More Bang for the Buck

Frontiers February 2013 Issue

BOEING FRONTIERS / FEBRUARY 2013 13 The 727 was born in one of the most formidable environments ever faced by a new airplane program. Fortunately the point man given the job of bringing the 727 to life was chief designer John E. “Jack” Steiner. He was brilliant and dedicated. And Steiner understood the challenge. “The 727 program,” he said at the time, “must be classed as a very risky program because the goals are known to be barely attainable—if attainable at all.” Steiner started out with a simple objec-tive: “Bring out an airplane that was needed to extend jet travel into smaller cities. We want to get more people traveling, not just those who think they can afford it, but those who thought they couldn’t afford it.” His strategy for winning was also simple: “Build the best possible airplane.” Steiner credited teamwork across the company for the program’s success. This in-cluded firm guidance and trust from Boeing President William Allen. And Chief Engineer Ed Wells encouraged teamwork across engineering disciplines. Sales, Marketing and Flight Test did their part and supported a demanding world tour during the plane’s flight-test certification. This tour helped differentiate the 727 from the competition— so much so that orders began to pour in while the plane was on the tour. While teamwork was key to bringing the plane forward, innovation was what beat the competition. The challenge was to design a fast, quiet, reliable jet that could serve smaller airfields. To meet that, the team from the Technical Staff, including its leader, Bill Cook, and Chief Aerodynamicist Joe Sutter, invented a new wing design that pioneered an innovative triple-slotted flap and included leading-edge lift devices that together enabled the 727 to take off and land at run-ways shorter than 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). The clean swept-back wing also kept the plane fast, allowing the 727 to outpace its competition. Other technological firsts included the first commercial jet with an onboard auxiliary power unit. A distinctive feature was aft onboard stairs. On Dec. 5, 1960, after nearly five years of intense study that looked at more than 150 different designs, Boeing announced the three-engine 727, with 40 orders each from launch customers United Air Lines and Eastern Air Lines. On Feb. 9, Boeing test pilot Lew Wallick, co-pilot R.L. “Dix” Loesch and engineer M.K. Shulenberger took the 727 up for its first flight. After a year of testing, the 727 went into service—and was even better than advertised. The 727’s actual performance was 10 per-cent greater than Boeing first projected. The early success of the 727 was noted colorfully by Boeing President William Allen: “I’ve had a few dreams in my life … One was to have a large airline customer call me up and, instead of giving me hell, tell me he is delighted with an outstanding airplane, better than he bargained for. This happened with the 727. We have done an outstanding job on that airplane.” In September 1984, after a 22-year pro-duction run, the last of 1,832 727s, a 727-200 Freighter, was delivered to Federal Express. The once “very risky” 727 had become one of the best-selling commercial jets in history. Looking back, Steiner credited the jet’s huge success to the almost unattainable goals set for the 727 program. “I believe engineering/manufacturing teams are capable of far greater accomplishments,” he said, “if they are stimulated by goals that they recognize as almost unachievable.” n michael.j.lombardi@boeing.com PHOTOS: (Clockwise from far left) The first 727, currently under restoration at the Museum of Flight’s Restoration Center in Everett, Wash.; rollout of the first 727 at the Boeing plant in Renton, Wash., in November 1962; prior to the plane’s first flight, John E. “Jack” Steiner (second from left), chief designer of the 727, congratulates lead pilot Lew Wallick (from left), co-pilot R.L. “Dix” Loesch and flight engineer M.K. Shulenberger.


Frontiers February 2013 Issue
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