First flight: 1957
Role: Narrow-body jet airliner
Taking a risk on jumping into the competitive passenger-airplane market, Boeing created the B-707. Little did they know that the B-707 would dominate passenger air transport as well as usher in the Jet-Age.
During the 1950’s Boeing was making almost all of its profit from military contracts and Douglas had a strong foothold in the civilian market. Based off another Boeing aircraft, the “Dash 80,” the B-707 was initially designed for both military and civilian use. Since Boeing’s last passenger transport, the 377 Stratocruiser, had given the company a $15 million loss it was obviously hesitant to jump straight into the civilian market. The B-707 endured many design changes and modifications in order to satisfy customer demands as well as competing with Douglas. These changes ranged from fin and wing design to fuselage structure. Taking to the skies for the first time on December 20, 1957, the B-707 first went into service with Pan American and became the first jet to be commercially successful.
The B-707 made its first commercial flight on October 26, 1958 and flew from New York to Paris. Due to the competition between Boeing and Douglas, striving to make the B-707 the better plane quickly made it the most popular jetliner of its time. This led to quick developments in runways, airport terminals, baggage handling, catering, and other transportation infrastructure. This also led to the upgrading of air traffic control in order to avoid interfering with military jet operations. One would think that such popularity would be a welcomed thing by Boeing, but in the late 1960’s that was not the case. The B-707’s own popularity eventually ended up being its downfall. As the popularity of the plane increased so did the passenger quantities. Unfortunately the B-707 was becoming too small to handle the amount of passengers on the routes that it was designed for. Modifying the plane was not a viable option due to size limitations so the B-707 was slowly being replaced by the B-747. The last flight for passengers by a U.S. carrier was on October 30, 1983 with Trans World Airline.
While the B-707 was designed mainly for airline use, a few of them became quite unique. One of the most noteworthy of these models was named the VC-1376, or as it was commonly known as, Air Force One. Two of them were made and in operational use from 1972 to 1990. Both planes are now on display with one at the National Museum of the USAF and the other at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Among his many other planes, John Travolta owns a former Qantas B-707. Travolta had the plane restored to its original design and is licensed to fly it as second in command.
The B-707 truly did pave the way for jetliners to become what they are today. While modern planes may be flying the skies today, they all owe thanks to the B-707 for taking that big risk.