Post-War Developments: 1946-1956

The Boeing Airplane Co. ... The Jet Age Begins

So when the jet engine came along, we had an engine that could make us go fast, but that guzzled fuel at a terrific rate. So that in the long range, we wanted to go fast so that you could go a lot of miles before you ran out of gas ... And we had the wind tunnel here that could do it, that could study the problem.
-- George Schairer, Boeing chief aerodynamicist

The new information found after the war made the jet engine practical, so the C-97 was the last propeller-driven plane built by Boeing.

Many of the problems encountered during the early stages of jet airplane development were solved in the new Boeing High-Speed Wind Tunnel. Completed in 1944, the tunnel was dedicated to Edmund "Eddie" Allen, test pilot and chief of Boeing Flight and Research from 1941 until his death in 1943 in the crash of a B-29 during testing.

The new wind tunnel was the largest privately owned facility of its type. When the B-47 made its first flight, Dec. 17, 1947, the swept-wing jet bomber was a radical new design and the first aircraft that depended on the wind tunnel for its configuration and development. The B-47 was followed by the B-52, the country's first long-range, swept-wing heavy bomber, which became the mainstay of the U.S. bomber force.

Test pilot Tex Johnston took the B-52 on its first flight April 15, 1952. A week later, the Boeing board of directors decided to sink $16 million of the company profits into a prototype jet transport, the Model 367-80 or "Dash 80." It combined aerodynamic and structural features of the B-47 and the B-52 with the cabin capacity of a larger transport. It was a huge gamble -- and when test pilot Tex Johnston barrel-rolled the Dash 80 over the Seafair hydroplane course on Lake Washington in Seattle on Aug. 7, 1955, Boeing executives were very concerned.

However, the gamble paid off. The Dash 80 became the prototype first for the KC-135 Stratotanker, the first jet aerial tanker, and then for the Model 707-120, the first in the long line of Boeing commercial jet airliners. Jet transports soon proved their efficiency and reliability. Using about one-tenth the fuel, the $5 million 707 could carry as many trans-Atlantic passengers a year as the $30 million Queen Mary ocean liner.

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