Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707
Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - Far Out! The 707 Ushered in the Jet Age
The 1950s were a totally rad time for aviation, as piston-powered prop planes were getting replaced by revolutionary new jets. And leading this tubular transformation was the Boeing 707, the first successful commercial jetliner. When it entered service in 1958, the 707 was a monumental leap forward in aircraft design and literally ushered in a new jet age of air travel.
See, after World War II there was major demand for a jet-powered passenger plane. Up until then, long distance flights were exclusively operated by propeller aircraft like the Douglas DC-6 and Lockheed Constellation. As awesome as those planes were, their piston engines and propellers limited their speed and altitude.
Jet engines changed everything. They allowed planes to fly way higher and over twice as fast as prop planes. We’re talking almost 600 mph compared to like 250 mph. This radically shrunk flight times and allowed airlines to efficiently operate longer nonstop routes. It was a totally radical shift.
The 707 was the first jetliner designed specifically for commercial use. Earlier jets were basically just converted military designs. With its swept wings and four revolutionary Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines, the 707 brought a gnarly new level of performance.
When Pan Am debuted the plane on its New York to Paris route in 1958, the 707 cut the flight time nearly in half compared to the old piston airliners. Can you imagine how stoked passengers were to reach Europe in just 8 hours instead of 15? It was a game changer!
The 707’s success was phenomenal. Orders were flooding in from airlines around the world eager to upgrade their fleets. Within ten years over a thousand 707s were zooming across the skies. The jet age was in full swing!
With its superior speed and range, the 707 made global travel way more accessible. It enabled airlines to efficiently serve faraway destinations that were previously unreachable. The 707 really connected the world in a way never before possible.
What else is in this post?
- Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - Far Out! The 707 Ushered in the Jet Age
- Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - Tubular Design - How the 707 Became the First Successful Commercial Jet
- Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - Radical New Engines - The Game Changing Pratt & Whitney JT3C
- Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - From Propellers to Jets - Airlines Adopt the 707
- Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - Riding in Style - The 707 Transformed the Passenger Experience
- Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - Opening Up the World - How the 707 Shrank Global Travel Times
- Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - The Plane That Connected the World - The 707's Pivotal Role in Aviation History
Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - Tubular Design - How the 707 Became the First Successful Commercial Jet
The Boeing 707's tubular design was revolutionary and directly led to it becoming the first commercially successful jetliner. See, most planes in the 1950s still had the standard wing and fuselage set-up, with the wings attached low on the fuselage. But Boeing's engineers realized that having a tubular, cigar-shaped fuselage allowed them to attach the wings higher up.
This gave the plane a super smooth and stable ride. Passengers were stoked to experience way less bumpiness and vibration compared to propeller planes. The 707 glided through the air with a silkiness never felt before.
Attaching the wings higher also enabled Boeing to make them sweptback at a sharp 35 degree angle. This angled shape was perfect for breaking the sound barrier and enabling high Mach speed flight. It gave the 707 its totally rad performance capabilities that other jets at the time couldn't match.
This tubular design philosophy actually originated a decade earlier with Boeing's pioneering B-47 Stratojet bomber. This gnarly swept-wing 6 engine beast cruised at over 600 mph. The civilian 707 adapted a lot from the B-47’s technologies to become the first commercially viable jetliner.
Boeing nailed the dimensions of the fuselage. It had enough interior room for passengers while still being narrow enough externally to cut through the air with minimum drag. This tubular shape struck the perfect balance.
It enabled Pan Am to configuration the 707’s cabin in a way never before possible. First class passengers chilled in totally plush reclining sleeper seats. Everyone got way more legroom and elbow space. Window and aisle seats were staggered to maximize head clearance.
The ingenious tubular shape also gave the plane a huge amount of interior storage space for luggage and cargo. This helped make the 707 economically viable for airlines to operate. They could fit way more bags and mail in the cargo holds than on previous aircraft.
Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - Radical New Engines - The Game Changing Pratt & Whitney JT3C
No jetliner design could be successful without some totally stellar engines providing massive thrust. For the 707, Boeing chose the Pratt & Whitney JT3C turbofan. This powerplant was way more rad than anything else available at the time and directly enabled the 707’s awesome performance.
See, most early jet engines were turbojets, like those used on the de Havilland Comet. They compressed incoming air and mixed it with fuel that ignited to propel the plane forward. But turbojets gulped fuel at mondo high rates. That limited their range and efficiency.
Pratt & Whitney’s new JT3C was a turbofan design. This meant it had an extra turbine at the front that spun a giant frontal fan. Only some of the air entering the engine went to the combustion section, while most was accelerated through ducts by the bypass fan. This provided major improvements in thrust, fuel burn, and noise reduction compared to primitive turbojets.
The JT3C’s bypass ratio was 1:1, meaning the frontal fan moved the same amount of air as the inner combustion core. By the mid-1960s, Pratt & Whitney developed the JT3D turbofan for the 707 with an even more rad bypass ratio of 2:1. This new engine was a beast, producing over 18,500 pounds of thrust. It gave the 707 longer range and enabled airlines to operate gnarly hot and high routes from airports in Mexico City, Nairobi, and La Paz.
The JT3C enabled the 707 to cruise at over 600 mph, allowing super fast point-to-point connections. Early versions could fly nonstop for 3,700 miles, quickly expanding to over 6,000 miles as Pratt & Whitney improved the engines. On transatlantic flights, the 707’s speed cut travel times nearly in half compared to piston planes.
With its awesome new powerplants, the 707 could climb straight up to the jet stream altitudes above 30,000 feet. This let it take advantage of the strongest tailwinds to boost its speed even more. Flying in the high thin air also gave passengers a super smooth ride without any bumpy turbulence.
Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - From Propellers to Jets - Airlines Adopt the 707
The advent of the 707 jetliner required a totally gnarly transition for the airlines of the 1950s. For over two decades they had operated almost exclusively propeller-driven aircraft. Their pilots, mechanics, procedures, and route structures were all optimized for the relatively slow world of piston-powered flights. Jets like the 707 brought speeds over twice as fast—an almost unthinkable leap—yet airlines knew they had to embrace this radical new technology or get left behind.
When the 707 entered service with Pan Am in 1958, it immediately started blowing people’s minds with the twice-as-fast travel times it enabled compared to old dino-burners like the DC-6B. One amused Pan Am executive remarked "the airplane made the trip so fast we arrived a day before we left.” Pan Am’s early adoption of the 707 allowed it to crush the competition on long haul routes like New York to Paris and San Francisco to Hawaii.
Other airlines quickly realized they had to go jet or go extinct. United Airlines president William Patterson called the 707 “the airplane that shrank the world.” He pushed United to become second after Pan Am to fly the plane in 1959. American, TWA, Air India, Qantas and other major airlines all scrambled to purchase 707s within just a couple years of its launch. Even corporations like Pepsi leased 707s to jet their executives around the globe far faster than possible before.
For pilots, switching from props to jets was no easy task. They had to undergo lengthy retraining to master the 707’s higher speeds and altitudes. Special attention was focused on approach and landing techniques, which were much different than traditional prop planes.airspeed management was also critical. Going too slow could cause an aerodynamic stall, while excessive speed risked structural damage.
Mechanics also had to be retrained from the ground up on the plane’s complex turbofan engines and hydraulic systems, which were far more technically sophisticated than piston powerplants. Entirely new navigation and communication avionics had to be mastered as well. No part of an airline’s operations remained unchanged by the arrival of the jet age.
The sheer logistics involved in adopting the 707 were mind boggling. From flight planning to catering to refueling, everything had to be re-thought from scratch. Route maps were completely redrawn to take advantage of the 707’s speed and range. Navigators—who were still standard on prop planes—were rendered obsolete. Airport facilities had to be massively upgraded to accommodate the larger, heavier jet aircraft.
Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - Riding in Style - The 707 Transformed the Passenger Experience
Before the 707, taking a long overseas flight was a major endurance test. Prop planes cruised slowly at lower altitudes, often encountering nasty turbulence that left passengers totally queasy. Cabins were cramped and noisy. But the 707 ushered in a radical new level of comfort and luxury that transformed the in-flight experience.
According to a 1959 New York Times article, the 707 felt like “flying in a silky limousine.” Passengers loved cruising smoothly at 39,000 feet above any rough air. Pan Am configured the cabin for maximum chillness, with spacious reclining sleeper seats in first class. Everyone got way more legroom and elbow space compared to old piston planes.
Business travelers stoked on the 707’s ability to let them arrive refreshed and ready for meetings after red-eye journeys. Gone were the groggy days of recovering from an all-night, turbulence-tossed prop flight. As Pan Am’s Juan Trippe said, 707 passengers could “arrive at their destinations without ruffled clothing, wrinkled skin, or frazzled dispositions.”
The 707’s cabin pressure and ventilation systems also made longer flights way more bearable. Advanced humidification kept moisture levels comfortable and reduced that nasty dry throat feeling. The 707 maintained a chilled 40 degree Fahrenheit temperature throughout the flight. Fresh-air exchange rates were higher than on piston planes.
Windows were also way bigger than on prop aircraft, making the cabin feel more spacious and airy. The plane’s smooth ride let designers install more lavish rotating seats, swiveling cocktail tables, and other innovations without worrying about things sliding around during turbulence.
By cruising above rough weather, the 707 also significantly reduced airsickness compared to the constant bumps and jolts of low-altitude prop flight. A 1962 TIME magazine review called the 707 the “smoothest riding airliner yet produced,” and described its interior as a “temple of peace.”
Some totally stellar perks included dressing rooms, lounges, and bars where passengers could hang out and mingle. There was a rad new level of in-flight service as well, with appetizers, multi-course meals, and champagne served on real glassware and china plates.
Carolyn Pascal, who flew on an early Pan Am 707, said “I felt like a princess. This was a whole new world of aviation.” BusinessWeek described the 707 as the “airborne counterpart of an ocean liner.”
Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - Opening Up the World - How the 707 Shrank Global Travel Times
With its revolutionary speed and range capabilities, the 707 jetliner enabled a massive reduction in worldwide travel times that opened up the planet in a way never before possible. Where old piston-powered flights took days with multiple stops, the 707 now spanned oceans and continents in a single bound. This totally transformed people’s perception of distance and made the most faraway destinations suddenly seem within easy reach.
As Juan Trippe of Pan Am said in 1958, the 707 “shrinks the world faster than ever before.” The inaugural 707 flight from New York to Paris took just 8 hours, cutting the typical 15 hour multi-stop journey on a DC-6 in half. Flying from Chicago to Rome now took 13 hours instead of 25 hours before jets. San Francisco to Tokyo was 12 hours, down from 31. Johannesburg to London shrank from 24 hours to 12 via the 707.
These dramatic reductions revolutionized travel and tourism. A 1960 New York Times article described the 707 effect: “Foreign cities that once seemed formidable distances from the United States have suddenly moved thousands of miles closer.” Expert travelers loved how the 707 enabled easy “weekend jaunts” to cities worldwide. A 1962 TIME magazine piece called the plane a “magic carpet across both oceans and continents.”
The 707 didn’t just connect US cities to the world, it tied the whole globe together in a way never possible with prop planes. Places like Bangkok, Nairobi, Sydney, and Johannesburg could now be reached from Europe in a single overnight flight. Nonstop flights connected South America to Asia and North America to the Middle East in half the time of before. The 707 erased the tyranny of distance and opened every corner of the planet.
For travel-loving jetsetters and international business travelers, this gave access to a whole new world of possibilities. They marveled at waking up in Cairo, having lunch in Paris, and being in New York for dinner—all in the same day. “I can breakfast in London, lunch in Rome, and dine in New York thanks to the 707,” remarked one enthralled passenger. The plane let travelers spend days on the ground instead of in the air.
The 707 didn’t just accelerate travel, it transformed overseas business operations. Exporters loved rapidly shuttling cargo abroad. Banks and multinationals could more closely manage far-flung branches and factories. Meetings that once took a week of travel now happened in two days. Oil firms could fly teams to remote drilling sites worldwide. The economic benefits were immense.
Totally Gnarly! Gen Z Discovers the Tubular History of the Boeing 707 - The Plane That Connected the World - The 707's Pivotal Role in Aviation History
The Boeing 707’s arrival fundamentally altered both the airline industry and global connectivity in ways never before imagined. More than just enabling much faster travel, the 707 paved the way for today’s entire worldwide aviation network. It sparked a revolution that truly connected the planet and made our modern air transportation system possible.
Just as the DC-3 opened up domestic air travel in the US during the 1930s, the 707 did the same for international routes in the jet age. As Juan Trippe said, it “brought the world closer together than ever before; made neighbors out of nations.” The 707 turned far-off exotic locales into easily accessible destinations for the first time.
But more importantly, it allowed airlines to economically serve these long-haul routes for the masses. The efficiencies and scale the 707 enabled is why flying abroad today is commonplace and not just reserved for the wealthy.
The aircraft’s excellent fuel economy and lower operating costs vs piston planes allowed carriers to profitably offer affordable fares and flexibility that growing middle class travelers worldwide could take advantage of. Its range let airlines consolidate multiple prop stops into direct hub-to-hub flights.
This hub and spoke model wasn’t possible pre-707. Efficiently moving passengers between regional spokes would take days on legacy prop planes. The 707 established daily nonstop connectivity between global hubs that remains the foundation of international route networks today.
Impressive as the original was, updated versions of the 707 had even longer range. The 707-320B could fly nonstop from Miami to Moscow. New York to Tokyo was possible too, linking key global business centers. This set the stage for today’s heavy concentration of long haul flights between financial metropolises worldwide.
The sheer volume of 707s produced is staggering - over 1,000 were built before production ceased in 1978. This massive fleet enabled true daily worldwide connectivity vs just sporadic flights. You could set your watch to 707 departures, not just hope for an occasional trip.
Boeing’s pilot and mechanic training programs also ensured a steady pipeline of talent to operate these new jets. Theplane’s popularity and Boeing’s stewardship is why many consider the 707 the DC-3 of the jet age. It democratized and connected the world in a way prop planes simply couldn’t match.