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Boeing 707

The Boeing 707 is a four engined commercial passenger jet aircraft developed by Boeing in the early 1950s. Although it was not the first commercial jet airliner in service (that distinction belongs to the De Havilland Comet), it was the first one to be commercially successful, and is credited by many as ushering in the "Jet Age", as well as being the first of Boeing's ubiquitous 7x7 range of airliners. The success of jet airliners can be attributed to the economics of it - a 707 could do 5 times the work of a piston engine airliner such as the DC-6 at only double the cost.



 707 at in London
BOAC 707 at Heathrow Airport in London

The 707 was based on a prototype Boeing aircraft known as the Boeing 367-80. The "Dash 80," as it was called within Boeing, cost $16 million to develop and took less than two years from project launch in 1952 to rollout on May 14, 1954. The prototype was the basis for both the KC-135, an air tanker used by the United States Air Force, and the 707. To enable the fitting of six-abreast seats, the 707's fuselage was widened by 6 inches (150 mm) compared to the original 367-80.

Pan Am was the first airline to operate the 707; the aircraft's first commercial flight was from New York to Paris on October 26, 1958. American Airlines operated the first transcontinental 707 flight on January 25, 1959. Many other airlines followed, and the 707 quickly became the most popular jetliner of its time, edging out its main competitor, the Douglas DC-8.

As the 1960s drew to a close, the exponential growth in the popularity of air travel ironically led to the 707 being a victim of its own success. It had become obvious that the 707 was now too small to handle the passenger densities on the routes for which it was designed. Stretching the fuselage was not a viable option owing to the 707's limited ground clearance which made the installation of a larger undercarriage almost impossible. Boeing's answer to the problem was the first twin aisle airliner - the 747. The 707's first-generation engine technology was also rapidly becoming obsolete in the areas of noise and fuel economy.

Production of the passenger 707 ended in 1978 (the 767 acted as its partial replacement). In total, 1,010 707s were built for civil use. The military versions remained in production until 1991.

The genes of the 707 are still in many of Boeing's current products, most notably the 737, which uses a modified version of the 707's fuselage. In fact, if the 707 were still in production it would have probably evolved into what is now the 737-900, which is arguably a modernized 707 with two Turbofan high bypass ratio engines replacing the original four Turbojet engines. Interestingly the Chinese government sponsored development of the Shanghai Y-10 during the 1970s, which was a near carbon-copy of the 707.


The original 707, the 707-120 was designed for transcontinental routes and often required a refuelling stop when used on the North Atlantic route. It was originally fitted with four Pratt and Whitney JT3C turbojets, civilian versions of the military J57 model. The later -120B version used JT3D turbofans, which were quieter, more powerful, and more fuel efficient.

The 707-220 was a 707-120 airframe fitted with more powerful JT4A engines, civilian versions of the military J75, for hot and high operations - only 5 of these were built, all for Braniff International due to extremely high fuel consumption. This marque was anyway rendered redundant by the arrival of the turbofan.

The later 707-320 and 707-420 models had larger wings, heavier weight and more fuel capacity to operate as true transoceanic aircraft. The original -320 version came equipped with JT4A turbojets, while the -320B version came with JT3D turbofans. The -320C, also turbofan-engined, had a large cargo door allowing it to serve as a dual-purpose transport aircraft. The -420 version, produced originally for BOAC, was powered by Rolls-Royce Conway engines.

The Boeing 720, originally designated 707-020 but later changed for marketing reasons, was a modification of the 707-120 designed for medium-range operation from shorter runways. It was lighter and faster than the Boeing 707, and had a simplified wing design. This model had relatively few sales, but was still profitable due to the minimal R&D costs associated with modifying an existing type. At one point in the promotion stage to airlines it was known as the 717. It was used before the Boeing 727 replaced it in the market.


A KC-135 Stratotanker refuels a .
A KC-135 Stratotanker refuels a F/A-22 Raptor.

Although 707s are no longer employed by major US airlines, many can still be found in service with smaller non-US airlines, charter services and air cargo operations.

The first two aircraft built to serve as Air Force One were custom-built Boeing 707s; these were also used by high-ranking federal officials on official trips. Many other countries use the 707 as a VIP transport, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, the Republic of Congo, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Venezuela.

The U.S. and other NATO-aligned countries (including South Africa and Israel) have used the 707 platform for aerial refueling (KC-135) and AWACS (E-3 Sentry), although many of these aircraft are now being phased out. The 707 is also the platform for the United States Air Force's Joint STARS project, and the United States Navy's E-6 Mercury.

American actor John Travolta owns (and is qualified to fly) a 707-138, registration N707JT.

See also: List of Boeing 707 operators

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Related content
Related development

Boeing C-135 - E-3 Sentry - E-6 Mercury - E-8 Joint STARS

Similar aircraft

Convair 880 - Douglas DC-8 - Shanghai Y-10

Last updated: 07-30-2005 17:19:54
Last updated: 08-23-2005 17:20:49