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Boeing Civil Aviation

When World War II ended in August 1945, the U.S. government cancelled most orders for bomber aircraft, which had been a mainstay of the aircraft industry. Total industry production dropped from 96,000 airplanes in 1944 to 1,330 military aircraft in 1946. Companies like Boeing turned to the commercial market to try to supplement whatever military orders they could find, as well as find ways to diversify into entirely non-aeronautical activities such as building automobiles.

The Stratocruiser, a luxurious version of the C-97 transport plane, was Boeing's first commercial venture after the war. First flying in 1947, it was moderately successful-55 were sold-but it was not quite enough to pull the company out of its post-war slump. The company's doldrums were further aggravated by a strike of 14,800 union members in April 1948 over the issue of seniority. The strike lasted into September and virtually shut down production.

Boeing's first successful commercial aircraft in the post-war era was the 367-80, called the Dash 80. Its development began in 1952, and the plane first flew in July 1954. This plane combined features of the military B-47 and B-52 with a large cabin size. Although the Dash 80 was a gamble-Boeing sank $16 million of the company's profits into its development-it was a success. It became the model for both the KC-135 Stratotanker and the Model 707-120, Boeing's first commercial jet airliner and a direct competitor to the Douglas DC-8.

Pan American Airway's Juan Trippe ordered the first 707s after their 1957 introduction. He ordered 20 at the same time that he ordered 25 DC-8s from Douglas. The 707 was soon flying across the Atlantic Ocean. Two 707s, designated VC-137C, were specially adopted for use as Air Force One, and remained in service until 1990. It also was modified for use as the E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), produced until 1991.

The 727 airliner followed in 1963. This plane was designed to serve smaller airports and could operate on shorter runways than the 707. It was Boeing's only tri-jet and its sales started out slowly. To help create interest, Boeing sent the plane on a 76,000-mile (122,310-kilometer) tour of 26 countries. The gamut worked and more than 1,800 planes were sold, many more than the 250 Boeing had originally planned to build.

The 737 debuted in 1967. Smaller than the 707 and 727, it faced heavy competition from the Douglas DC-9 and the British Aircraft Corporation BAC-111. It was quieter and vibrated less than earlier planes and could be flown with just a two-member flight crew. On June 12, 1987, orders for the plane surpassed the 727, making it the most ordered commercial plane in history.

Boeing's most famous aircraft is undoubtedly its 747 wide-body jumbo jet. Conceived in the spring of 1965, largely at the instigation of Pan Am's Trippe, the first 747 rolled out on September 30, 1968. The first flight took place on February 9, 1969, and it entered service in January 1970. In 1990, two 747s became the new Air Force One, replacing the 707s that had served in that role for almost 30 years.

About the same time that Boeing was sinking its money into the 747, it was also attempting to develop America's first supersonic transport (SST). In the early 1960s, fearful about being left behind in the SST race, the U.S. government asked its aerospace companies to submit a design to compete with Europe's future Concorde. At the end of 1966, the government chose Boeing's design over Lockheed's, and the company began work on a prototype. Hard economic times and mounting environmental concerns, though, combined to force the program's cancellation in March 1971, after more than $500 million of federal funds had been sunk into the program.

From 1968, Boeing carried out a major internal restructuring. Eliminating some divisions and creating others, its Commercial Airplane Division remained the largest in the company. Thornton "T" Wilson became president in 1968 and had to deal with the problems associated with the 747. In 1969, company profits declined to only $10 million.

The 1970s were extremely hard times for Boeing. The United States was in a recession, and sales of commercial aircraft were slow. The 747 had not yet established itself in the market, and the company went for one 18-month period without a single new domestic order for any of its airliners. In the Seattle area alone, Boeing's workforce plummeted from 80,400 in early 1970 to 37,200 in October 1971. All of Seattle suffered, and a billboard on the city's edge read: "Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights." Wilson remained as president until 1972, when Malcolm Stamper, who had led the 747 program, took the post, which he held until 1985. Another reorganization at the end of 1972 resulted in the formation for three largely autonomous companies: Boeing Commercial Airplane, Boeing Aerospace, and Boeing Vertol for helicopters.

The country began to recover by 1983, and airlines once again began buying Boeing aircraft. The environment had changed, however, during the downturn. Fuel prices had risen and environmental concerns had come to the forefront. Planes had to be faster, quieter, and more energy efficient. The export market also grew, and in 1988, Boeing was ranked third among all industrial exporters, with $17 billion in sales. Cost control was a high priority, and Boeing cut its workforce from a 1989 peak of 165,000 to below 120,000 by 1993.

Beginning in the early 1980s, Boeing concurrently developed the 767 and 757. The 767 served in the medium to long-range market, carrying about 220 passengers. Like the 747, it was a wide-body plane with two aisles but with the efficiency of the smaller 757. In December 1991, a modified 767 was adopted to carry the AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System)-an airborne system of radar and electronic equipment that allows control of the total air effort in a battle area. The twin-engine 757, designed to replace the 727, rolled out in 1982. It could seat about 200 passengers in its original model and up to 290 passengers in its newer model. Orders for the two planes were slow after their initial group of orders but increased significantly in 1980 when Delta Air Lines ordered 60 757s.

The model 777, first flown in June 1994 and delivered in May 1995, was the first entirely new Boeing airplane in more than a decade. It represented a major advance in being designed almost entirely by computer. A large twin-jet, it could hold more than 400 people, about the same as the 747. About the same time, Boeing introduced updated 737 versions with various passenger capacities. Total 737 orders neared 3,000 in 1996.

At the end of 1996, Boeing surprised industry observers by announcing a bid for acquisition of McDonnell Douglas, one of Boeing's main competitors. McDonnell Douglas agreed to the merger, and a single company with more than 220,000 employees was formed. In 2001, Boeing remained the only American provider of commercial aircraft, competing with Europe's Airbus Industrie for the world's airliner market.

One of the most frequently asked questions posed to Boeing company historians is, "How did Boeing come up with the 7-7 name for its commercial jets?" There are many myths about the Boeing 7-7 name, one of the most famous brands in history. People who lean toward math and engineering are certain that 707 was chosen because it is the sine of the angle of wing sweep on a 707. It's not, since the wing sweep is 35 degrees and not 45. However, more people lean toward superstition and feel that the positive connotation of the number seven was the reason it was selected.

The truth is a bit more mundane. Boeing has assigned sequential model numbers to its designs for decades, as have most aircraft manufacturers. Boeing commercial aircraft use their model number as their popular name: Model 40, Model 80, Model 247, Model 307 Stratoliner and Model 377 Stratocruiser. Boeing planes built for the military are best remembered by their military designations, such as the B-17 Flying Fortress or the B-52 Stratofortress. These airplanes also had Boeing model numbers assigned to them-the B-17 is the Boeing Model 299 and the B-52 is the Boeing Model 454.

After World War II, Boeing was a military airplane company. William Allen, Boeing president at the time, decided that the company needed to expand back into commercial airplanes and pursue the new fields of missiles and spacecraft. To support this diversification strategy, the engineering department divided the model numbers into blocks of 100 for each of the new product areas: 300s and 400s continued to represent aircraft, 500s would be used on turbine engines, 600s for rockets and missiles and 700s were set aside for jet transport aircraft.

Boeing developed the world's first large swept-wing jet, the B-47. That aircraft sparked interest with some of the airlines. One in particular, Pan Am, asked Boeing to determine its feasibility as a commercial jet transport. At the same time, Boeing began studies on converting the propeller-driven model 367 Stratotanker, better known as the KC-97, into a jet-powered tanker that would be able to keep pace with the B-52 during in-flight refueling.

Boeing product development went through several renditions of the model 367, and finally a version numbered 367-80 was selected. It was soon nicknamed the "Dash 80." Boeing took a calculated risk by financing the development and construction of the Dash 80 prototype with its own funds. The goal was to put the airplane into production as both an Air Force tanker/transport and a commercial jet transport.

Since both of these offspring of the Dash 80 would be jet transports, the model number system called for a number in the 700s to identify the two new planes. The marketing department decided that "Model 700" did not have a good ring to it for the company's first commercial jet. So they decided to skip ahead to Model 707 because that reiteration seemed a bit catchier. Following that pattern, the other offspring of the Dash 80, the Air Force tanker, was given the model number 717. Since it was an Air Force plane, it was also given a military designation of KC-135.

After 717 was assigned to the KC-135, the marketing department made the decision that all remaining model numbers that began and or ended in 7 would be reserved exclusively for commercial jets. After the Boeing-McDonnell Douglas merger in the late 1990s, the model number 717 was reused to identify the MD-95 as part of the Boeing commercial jet family.

Other than the 717, the only anomaly to the Boeing commercial jet numbering system was the Boeing model 720. The 720 was a short-range, high-performance version of the 707 and was first marketed to the airlines as the model 707-020. United Airlines was very interested in the 707-020 but had previously decided to go with Douglas and the DC-8. To help United avoid any negative public relations for going back to the 707, Boeing changed the name of the 707-020 to the 720. Since the naming of the initial 717, all Boeing commercial jets have been named in succession based on the 7-7 formula: 727, 737, 747 . up to the latest Boeing commercial jet transport, the 7E7.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:29:13 ZULU