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 January 2005


By Sebastian Steinke

For thousands of old-established Boeing workers and guests of honour assembled in the Renton plant in Seattle, steeped in tradition, it was an emotional farewell when on 28 October the 1050th and last 757, a red-and-white 757-26D, serial number 33967, ceremoniously rolled out of final assembly accompanied by artificial smoke and spotlights. Many of those present were wearing T-shirts that bore the message, “Celebrate the Legacy”, for after all the sales success of the 757 had once saved Boeing when the company was up to its neck in problems.

“The 757 changed the world of commercial aviation with its extended range capabilities, operational efficiency and the introduction of computer-aided design, composite manufacturing and integrated flight displays and controls,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and Chief Executive Alan Mulally. We're proud of the 757's innovative contribution to our safe and efficient global air transportation system, and the fact that passengers will enjoy the 757 airplane in service for years to come.”

When at the beginning of the 1970s Boeing began working on the concept for a 727 successor called the “7N7”, the company's situation was anything but rosy: the manufacturer had financially overstretched itself with the 747, which initially was completely overengineered and whose later success still lay in the future. Meanwhile the American airlines were sliding into the choppy waters of liberalisation in the 1970s after the oil-price shock and were hardly in a position to order any new aircraft. The then President of Boeing, T.A. Wilson, adopted drastic measures, making 70,000 staff redundant and suspending work on a programme which was to have produced a supersonic competitor to the Concorde, the Supersonic Transport (SST).

Instead of the thirsty, noisy planes of the first generation of jets, the requirement was now for economic, new twin-jets that could fly with a full payload from the east coast of the USA to the west coast and also comply with the new anti-noise regulations. In a desperate show of strength, Boeing now embarked on two new aircraft construction programmes in parallel: a wide-body model, the “7X7” (the later 767) and the already mentioned 7N7, which subsequently became the 757.

Designed for 180 passengers, the 7N7 initially adopted many of the design features of its three-engined predecessor, the best-seller 727, but it needed to reduce its fuel consumption by at least 35 percent per seat, which it subsequently more than managed. The fuselage and cockpit from a 727-200 were combined with a pair of new wings and new engines with a high bypass ratio. The wings were only slightly swept back and achieved almost as good runway take-off characteristics as customers of the 727 had become accustomed to, yet with a much simpler design. Where necessary, the 757 needed only 1,700 metres of runway to get airborne. This came with a price, namely a relatively low cruise speed, but in the main operating area, transcontinental flights in the USA, there was no requirement for an extremely high cruise speed. The T-shaped empennage of the early 7N7, which in the initial studies even had a central aft-mounted engine, bore a marked resemblance to the 727.

But meanwhile Boeing had discovered that only half-hearted modernisation of the 727 would be more expensive than developing an independent new design using new and better technology. The T-tail was therefore abandoned and the nose tip was redesigned for a two-man cockpit, something which at the time was quite revolutionary in the USA. Instead of copying the 727, the narrow-bodied type, now known as the “757”, profited ever more strongly from the widebody 767 that was developed in parallel. Yet unlike the 767, the 757 continued to use the body contour of the 707, 727 and 737. Phil Condit, who was later to be appointed Boeing President and CEO, was put in charge of the 757 programme. Alan Mulally, the present Chief Executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, was actually a member of Condit's team.

Two large orders from Eastern Airlines and British Airways for 40 aircraft set the seal on the official programme launch in the spring of 1979. Rolls-Royce, with the RB.211-535, was the first foreign engine supplier to be involved in a Boeing programme right from the start, although customers were also offered the Pratt & Whitney PW2037 and PW2040 as alternatives.

The first 757-200 rolled out of the plant on 13 January 1982, just five months after its more prominent sister, the 767, and on 19 February it took off on its maiden flight as the N757A, with John Armstrong and Lew Wallick at the controls. Launch customer Eastern commenced scheduled services with the 757 at the beginning of 1983.

Although the 767 still had a three-man cockpit after tough negotiations with the American pilot unions, this time it followed its small sister, the 757, and shortly after the first deliveries it too did away with the accustomed third seat for the flight engineer. In its place was the Engine Indication and Crew Alerting System (EICAS). Since then, the still mechanically controlled 757 and 767 models have had a common type rating, so that pilots trained on the one are also qualified to fly the other.

After Lockheed and its TriStar withdrew from the commercial market and McDonnell Douglas put on ice a study for a 757 competitor, the ATMR/ DC-11, the field was left almost exclusively to Boeing with its 767 and 757 in the booming 1980s and 1990s. But then Airbus started making inroads into the American market, the home beat of the 757, with its A300 and A310.

By the time the 757 was rolled out, it had already won 136 orders. After an initially barren period, American Airlines and United each ordered 80 aircraft, so that from the end of the 1980s the programme had more than broken even. In Germany, the main customers of the 757 were LTU (12 aircraft plus one for LTE) and Condor (17 B 757-200's and 13 B 757-300's). Even Lufthansa tried out Condor's 757-300's, although it decided against deploying the stretched version.

The year with the most orders was 1989, with 166 units. By the end of 2004, the list of sales had grown to an impressive 1050 civil orders, the last of which will be delivered in April 2005. American Airlines alone bought 126 planes as the biggest 757 customer, with Delta in second place with 110 aircraft. By the year 2000, annual sales had fallen back to 45. After 11 September 2001, in which two of the four hijacked planes were 757's, demand dropped back even further. ATA is the only US airline to have ordered the 757 since then.

In a history lasting over 20 years, the 757 also underwent technical modification: as well as the original 757-200, other variants with a greater range were also offered. From 1986 (Rolls-Royce engines) and 1990 (Pratt & Whitney engines), the 757 was certificated for Extended-range Twin engine Operations (ETOPS 180). This meant that, having conquered the US domestic market, the 757 was soon a contender for the transatlantic routes, with a new category of direct flights with twin-jets. British Airways alone deployed 50 Boeing 757's. The repertoire of the extremely low-cost twin-jet extended from short hops around the British Isles to the east coast of the USA, assuming good utilisation.

At the end of 1985, UPS even ordered 20 of a customised variant, the 757-200PF (Package Freighter), to be used as a cargo aircraft. Its windowless fuselage featured a forward side freight door and cargo flooring. On the other hand Royal Nepal Airlines ordered the combination version 757-200M, which did have cabin windows, but remained a one-of-a-kind specimen. By contrast, the other freighter versions, the 757-200F and 757-200SF, came about as retrospective conversions of used passenger aircraft.

The most significant modification ever undergone by the Boeing 757 was stretching it by 7.11 metres into the 757-300. This version first ordered by Condor and which flew for the first time on 4 September 1998, could transport 243 passengers in a two-class configuration or up to 279 passengers in a single class layout. However, the passenger cabin, which was now over 43 metres long, stood out in chartered operations, with its single aisle, long turnarounds and complicated baggage loading, so that the 757-300 never caught on in a big way, despite its low calculated seat mile cost and despite orders from (amongst others) Condor, Northwest, ATA and Continental.

It made up for this by having a military career as a long-range transporter for VIPs: at the end of the 1990s four C-32A's designated 757-2G4 and powered by PW2040 engines were purchased by the US Air Force to replace the VC-137B/C's procured on the basis of the Boeing 707. With their elegant national paintwork, these aircraft have a range of 9,260 kilometres with auxiliary tanks. Based with the 89th Air Transport Wing in Andrews near Washington DC, they are frequently used to transport the US Vice President and members of Congress. Even more exotic is the military variant C-32B, based on used commercial aircraft. There are only a few of these aircraft, painted in a neutral grey and subject to changes of registration, which are deployed on secret missions for US State Department's Foreign Emergency Support Team and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Boeing then explored the commercial opportunities with the technically modified C-32A. The VIP long-range version with the stronger wings of the 757-300 was to have been offered on the civil market, as the 757-200ERX, but this variant met with little interest, although a number of new and also converted 757's are today used as extremely spacious private jets with an intercontinental range. Well-known examples are the 757's used as VIP charter planes by Privatair and the two private 757's owned by Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen.

While Boeing's slender twin-jet succeeded in ever new roles, powerful competing types were developed not only at Airbus (the A321) but also within Boeing itself: the significantly more powerful 737NG medium-range family which had a new wing. From the time that the longest version, the 737-900 for up to 189 passengers appeared and no later than 1997, the 757's undisputed territory was confined to long distances, especially as Boeing wanted to offer a model with even higher capacity – the 737-900X, albeit up to now without success.

However, it was the future 7E7 which sealed the fate of the 767 and 757. Like the 7X7 and 7N7 in their time, the 7E7 continues the same success recipe: a twin-engined aircraft featuring revolutionary new engines and increased use of new materials, especially carbon fibre.

When the last 757 is delivered in April, the majority of the workforce will transfer to nearby 737 production in Renton. Over the last three years, Boeing has shed 27,000 jobs, but demand is finally picking up again. At the end of the year 3,000 new jobs are to be created in various locations in Seattle. Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher recently raised the overall production target for 2005 to a total of 320 civilian jets, and expects this figure to rise still further in 2006. This is without counting the military order for 108 maritime patrol aircraft based on the Boeing 737.

From page 22 of FLUG REVUE 1/2005

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