The future of flightredefined
BY MICHAEL LOMBARDI
On March 24, 1971, the future of flight was in decline. With the cancellation of the Boeing Supersonic Transport, along with a sinking world economy and a struggling airline industry, nearly 70,000 Boeing employees lost their jobs.
During this arguably darkest period in company history, Boeing had to redefine itself and its products. "It is plain that we are not merely surviving; we are establishing a new base from which we can grow," Boeing President T.A. Wilson summed up.
The company quickly diversified into building railcars and hydrofoils, and started up construction and computer companies. Boeing also redefined its core businessbuilding airplanes.
The Advanced Transport Program, a study that began in 1971, set out to decide what the future of commercial airplanes would be. It investigated nearly every aspect of flight: supersonic, near-sonic, short-take-off, and very-large-cargo aircraft.
Along with advanced products, Boeing also evaluated current products. The 1973 oil crisis helped make the decision. Nothing was sacrednot even the very successful 727because the airlines needed quiet, economical and, above all, fuel-efficient airplanes.
Extensive research into the redesign of the 727 revealed that updating the aircraft with new technology and engines to improve performance and economy and to meet new noise regulations would not produce enough cost savings to justify the investment. Instead, the data revealed that building a new high-technology aircraft to replace it ultimately would be more economical.
The new 727 replacementinitially dubbed the 7N7was a single-aisle aircraft that married the basic 727-200 fuselage with a new high-performance wing and new fuel-efficient, high-bypass engines.
The 7N7 design evolved into a 180-passenger airplane that was able to take advantage of the latest engines and boasted a predicted fuel savings of 35 percent per seat. (Inservice fuel savings later proved to be 43 percent.)
This gave Boeing enough confidence in the design to give the 7N7 a place in the Boeing family as the 757, and the chief engineer of the new 757 program was Phil Condit, current chairman and chief executive officer of Boeing.
One of the key design goals of the 757 was commonality with the 767, a twin-aisle airplane developed in tandem with the 757. Boeing dropped the 757's T-tail in favor of a conventional tail and widened the nose, giving it a more blunt appearance than the original 727 nose and enabling engineers to fit the new high-technology 767 cockpit in the 757. The common cockpits allowed airlines to certify pilots simultaneously to fly both aircraft.
Boeing launched the 757 in the spring of 1979 with orders from Eastern Airlines and British Airways for 40 aircraft. Rolls Royce became a partner in the 757 when Boeing announced that it would use the Rolls Royce RB-211 engines on the 757.
On Jan. 13, 1982, only five months after the rollout of the 767, Boeing introduced the 757 to employees inside the assembly building at the Renton, Wash., site. Once again, Boeing did what many said no one could do: Boeing had developed two new commercial transports at the same time. A month later, on Feb. 19, pilots John Armstrong and Lew Wallick took the 757 for its first flight. Armstrong described the 757 as "fun to fly and definitely a pilot's airplane!" After nearly a year of flight test, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration gave the 757 certification on Dec. 21, 1982. The following day Eastern Airlines took the first delivery in a production run that has topped a thousand aircraft and is still going.
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