July 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 3 
Special Features


The Dash 80 marked a revolution in aviation—and represents a philosophy that's still being followed


JET POWERWilliam Allen, who served as the president of Boeing from 1945 to 1968, was known as a thoughtful, conservative businessman and certainly not one to take a foolish risk.

Yet it was Allen who, with the approval of the company's Board of Directors, in 1952 decided to commit $16 million of the company's money to building a prototype airplane. That amount represented nearly all the profit the company had made since the end of World War II, and it was earmarked for an airplane that did not have interest from airlines or contracts from the government.

That airplane was the Boeing Dash 80 jet transport prototype.

When Allen, whom Fortune magazine last year named the second-greatest CEO of all time, was asked by a reporter if he thought this was a gamble, he replied, "At the time we went into the project I said it involved substantial risk, and I've seen nothing to make me change my opinion."

The risk that Boeing was taking on was enormous-but not reckless. When asked why Boeing took such a gamble with its own dollars, Allen said, "We felt strongly that it was high time some American manufacturer took the plunge and got a jet transport off of paper and into the air."

Just as Bill Boeing had the vision to see the commercial potential of airplanes and went forward to become a pioneer of commercial aviation, Allen had the vision to thrust commercial aviation into the jet age-Allen and The Boeing Company were defining the future of flight. Allen's approval of the Dash 80, which made its first flight 50 years ago this month, represents one of the most important business decisions in history. Known as one of the 10 most important airplanes in aviation history, the Dash 80 marked a revolution in aviation technology that defined the modern jetliner and paved the way for sustained global commercial jet operations.

Defining the future was-and still is-nothing new to the people of Boeing, who by the 1950s had earned a reputation of progressive aeronautical thinking and taking risks with new technology. At the time, Boeing Senior Vice President Wellwood Beall called it "a tradition of pioneering."

That tradition went back to Bill Boeing's command: "Let no new improvement in flying and flying equipment pass us by." Thus came the Boeing 247 of 1933, the world's first modern airliner; the B-17 Flying Fortress; the cutting-edge B-29 Superfortress; and the revolutionary B-47 Stratojet, the world's first swept-wing jet bomber.

The innovative B-47 had sparked some interest in the feasibility of a jet transport, and in 1948 Boeing launched a study of jet transports based on the B-47 design.

Others were looking into jet transports as well, including de Havilland, in England, which took the lead by putting the world's first commercial jetliner, the D.H. 106 Comet, into service in May 1952. Unfortunately, it proved to be too fast a start and by 1954 a series of catastrophic accidents due to metal fatigue grounded the Comet.

The Comet did at least prove to Boeing that there was a market for commercial jets. Boeing had also seen that there was a strong possibility to interest the U.S. Air Force in a jet tanker to keep pace with its new B-52 Stratofortress.

These observations helped support Allen's decision to develop a jet transport prototype. The B-47 transport was shelved, and work instead focused on developing a jet version of the piston-powered Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker. Inside the company the KC-97 was known as the Boeing model 367. The derivative of the basic KC- 97, or model 367, that was settled on for the proposed new transport was Boeing model number 367-80. It wasn't long before the plane became affectionately referred to as the "Dash 80." On May 14, 1954, the Dash 80 was rolled out of the Boeing plant in Renton, Wash.

JET POWEROn July 15, 1954, Chief Test Pilot Tex Johnston, along with co-pilot Richard L. "Dix" Loesch, took the Dash 80 on its first flight. Bill Lloyd, an electrical engineer at the time, had worked his way to the end of the runway at Renton and witnessed the historic event. "It was awesome!" he recalled. "The plane was something special, and seeing it gave me a great sense of hope for the future of the company."

A month after the first flight, the U.S. Air Force gave Boeing an initial order for the Dash 80's first offspring, the KC-135 Stratotanker. Getting the Dash 80 into the air and selling the concept to the Air Force were successful first steps, but for the Boeing investment in the Dash 80 to pay off, the concept had to be accepted by the airlines.

Boeing sent the Dash 80 along with Tex Johnston, the company's charismatic test pilot, to airports all around the United States to show reporters, as well as airline and Air Force personnel, firsthand what it was like to fly in a jet transport.

Johnston went a step further to convince everyone that the Dash 80 was a good airplane. While doing a flyby over the 1955 Gold Cup hydroplane races at Seattle's Lake Washington, he took the big plane through two barrel rolls, thrilling the crowd and airline executives as well. Within a month of the barrel roll, the Dash 80 had done its job. Pan Am ordered 20 of the Dash 80's second offspring, the 707.

Launching the jet age was not the end of the Dash 80's work. Having successfully defined the modern jetliner, the Dash 80 now became a flight-test workhorse.

In addition to testing the "flying boom" for the KC-135 and the automatic landing system for the Space Shuttle, the Dash 80 tested innovations that would become standard on jet transports. Many of those tests changed the appearance of the Dash 80 from its original configuration, including a taller tail, a new nose, leading edge slats, triple-slotted flaps and wider wings.

In 1972, Boeing flew the Dash 80 to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., and donated it to the National Air and Space Museum. In 1991, Boeing borrowed the Dash 80 to help celebrate the company's 75th anniversary. During its stay in Seattle, Boeing restored the Dash 80 as a gift to posterity. In the summer of 2003, the Dash 80 made a farewell flight over Lake Washington and then crossed the continent one last time to its final place of honor at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, near Washington, D.C.

After 50 years it's easy to see why Bill Allen proceeded with the Dash 80. It led to over 800 KC-135s that, nearly 50 years later, are still the backbone of the U.S. Air Force in-flight refueling fleet. Yet it's the Dash 80's other offspring, the 707, that put the jet in the distinguished list of the world's most important airplanes. It helped convince the public and the airlines that jets were not only faster than propeller-driven passenger planes, but more comfortable, reliable and economical-and safer.

The historic prototype helped Boeing create a public expectation and excitement for jets that eased the introduction of the 707 and helped make the plane an instant success. The 707 represents the point in commercial aviation history where propellers gave way to jets and air travel became affordable and available.

The spirit of pioneering, the tradition of innovation and risk taking, and the "reputation of progressive aeronautical thinking" symbolized by the Dash 80-all are alive and evident in the newest member of the Dash 80's distinguished offspring, the Boeing 7E7 Dreamliner.

"Perhaps we should realize that Boeing's leadership is once again making a calculated risk, this time on the 7E7 and the emergence of point-to-point operations as the way the public prefers to travel in the future," said Dave Knowlen, director-Business Affairs for Boeing Commercial Airplanes and caretaker for the Dash 80 while it was stored at Boeing. "This is a risk equal to what was taken on the Dash 80 and jet transport aviation."



Front Page
Contact Us | Site Map| Site Terms | Privacy | Copyright
Copyright© Boeing. All rights reserved.