surrounding the order and its announcement:
“Juan Trippe in his typical covert manner, without telling Pan Am employees or other airline executives about what he was up to, started secret talks with aircraft manufactures. He pitted one aircraft manufacture against another for competitive purposes, and brow beat Pratt Whitney, the aircraft engine maker, for more powerful and fuel efficient jet engines. After clandestine negotiations with Douglas and Boeing for new jet aircraft, Trippe decided to have a cocktail party in his Manhattan apartment over looking the East River to celebrate and announce Pan American’s future plans. His guests, members of the IATA executive committee, were having an enjoyable time and praising themselves for ordering new turbo-prop Lockheed Electras to replace their outdated propeller aircraft fleets. When someone asked Trippe what Pan American’s plans were, he announced that Pan American was going all jet with an order of 25 Douglas DC-8s and 20 Boeing 707s. That announcement had a chilling effect on his guests and ended the party’s upbeat note. Trippe had just forced the jet age upon his competitors and in the process, they would be forced to dump their propeller aircraft at loss. In the following days, airline executives headed west to the Boeing and Douglas plants to get in line behind Pan American for their new jets.”
The order announcement was also made to the Pan American shareholders in the 1957 Annual Report:
“Pan American again pioneered in closing, in October 1955, purchase agreements for a fleet of long range jet transports at a cost of $270,000,000. Equipped with four jet engines of 14,000 pounds thrust each, these Clippers will carry 150 passengers to Europe at 600 miles per hour. The new jet fleet will telescope greater technical advance in speed, comfort, range and capacity than achieved over the past thirty years.
“Radically new jet maintenance and overhaul facilities are in construction. Airports in many parts of the world are being enlarged and modernized for jet service. New techniques in air navigation and flight procedure are being perfected. Thus, the year under review has been, for your Company, a year of transition.”
According to R.E.G. Davies, in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft:
“Each [jet] had twice the capacity of all but the largest piston airliner, had the potential for trans-Atlantic nonstop range, and was twice as fast. In economic terms this multiplied to about four or five times the productivity of the DC-7Cs . . . . and furthermore the reliability of the engines and air-frames held out the prospect of far higher levels of annual utilization. “
While the 707 got all the attention given it was the first to be delivered, the jet aircraft order was for 20 Boeing and 25 Douglas machines. The fact that Pan Am ordered more DC-8’s suggests, according to Davies, that “Pan Am was prepared to support the company which had supplied it with so many reliable aircraft during the postwar years, but was also warning it that its product had to be good and that tradition and sentiment would not guarantee a continued market.” In fact, the Douglas jets were bigger and had better range than its Boeing counterparts, and because Boeing feared the foreign airlines going to Douglas, Boeing and Pan Am renegotiated the order for a bigger 707. Pan Am did take delivery of six smaller 707s in order to open service in the north-Atlantic before anyone else did (BOAC, however, did beat Pan Am, operating the first jet service to New York from London on 4 October 1958, although not daily). Boeing took Pan Am’s warning to heart. It assembled a production and marketing team that, according to Davies, “out-produced and out sold the experienced Douglas. More important, Pan American switched to Boeing as its main supplier. * * * [And] when Pan American sneezed, the rest of the aviation world felt a severe [draft] and most of it caught [a] cold or worse.”
First Lady Mamie Eisenhower christening the new Boeing 707 (PAHF)
707 Family Day at New York Idlewild Airport. (Allan Van Wickler photo)
The issue of economics of the jets was a major consideration during the transition from prop to jet. There was the belief that the jet would be a “rich man’s airplane” – “extra speed at extra prices. . . a “super-first class premium ride” for well-heeled patrons, according to Robert Daley, in An American Saga – Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire. Pan Am took the opposite view. Daley notes that Pan Am saw the jet as a way to keep costs down as the tourist fare had just been introduced with great success resulting in increased trans-Atlantic travel 30% over the previous year. Once the jets were in service, Pan Am’s position was clear, as shown in the 1958 Annual Report to shareholders:
“In April, 1958, Pan American inaugurated transatlantic Economy class service offering fast, comfortable transportation at a greatly reduced fare. Whereas the roundtrip fare between New York and London was $783.00 First class, and $567.00 Tourist class, the new Economy class fare was $453.00.
“Economy class service increases aircraft seating capacity by use of close seat spacing required for that new class…Luxury services are curtailed. Economy class service, sponsored by your company, again emphasizes the leadership in expanding air travel by bringing it within the budgets of more and more people who heretofore could not afford to travel abroad.
“Over 100 transatlantic Clipper flights per week are scheduled during the 1959 season, all offering Economy class service. Jet Clippers will operate 50 of these flights with the remainder being flown with long-range Super-7 Clippers”.
Thus, while the Jet Age also ushered in a class of travelers known as the “Jet Set”, it also ushered in the opportunity for overseas travel to the mass market and created the international tourist.
Jet Clipper America arriving at London on 8 September 1958 on a non-scheduled flight. It was the first American-built jetliner to land in Britain. (PAHF)
Jet Clipper America arriving at Paris LeBourget on inaugural flight 27 October 1958. (Allan Van Wickler photo)
In the next posting, the stories of the Boeing 720 and what Ron Davies referred to as “one of the great airliners of all time”, the Boeing 707-321 will be told.
For additional information about Pan American World Airways:
The Book Pan American World Airways – Aviation history Through the Words of its People contains 71 stories written by the people of Pan Am who played important roles in many of the important events in Pan Am’s history. The book is published by BlueWaterPress.
Preview Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People
For purchasing information, visit the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon
Also available in a Kindle Edition
For a companion book with a timeline of Pan Am history and images of aircraft, timetables and other memorabilia, see a preview of Pan American World Airways – Images of a Great Airline.
The book is also available directly from the publisher, BlueWaterPress or Amazon.
For further information about the history of Pan American World Airways, visit: Pan Am Historical Foundation