Pan Am Series – Part XLIV: The Boeing 707 – 1

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“One of the Great Airliners of All Time”

Part 1

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.

The Aircraft

Boeing 707-120 - Mike Machat drawing from Pan Am - An Airline and Its Aircraft, by Ron Davies

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)

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.”

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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.”

 

october-16-1958-first-lady-mamie-eisenhower-and-pan-am-chairman-juan-trippe-christen-the-boeing-707-121-the-plane-that-inaugurated-the-commercial-jet-age-for-theFirst Lady Mamie Eisenhower christening the new Boeing 707 (PAHF)

 

707 Family Day at New York Idlewild Airport

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.

Clipper America arriving at London on 8 September 1958. It was the first American-built jetliner to land in Britain. (PAHF)

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)

Clipper America arriving at Paris Orly on inaugural flight (Allan Van Wickler photo).

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

The Pan Am Series – Part XXIV: The Boeing 377

Pan American’s Boeing 377 – The Stratocruiser

Boeing 377 - Clipper America (Mike Machat)

Boeing 377 – Clipper America (Mike Machat)

One of Pan American World Airways’ most iconic airliners was Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. In the post war years and into the 1950s, it epitomized the ultimate in luxury air travel that was unparalleled at the time and probably never will be.

The Stratocruiser was developed from the C-97 Stratofreighter, a military derivative of the B-29 Superfortress. It was Boeing’s first commercial transport since the Boeing 307 Stratoliner and it possessed all the speed and technical improvements available to bombers at the end of the war.

Like the C-97, the Stratocruiser was developed by grafting a large upper fuselage onto the lower fuselage and wings of the B-29, creating an “inverted-figure-8” double deck fuselage. The aircraft had four huge Pratt & Whitney 4360 radial engines with Hamilton Standard propellers.

According to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, the Stratocruiser “looked as ponderous as the Constellation looked graceful. It seemed to bore its way through the air, defying apparent theories of clean aerodynamics. It was, in fact, as fast as the Constellation, and set many point-to-point records.”

The Stratocruiser set a new standard for luxurious air travel with its tastefully decorated extra-wide passenger cabin and gold-appointed dressing rooms. A circular staircase led to a lower-deck beverage lounge, and flight attendants prepared hot meals for 50 to 100 people in a state-of-the-art galley.  As a sleeper, the Stratocruiser was equipped with 28 upper-and-lower bunk units.

Pan American placed the first order for 20 Stratocruisers, worth $24 million, and they began service between San Francisco and Honolulu in 1949. Fifty-six Stratocruisers were built between 1947 and 1950. In addition to Pan American, the Stratocruiser was also operated by American Overseas Airlines (acquired by Pan American in 1950), United Airlines, Northwest Airlines, B.O.A.C. and others.

The Stratocruiser was most remembered for its lower-deck lounge and staterooms. It was used on Pan American’s most prestigious routes and attracted the most discerning of passengers. Although its operating costs were high, they were offset by high revenue.

The Pan American Stratocruisers saw service all over the world. A “Super” Stratocruiser was deployed on the airline’s most prestigious route, the New York-London flight 100/101 and was operated until replaced by the Boeing 707. The “Strat” was also deployed on the New York-Rio “President Special” service but was eventually replaced by the DC-6B, the DC-7B and the Boeing 707. The aircraft also saw extensive usage on Pan American’s Pacific routes as well as the round-the-world service. The timetable images below illustrate these services:

The aircraft was also a favorite of flight crews, not the least for the fact that many celebrities were passengers. Barbara Sharfstein, a former Pan American purser who started working for the airline 1951 and stayed until 1986, when she went to United Airlines with the sale of Pan American’s Pacific routes, said, in a story in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of its People:

“I applied and was hired as a “stewardess” by Pan American World Airways in July, 1951, one month after reaching my 21st birthday and after graduating from college.  About three months later, my friend from home and school, Pat Monahan, joined me and three other new hires in a rented house one block from the Miami Airport.  We started our careers flying to South America and almost all islands in between.  We agreed it was the most amazing, wonderful life imaginable. The types of airplanes we crewed were: Convairs, DC4s, Constellations and our all time favorite, the Boeing- 377 Stratocruiser.  * * *

“[O]ne of the most memorable times in my flying career happened on the Stratocruiser when Louis Armstrong and his band were downstairs in the lounge longing to get to their instruments.   As it happened, there was a door to the cargo compartment right next to the bar.   In fact, the liquor kits were kept in the same compartment as the luggage with only a mesh rope curtain separating us from what they could spot as a few of the instruments.  I can only say it was fortunate for the weight and balance of the airplane that the lounge was centrally located or we might have been in trouble.  Almost all the passengers were in the lounge seats or on steps.  Passengers were helping me serve drinks and neither they nor I will ever forget it.”

Pan American was known for many historic “firsts” in commercial flight and the Stratocruiser was no exception, albeit, in one case, in a most unusual way. On 12 October 1957, Captain Don McLennan and crew started the four engines of Clipper America for a special mission. The story follows from the Pan Am Historical Foundation’s website:

“It was a charter flight for the U.S. Navy. The ultimate destination for the flight was just shy of 10,000 miles away, in the Antarctic at 77 degrees 51 minutes S,166 degrees 40 minutes E – the 6,000 ft. runway at the United States Naval Air Facility, McMurdo Sound; operations base for the Navy’s Operation Deep Freeze III. 

“The passengers included thirty-six Navy personnel, the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and a New Zealand cabinet minister, some reporters, but public attention was directed mostly towards the flights’ two Pan Am stewardesses, Ruth Kelly and Pat Hepinstall. The pair were about to become the first women to travel that far south, and although the clipper would be “on the ice” for less than four hours, their arrival caused a big stir at the bottom of the world – and a great news story everywhere else. U.S. Navy Rear Admiral George J. Dufek, the polar veteran in charge of the operation had suggested that such a flight might provide a great PR coup for Pan Am. Operation Deep Freeze would be probing the mysteries of the massive Ross Ice Shelf. The Pan Am flight would mark the first commercial airline flight to the Antarctic. But the admiral was also in for a surprise.

“Three kilometers away from McMurdo was New Zealand’s Scott Base, and as the social calendar was fairly wide open at both facilities, invitations were extended to the Kiwis. Many of the personnel at both bases had been there for months, while some were more recent arrivals – “summer people”. But it seems the arrival of the two young women was apparently not appreciated universally.

“According to an article written by Billy-Ace Baker in the Explorer’s Gazette, official publication of the Old Antarctic Explorer’s Association, in 2001:

“Commenting on the report that there would be no women on the proposed Pan Am flight to McMurdo Sound, Rear Admiral Dufek said: ‘If there are any hostesses they’re going to be men.’

“The Admiral, before the flight anyway, was adamant about not opening the gates to other requests to accommodate women in what was – in 1957 – an exclusive male bastion. But apparently, the stewardesses’ arrival created other conflicts, according to Baker:

“The summer tourists made a big fuss over the girls, but some members of the wintering-over party, who had several more months to spend on the ice, ran away and hid. If you haven’t seen a woman in 12 months, it’s not going to do you much good to look at one who will be gone in a couple of hours. That explains why there were only 50 men in attendance.

“During their brief stay, Kelly and Hepinstall were tasked with judging a beard contest (categories included: longest, blackest, reddest, & sexiest) and were participants in a U.S. v New Zealand dog sled race. The latter event was a failure as far as a picking a winner was concerned, as the stopwatch froze up. So did Pan Am Navigator Earl Lemon’s camera, which also froze after getting one picture.

The event was commemorated in a John T. McCoy watercolor, one of his series of Historic Pan Am Firsts:

Clipper America arriving in Antarctica, 15 October 1957 (John T McCoy watercolor).

Clipper America arriving in Antarctica, 15 October 1957 (John T McCoy watercolor).

During its service for Pan American, the Stratocruiser was dressed in three liveries. The most familiar is pictured above. Below are images of the other two, the first, the original livery upon delivery and the second, the “blue ball”, applied toward the end of its service.

The Stratocruiser played an important role in the phenomenal growth of commercial aviation after World War II and remained a presence on the world’s prestige airline routes up to the beginning of the Jet Age. From Ron Davies:

“While the Constellation is remembered with affection as the epitome of elegance of the piston-engined era, and the DC-6B for its reliability and efficiency, the Stratocruiser was the last to be retired from the world’s prestige routes when, first the turboprop Britannia, and then the Comet and the Boeing 707 jets ushered in a new era that became the Jet Age.”

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