Pan Am Series – Part XLV: The Boeing 707 – 2

 

720 Machat

 

The Boeing 720B

With the launch of the Jet Age with its 707-100 series, Boeing soon found itself at a competitive disadvantage with Douglas, who already had an established world-wide network of agents, representatives and salesmen to market its DC-8 jet. To counter this, according to Ron Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, Boeing produced what it called “a family of airliners, focusing on the commonality of parts between the various models”. Davies also noted that “although this did not look like a family until the Boeing 727 was launched in 1963, the idea was nevertheless effective, even though the 707s seemed to look the same”.  According to Davies, Boeing “made much of its willingness to meet a customer’s precise requirements, whereas Douglas was inclined to be more rigid, offering a choice of DC-8 series but reluctant to deviate from the basic specifications of each series.”

Out of this came the Boeing 720.

As described in its website, while the 707-100 series was being introduced and the long-range 707-300 series was being planned, Boeing also decided to develop a 707 derivative with increased performance for short-to-medium range routes, allowing the plane to operate from shorter runways. Initially the plane was identified as the 707-020, was later changed to 717-020 and, with input from launch customer United Airlines, was eventually designated the 720.

Outwardly the model 720 resembled the 707, but it was a very different airplane. It had a much lighter structure and was 9 feet (2.74 meters) shorter than the 707-100. It also had an increased wing sweep on the leading edge between the fuselage and inboard engines as well as full-span Krueger leading edge flaps. The 720 carried less fuel than the 707-100. Combined with its lighter structure, this gave the plane a lower gross weight, increased takeoff performance and a higher top speed.

The 720 went into service on 5 July 1960 with United Airlines. Boeing built 65 model 720s. The only variant of the 720 was the 720B which first flew on 6 October 1960.  The main difference on the 720B was the installation of Pratt and Whitney JT3D Turbofan engines that increased the takeoff and climb performance as well as cruise speed of the plane. These engines also increased the range to 4000 miles, which, for a short time, was the longest range for any commercial airliner. Boeing built a total of 89 720Bs.

Pan American operated nine 720Bs, delivered between 1963 and 1965. They were mainly used in the Caribbean and Latin America and were eventually disposed of by 1974.

Boeing 720B, Clipper Flying Arrow (Jon Proctor)

Boeing 720B, Clipper Flying Arrow (Jon Proctor)

The 720 proved to be an economical plane to operate and was a favorite of pilots, passengers and operators alike. However, the rapid pace of technology soon caught up with it as the more capable 727 replaced the 720 as the leader in the medium-range, high-performance market.

 

The Boeing 707-321

“One of the Great Airliners of All Time”

In his seminal book, Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, Ron Davies referred to the Boeing 707-320 Series as “one for the great airliners of all time”. While this airliner may have later been overshadowed by her bigger and more powerful sisters, this statement remains true. Pan American began taking deliveries of the Boeing 707-321 (-321 indicated Pan American service) in 1959. However, the impact of the aircraft was really felt during the following decade.

The 1960s, in particular the years 1963-1968, represented the pinnacle of Pan American’s success. Pan American dominated the international airline arena like no other airline during that decade, a period when the volume of air traffic quadrupled.

During that time, Pan American could do no wrong. By the middle of 1962, it was the first airline to complete 100,000 transatlantic flights, a figure, according to Davies, “not even approached by any other airline at that time”.  On 7 March 1963, Pan American moved into a new building that towered over Grand Central Station in New York City, with the “Pan Am” abbreviation in huge letters on the top, visible for miles up and down Park Avenue. As Robert Daley said, in An American Saga, “The once tiny airline had become the world’s biggest and most famous”.

In the airline’s 1965 Annual Report, it was announced the retirement from regular service the last of its piston fleet, making Pan American an “all-jet airline”.  The 1967 Annual Report, which, by some accounts, detailed Pan American’s most successful year in its history, highlighted the delivery of 32 jet aircraft in 1967 with an additional 31 “present generation jets” on order for delivery in 1968-69 and announced airline’s $600,000,000 order for 25 Boeing 747 “Superjets”, and in doing so, “led the industry to a new generation of heavy duty transports”. It was also announced that “Pan Am will be the first American-flag airline to operate [Anglo-French Concorde] supersonic jets”, while also reserving “substantially more delivery positions for American SSTs than any other airline”. The report also noted that “Pan Am made the first fully automatic approach and landing in scheduled service” and in the year since, has “completed over 100 of these approaches and landings”.

1965 Annual Report     1967 Annual Report

 

The Boeing 707-321 was in the center of it all. It flew everywhere on Pan American’s routes, and all together 120 of this variant were operated, in addition to the eight 707-121’s and nine 720B’s.

The 707-300 series had a longer fuselage, bigger wings and higher-powered engines. With these improvements, which allowed increased fuel capacity from 15,000 gallons to more than 23,000 gallons, the 707 had a truly intercontinental range of over 4,000 miles in a 141-seat (mixed class) seating configuration. The aircraft was later fitted with Pratt & Whitney JT3D turbofan engines that provided for  lower fuel consumption, reduced noise and further increased its range to about 6,000 miles.

The 707 quickly became the most popular jetliner of its time, and its popularity led to rapid developments in airport terminals, runways, airline catering, baggage handling, reservations systems, and other air transport infrastructure. The advent of the 707 also led to the upgrading of air traffic control systems to prevent interference with military jet operations.

 

Boeing 707-321, Clipper (Michel Gilliand)

Boeing 707-321B, Clipper Emerald Isle (Michel Gilliand)

Boeing 707-213, Clipper Gem of the Skies, at New York Kennedy Airport (Peter Black, courtesy of Jon Proctor)

Boeing 707-321B, Clipper Gem of the Skies, at New York Kennedy Airport (Peter Black, courtesy of Jon Proctor)

Boeing 707-321 at Los Angeles (Jon Proctor)

Boeing 707-321, Clipper Lark, at Los Angeles International Airport (Jon Proctor)

Boeing 707-321, Clipper (Michel Gilliand)

Boeing 707-321B, Clipper Northern Eagle (Michel Gilliand)

Boeing 707-321 at Fairbanks (Jon Proctor)

Boeing 707-321 at Fairbanks (Jon Proctor)

Below is the cover, inside cover, round-the-world schedules and route map from the September 1967 timetable. This is a small example of the extent of Pan American’s operations in the 1960s.

1967 Timetable -0003-11967 Timetable - 1

1967 Timetable -0001-11967 Timetable -0002-1

1967 Timetable -0004-21967 Timetable -0005-1

As the 1960s drew to a close, the exponential growth in air travel led to the 707’s being a victim of its own success. The 707 was now too small to handle the increased passenger densities on the routes for which it was designed. Stretching the fuselage was not a viable option because the installation of larger, more powerful engines would in turn need a larger undercarriage, which was not feasible given the design’s limited ground clearance. The answer to the problem was the first twin-aisle airliner—the Boeing 747. The 707’s first-generation engine technology was also rapidly becoming obsolete in the areas of noise and fuel economy, especially after the 1973 oil crisis.

The Boeing 707 brought Pan American to the highest levels of international commercial aviation. It made international travel accessible to more and more travelers and was seen in all corners of the globe. It was, to many of Pan American’s pilots and flight attendants, their favorite airliner, and is cherished in their memories.

N496PA_Boeing_707-321B_Andrew Thomas   Scrapyard_at_Tucson_-_Davis-Monthan_AFB_Andrew Thomas

Pan American’s Boeing 707’s in their final resting place. (Andrew Thomas)

TWA and Pan American 707s at Los Angeles International Airport (Jamie  Baldwin)

TWA and Pan American 707s at Los Angeles International Airport, circa 1968 (Jamie Baldwin)

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

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

PA 707 LAX-eb

 

“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.”

1stRollout P st John Turner-1

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 XXII: The Boeing 747

Boeing 747 Machat

Pan American Goes “Top of the World” With the 747

“Would you build it if I bought it?”

“Would you buy it if I built it?”

As legend has it, these were the utterances between Juan Trippe of Pan American and Bill Allen of Boeing while fishing from the Wild Goose in Puget Sound one summer’s day. By the end of their outing, there was, according to Bob Gandt in Skygods – The Fall of Pan Am, a verbal commitment to build an aircraft  what in Trippe’s mind would be a “stopgap airplane” top fill the void between the first generation jets –  the Boeing 707 and the DC-8 – and the yet-to-be-built Supersonic Transport, the SST.

Pan American had been enjoying unprecedented growth during the decade of the 1960s, with traffic, according to R.E.G. Davies in Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, increasing an average of about 15% per year. Business was booming and it was time to move forward. What was the next step? In Robert Daley’s An American Saga, the next step could have been the Supersonic Transport. At the time, the British and French were planning the Concorde. In the US, there were also plans for an SST, but the costs were beyond what the government could afford. Because of that, President Kennedy was put into a position as to whether to back the US project or not, and before he could decide, asked the then head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Najeeb Halaby (who would later become Pan Am’s Chairman) to ask Juan Trippe not to buy the foreign Concorde. Trippe, however, was aware that Kennedy was wavering and decided to force the President’s hand. He traveled to England and France in May 1963 and , according to Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul in The Chosen Instrument, “took an option on eight planes. . . [and] became the first airline other than Air France and B.O.A.C. to order a supersonic airliner”. This did not go over well with the President.

Shortly thereafter, however, President Kennedy “gave the signal for a commercial supersonic program to proceed and Trippe signed up for fifteen [Boeing] S.S.T.s.”

Unfortunately, the SST would not become operational for another ten years, and something needed to be done with the anticipated increase in airline travel. What would that be? According to Ron Davies, “Trippe had always been bolder than his contemporaries in going for larger aircraft; indeed he seemed to have followed a policy of ordering types which were typically twice the size of the previous generation. * * * [and] [t]he only way to increase capacity, apart from adding frequencies –  another method of coping with increased demand, but which was practically impossible, because of airport and airway congestion –  was to increase the aircraft size.” And that resulted in what Bob Gandt referred to as the “Everyman Airplane”: “The first jets had made world travel available to Everyman, not just the rich and elite. Now they had to build an airplane to satisfy the new yearning to travel – an Everyman airplane.” Thus lay the seeds for the Boeing 747.

By cajoling Bill Allen into such a project, according to Davies, “Juan Trippe went for broke.” To Bender and Altschul, it was a “spectacular gamble”. For Bill Allen of Boeing, according to Gandt, “[i]t would be the perfect swan song if he could step down knowing that he had launched the world’s mightiest ship of the sky. It would secure Boeing’s future well into the century. Or it could ruin Boeing“. The same fate faced Juan Trippe, according to Bender and Altschul, “by placing his company, its employees and its shareholders at enormous risk. If he judged correctly and was lucky to boot, Pan Am’s leadership would be maintained. If he was wrong or fate was cruel, the airline might well go bankrupt.”

On 22 December 1965, Juan Trippe and Bill Allen signed a Letter of Intent for the Boeing 747. On 13 April 1966, Pan American formally ordered twenty-five airplanes. But before the April agreement, a huge obstacle arose: On 30 March, President Johnson invited the Business Council to a dinner. Both Juan Trippe and Bill Allen were in attendance. During the dinner Johnson pleaded for austerity due to economic problems caused by the war in Southeast Asia. This jolted both Trippe and Allen, whose 747 project was not exactly austere. Was the project in jeopardy? After the dinner, Trippe, who had previously no success in having a personal meeting with Johnson, approached him to press his case. Johnson asked Trippe if anyone knew about the project and Trippe said “no, except for Bill Allen”.  Johnson then asked Trippe to be at the White House the next day “to see someone”. The next day Trippe was taken to the Pentagon to discuss the project with the Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. At the time, another large capacity aircraft, known as the C-5A, was being developed for the Pentagon by Lockheed. McNamara pressed Trippe on the possibility of his waiting for a commercial version of the C-5A. Trippe argued his case for the 747 noting the impracticability of creating a commercial version of the C-5A. McNamara agreed and brought Trippe back to the White House where Johnson ordered that they “work it out”.  Both Trippe and Allen hammered it out with the White House and the Pentagon, and then went for approval from their respective Boards of Directors. With Johnson’s approval, the Pan Am directors were convinced. So convinced, that an option for an additional ten planes was authorized for incorporation into the contract, thus making it, according to Bender and Altschul, “the largest single order for a single aircraft model in the history of commercial aviation”.

Retired Pan American Captain John Marshall, who flew for the airline for years, wrote about the development of the Boeing 747 in an article that appeared in Airways Magazine. Below are excerpts from that article:

“Pan Am’s Juan Trippe was a visionary executive who dreamed in only one dimension: big.  Pan Am was the launch customer for the first successful jet transport, the Boeing 707, and it was Trippe who saw the need for an even larger airplane to keep up with the burgeoning growth in air traffic in the early ’70s.  In the mid-60’s, when the 707 was still a novelty in the world’s skies, Trippe took his ideas to Boeing’s Bill Allen.  He and Allen were alumni of the old school, both of them men of courage and daring, and after many long and sometimes contentious meetings between Pan Am’s planners and Boeing’s engineers, the decision was made to go ahead with the giant aircraft. 

“It was a tremendous gamble.  The 747 would embrace new design and technology that up to then had only existed in the dreams of engineers.  The technical hurdles that had to be cleared were enormous.  The new airplane would carry up to 500 passengers; one of the early questions was, how do you evacuate 500 people from an airplane in just 90 seconds?  The FAA, approached by Boeing to relax its 90-second evacuation criteria, dug in its heels and remained firm.  90 seconds was the limit, or the airplane would not be certified.  Engineers wrestled for days with the problem, and eventually redesigned the interior of the cabin to include not just one center aisle, but two, running the entire length of the airplane, with cross-aisles at each of the four main entry doors (there was an additional over-wing escape exit).  The doors were redesigned to permit egress of a staggered two-abreast.

“Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the aircraft’s designers was that of the engines.  While Pratt & Whitney was working on the prototype of the huge JT-9D engine, it had yet to be tested, and it was far from certain that it would be ready in time to mate with the 747.  Boeing had bitter memories of the B-29 bomber and its star-crossed marriage with the Wright Cyclone engines, which had a nasty habit of catching fire and burning off the wing.  The giant JT-9D engine would be the first jet engine mated to an airframe that had not earned its stripes on the wing of a military airplane.  It was an enormous gamble.

“The initial design specifications of the new airplane had the takeoff gross weight pegged at 550,000 pounds.  As the 747 design grew and matured, it put on weight, the bane of every aeronautical engineer.  A massive effort was directed at slimming-down the airplane, and eventually an all-up weight of 710,000 pounds became the final design target.  Four engines, each producing 41,000 pounds of thrust, would be required to get the 747 airborne, and as the airframe design came closer to being finalized, Pratt was way behind the power curve.  Engine development and production proceeded so slowly that the entire project threatened to sink under its own weight.  At one point there were so many engine-less airframes sitting on the ramp at the Everett production facility that their cost exceeded the net worth of the Boeing company.

“The early JT-9D-3 engines that powered the early model 747s were fraught with problems; they suffered from frequent compressor stalls, and would overtemp at the drop of a hat.  It quickly became a procedure that once the engines were running, while the airplane was on the ground at least one of the three cockpit crewmembers had to constantly monitor the engine temperatures for overheat.  Even the first scheduled passenger flight of the giant airplane was delayed several hours because of engine problems, severe enough to force an ignominious change to a backup aircraft.  The sheer weight of the engine and nacelle resulted in a new, heretofore unknown phenomenon, the “ovalizing” of the engine itself.  Its weight was literally pulling the engine out of round.  One of Boeing’s engineers put the situation into cleverly-phrased perspective.  “We have an unround situation,” he said.

“Engineers devised a unique, space-age solution.  It required that the largest amount of weight be placed in the smallest package, in the cowling of the engine itself.  The result was the use of one of the densest metals known, spent uranium, which was embedded in the engine cowl.  It solved the problem

“Trippe envisioned the 747 as a bridge aircraft which would carry the airlines through the adolescent years of the jet age until the supersonic transports, or SSTs, came along.  He insisted on the double deck design for the jumbo, with the flight deck perched high above the main level, so that when the airplane had outlived its passenger-carrying days, it could readily be converted into a very economic cargo carrier.  The nose cone would swing upward to reveal a nearly 200-foot straight-in main deck, accommodating cargo of a size and weight that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier.

747 Cargo

“Here the visionary pioneer made a major miscalculation.  The SST would be personified only by the Anglo-French Concorde, and even then only a few would be built.  Esthetic and graceful, it was nearly an economic disaster.  Designed when jet fuel was literally pennies per gallon, by the time it had completed what was then the most exhaustive test program ever devised, the oil crisis of the early ’70s had made the airplane almost prohibitively expensive to operate.  It soon became obvious that there would not be squadrons of supersonic transports gracing the skies, criss-crossing the oceans and continents to the world’s capitals, slicing flying times from hours and hours to hours and minutes.  The United State’s answer to the Angle-French Concorde, Boeing’s 2707, was slain by the stroke of a Congressional pen.  The B-747 would have to carry the transoceanic burden, at least for the foreseeable future.

“The introduction of the Boeing 747 represented a quantum leap in air transport technology and design.  Twice as big as its predecessor the 707, the Jumbo not only dwarfed anything it might encounter on the world’s airport ramps, but provided wonderful grist for anecdotal tales that were told among the airlines that were fortunate to have been at the head of the line to fly her.  Untold numbers of photos were snapped of comely stewardesses (still so-called in the early ’70s) standing in the cowling of the huge Pratt JT-9 engines, surrounded by the great shroud that enclosed the big fans.  “Artist’s renderings” was a fanciful term applied to the surrealistic drawings of the new 747 that appeared in promotional material.  The airplane was parked at a futuristic terminal, with a jetway conveniently nestled against each of her eight main entry doors.  There were piano bars (an innovation that briefly came to pass with at least one jumbo operator) and movie amphitheaters, a Radio City in the sky.  Passengers would be able to pass to and fro, as though attending a wonderful, celestial cocktail party. 

Pan American’s 1967 Annual Report noted that its order for the Boeing 747 “led the airline industry to a new generation of heavy duty transports. . .[and that] new standards of passenger comfort and convenience will be introduced. Simplified ticketing, computerized check-in and automated baggage handling will be provided. Pan Am’s 747s will have two aisles and seat 366 passengers.” In the 1968 Annual Report, Pan American noted that the “year 1969 will mark the beginning of the second stage of the jet age – the time of the Boeing 747 and other wide-bodied, advance-technology jet transports. Pan Am again is the leader. * * * Pan Am will be the first to put it into service to the major world markets we serve. Pan Am’s fleet of thirty-three 747s will be the largest. * * * Pan Am’s operating and marketing plans for the 747 program have already been formulated. Ground facilities are also being prepared. The men and women of Pan Am at home and abroad will be ready to put the plane in service”.

Development of the Boeing 747 as described above, was not without other challenges affecting performance and costs – the addition of a spiral staircase, for example. Building the massive aircraft also required a larger  assembly plant. That was achieved by construction of a new plant at Everett, Washington, near Paine Field.  In addition, Pan Am built a maintenance facility and extended the Pan American terminal to accommodate the big jetliners.

The illustrations below were taken from Pan American’s 1968 annual report.

The first 747 was delivered on time and was christened by the First Lady Pat Nixon on 15 January 1970. Six days later, on 21 January, the first commercial flight of a wide-body jet, Pan American flight 2, was scheduled for departure at 1900 hours for London. Clipper Young America was assigned the duty. Unfortunately, an overheating engine delayed the departure and also required a substitute aircraft, Clipper Constitution.  Never-the-less, at 0152 hours on 22 January, the 747 departed New York and arrived later that morning in London, completing an historic flight, opening the door to new era of commercial airline operations and making the Boeing 747 one of the most recognizable aircraft in the world.

In preparing this article, the following sources were used: John Marshall’s article in Airways Magazine, “The Big Jumbo”; The Chosen Instrument by Marylin Bender and Selig Altschul; An American Saga –  Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire, by Robert Daley; Pan Am – An Airline and Its Aircraft, by Ron Davies; and Skygods – The Fall of Pan Am, by Robert Gandt; and Pan American’s 1967 and 1968 annual reports.

On interesting side-note:  Pan Am’s order for twenty-five 747s and an option for ten more in 1966 was the biggest ever at the time. In November 2013 Emirates airline rewrote all records in civil aviation with an order for 150 Boeing 777X, comprising 35 Boeing 777-8Xs and 115 Boeing 777-9Xs, plus 50 purchase rights; and an additional 50 Airbus A380 aircraft.

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