Defining the Future of Flight

Technological leadership

Boeing 707 cockpit
The flight deck of the 707 with four crew positions was state-of-the-art in the early 1960s.

Reflecting a longstanding tradition of innovation and pushing the boundaries of flight, Boeing undertook engineering studies in the 1970s that closely parallel similar company efforts at the start of the 21st century. From giant flying-wing transports to near-sonic airliners, Wilson and his experts investigated a spectrum of intriguing possibilities even as the company improved its existing models.

Driving this behind-the-scenes engineering activity was Boeing's commitment to solving problems for its customers. In addition to rising jet fuel prices, the airlines at the time were also contending with growing public concern for the environment, heightened sensitivity to airplane noise, and the overnight deregulation of U.S. commercial aviation in 1978.

Higher fuel costs and increased competition shifted the airline industry's focus from luxury to economic efficiency. This course correction steered Boeing away from the revolutionary to the evolutionary. Its near-sonic airliner proposals gave way to new-generation subsonic jetliners that used technology to achieve greater fuel efficiency.

These efforts culminated in the single-aisle 757 and twin-aisle 767 twinjets, which entered service in the early 1980s. So fuel-efficient were they for their day that they transformed air-service patterns. The 767 in particular became the airplane of choice across the North Atlantic, displacing three- and four-engine jets.

The crucible of fast-changing times also ushered in countless Boeing innovations that are today an integral part of commercial aviation. From aerodynamics to airplane structures to avionics and propulsion, this spectrum of technical leadership set the stage for the success of the 777 in the 1990s. It continues to provide a foundation of unmatched creativity for today's development of the 787 Dreamliner.

Two important innovations that debuted with the 757 and 767 set the standard for all future jet transports: The two-crew glass cockpit and ETOPS (extended-range twin-engine operations, or what is known today as extended operations).