AMERICAS: Boeing marks 50th anniversary of 707 Flight

Boeing marked the 50th anniversary of the first flight of its 707 jetliner, and the point in commercial aviation history when propellers gave way to the jet age and air travel became affordable and available. On a typically cold and rainy Northwest Friday afternoon 20 December, 1957, Boeing’s chief of flight test Tex Johnston, his […]


Boeing marked the 50th anniversary of the first flight of its 707 jetliner, and the point in commercial aviation history when propellers gave way to the jet age and air travel became affordable and available.

On a typically cold and rainy Northwest Friday afternoon 20 December, 1957, Boeing’s chief of flight test Tex Johnston, his copilot Jim Gannet and flight engineer Tom Layne sat on the drenched runway at Renton Municipal Airport in the first production 707, checked weather reports and waited for the chance to take the new airplane up for its maiden flight.

At 12:30 p.m., the decision was made to go. But as the 707 climbed over the city of Renton, the unpredictable weather immediately closed in around the airliner and forced a landing at nearby Boeing Field after just seven minutes in the air. Later thatday, the sky cleared enough for the crew to take the 707 up for a 71-minute flight.This historic day was the culmination offive years of hard work and gut-wrenchingdecisions. With the 707, Boeing PresidentWilliam Allen and his leadership team had"bet the company" on a vision that the futureof commercial aviation was in jets.

The prototype model 367-80 or "Dash 80" led to a revolution in air transportation. Although it never entered commercial service itself, the Dash 80 gave birth to the 707 series of jetliners. Much larger, faster and smoother than the propeller airplanes it was replacing, the Boeing 707 quickly changed the face of international travel.