Boeing Model 367-80 - The Dash 80
In 1952, believing that jet engine technology had matured to the point that it offered airlines a superior alternative to current piston-engine airplanes, William Allen "bet the company" on an internally-funded prototype jet transport. Designated the Dash 80, it was the product of more than 150 preliminary designs.
Seventy-two-year-old William Boeing came back to visit his former company for the May 14, 1954, rollout of the Model 367-80 at the Renton, Wash., plant. His wife, Bertha, christened the yellow and brown airplane with real champagne, and the Renton High School band played the Air Force theme. It was the prototype for the 707 passenger jet and the KC-135 jet tanker and would be the first member of the "700" family of commercial and military jets.
The Boeing Company had invested $16 million (two-thirds of the company's net profits from the post-war years) to build this prototype for a long-range jet aircraft. It was developed in secrecy and designated Model 367-80 to disguise it as merely an improved version of the C-97 Stratofreighter. It was subsequently nicknamed the "Dash 80," had jet engines and swept wings, and was very different from the straight-wing, propeller-powered Stratofreighter. When the Dash 80 was almost finished, the company gambled again -- by tooling and gearing up for a production aircraft, although neither the Air Force, nor any airline, had placed a single order.
The 132 inches (3,350 mm) fuselage of the Dash 80 was only wide enough to fit 2+2 seating (in the manner of the Stratocruiser). Boeing soon realized that this would not provide a viable payload, so decided to widen the fuselage to 144 in (3,660 mm), the same as the KC-135 Stratotanker, which would allow six-abreast seating and the shared use of the KC-135's tooling. However, Douglas had launched its DC-8 project with a fuselage width of 147 in (3,730 mm). The airlines liked the extra space, and so Boeing was obliged to increase the 707's cabin width again, this time to 148 in (3,760 mm). This meant that little of the tooling that was made for the Dash 80 was usable for the 707.
The close relationship between military and commercial aircraft technology is highlighted by Boeing's development of a jet refueler to replace the propeller-driven KC-97. The acquisition of large numbers of intercontinental jet bombers by the Strategic Air Command in the 1950s drove the need for a jet refueler. In anticipation of this requirement, Boeing funded development of the Dash-80-a four-engine, swept-wing jet aircraft. Boeing modified the Dash-80 to meet Air Force refueling requirements, delivering the KC-135 Stratotanker within two years of the Air Force's order. The Dash-80 ultimately led to the highly successful 707 Stratoliner passenger jet.
After the Air Force agreed to let Boeing build commercial jets based on the prototype, 367-80, already the basis for the KC-135 military tanker, airlines began to order the 707, the commercial transport variant of the Dash 80. The 707 and the KC-135 had many features in common. Both were visually distinct, with a stinger antenna pointing forward from the top of their vertical fin. Airlines wanted the 707 fuselage to be 4 inches wider than the tanker's.
Because the prototype was constructed to sell first as a military-tanker transport, it had few windows and no seats, but had two large cargo doors. A week after its first flight, the Air Force ordered 29 tanker versions, the KC-135. The commercial version, the 707, however, faced tough competition from the Douglas DC-8. Boeing salespeople directed their efforts to Pan American World Airways, Trans World Airlines and large European airlines. On Oct 14, Pan Am ordered 20 707s. At the same time, Pan Am ordered 25 DC-8s. The race was on.
In 1972, the Dash 80 became part of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum collection. In August 2003, it flew to its new home on permanent display at the museum's new companion facility, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International Airport.
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