Boeing Frontiers
August 2003
Volume 02, Issue 04
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Historical Perspective

Century of Flight


Dash 80 Born in the 1940s, jet aircraft, guided missile and rocket technology came of age between 1950 and 1960, its development fueled by World War II and the start of the Cold War. The decade began with the first jet-versus-jet combat over Korea and ended with a revolution in travel.

The swept-wing jet fighter pushed aircraft design to its absolute limits. During the Korean War, Russian-built MiG-15s engaged American F-86 Sabre jets and, because of their speed, the tactics and weapons of air-to-air combat changed dramatically.

Speed records were broken at a sonic pace. In September 1953, a British Hawker Hunter set the record at 727.7 mph, and in October the Douglas F4D Skyray reached 753.4 mph. Before the month was over, the North American F-100 Super Sabre became the fastest in the world, hitting 754.9 mph.

By the middle of the decade, jet fighters routinely flew faster than the speed of sound.

Swept-wing fighters led to swept-wing bombers. The Boeing B-47 entered service in 1951. Its streamlined shape—with wings swept back at a 35-degree angle and engines carried in pods hung on pylons under the wings—would lead to the development of not only future bombers but commercial jets as well. The futuristic shapes of the Vickers Valiant and Avro Vulcan from England, as well as the Tupolev Tu-16 from Russia, followed. The B-52 harnessed eight powerful turbojet engines to a giant bomber that dwarfed its predecessors not only in size but also in range and payload.

But the development of the commercial jet airliner had the most significant impact on humankind's perception of time, distance and travel.

In May 1952, Britain's graceful deHavilland Comet inaugurated the world's first commercial jetliner service. The Russian Tupolev Tu-104 followed in 1956. But the Comet was withdrawn from service after two catastrophic accidents and would not operate again until 1958. And the Tu-104, although a beautiful airplane, carried only 50 passengers and was costly to operate.

Boeing began work at its own expense in 1952 on a prototype jet transport, the Model 367-80. Nicknamed the Dash 80, it featured a streamlined fuselage set over swept-back wings with four jet engines. The Dash 80 was given the registration number N70700 to indicate that it was the prototype for the Model 707 commercial airliner. Boeing designed and built the 707 to be the safest and most reliable airplane ever to carry passengers.

The Boeing prototype had already made its first flight before Douglas decided to proceed with its own jetliner, the DC-8. Because of the commanding Boeing lead, Douglas had to build the DC-8 right the first time; there would be no second chances.

When the 707 made its first flight in December 1957 and the DC-8 in May 1958, they were the world's largest and fastest passenger aircraft. The two jetliners looked similar, and their speed, range and passenger capacity were about the same.

Each company launched an aggressive sales campaign to convince the world's airlines that its plane was better than the other. The 707 won, with Boeing delivering 73 of the jetliners by 1959, compared to Douglas' delivery of 21 DC-8s.

The 707 entered transatlantic service in 1958 and the DC-8 in 1960. By 1962, the number of passengers crossing the Atlantic by air doubled. Using about one-tenth the fuel, a jetliner costing $5 million could carry as many passengers a year as the $30 million Queen Mary.

The 707, more than any other plane since the DC-3, changed the traveling public's notion of distance. Destinations five days away by steamship or three days away by train were now reachable in a few hours. New York was next door to Los Angeles and just around the corner from London and Paris.

By the end of the decade, the travel revolution had introduced two new phrases to the world's vocabulary: jet set and jet lag.


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