America entered the age of the jet transport on July 15, 1954, when the Boeing 707 prototype, the model 367-80, made its maiden flight from Renton Field, south of Seattle. Forerunner of the more than 14,000 Boeing jetliners built since, the prototype, nicknamed the "Dash 80," served 18 years as a flying test laboratory before it was turned over to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in May 1972.
In May 1990, under an arrangement with the Smithsonian, Boeing returned the airplane to Seattle for full restoration after it spent 18 years in the Arizona desert. The refurbished Dash 80 made a special fly-over of the five Boeing facilities in the Puget Sound area on July 15, 1991, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of The Boeing Company and the 37th anniversary of its own first flight.
Production go-ahead for the Dash 80 was announced by Boeing Aug. 30, 1952, as a company-financed $16 million investment. The airplane rolled from the factory less than two years later, on May 14, 1954. Its first flight that July marked the 38th anniversary of The Boeing Company.
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 March 11, 1957, when it streaked nonstop on a press demonstration flight 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. Although it never entered commercial service itself, it 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.
Commercial history was made Oct. 26, 1958, when Pan American World Airways inaugurated trans-Atlantic 707 jet service between New York and Paris; jetliners then rapidly entered service throughout the world.
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. A number of variants were developed for special use, including shorter-bodied airplanes and the 720 series, which was lighter and faster with better runway performance.
Boeing quickly developed the larger 707-320 Intercontinental series with a longer fuselage, bigger wing 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 truly intercontinental range of over 4,000 miles in a 141-seat (mixed class) seating configuration.
Early in the 1960s, the Pratt & Whitney JT3D turbofan engines were fitted to provide lower fuel consumption, reduce noise and further increase range to about 6,000 miles.
Following the success of the 707, Boeing has developed a complete family of commercial jetliner models, each model tailored to specific air route requirements. Today, Boeing jetliners account for nearly three-fourths of the world's commercial jet fleet.