Introduced to the market in 1963, the Boeing 727 had set new standards in passenger transport to the airlines and achieved very fast acceptance with its customers. With the first orders from United and Eastern, a four year lasting struggle with the airlines, technicans and competitors about a yet not existing aircraft had come to end.
First Attempts Of Creating The New Jet
In the late 1950′s French manufacturer Sud Aviation had just presented its medium-range „Caravelle“ to the public and Hawker-Siddeley was about to complete its „Trident“ – both types were placed into a new market for short and medium range airliners, a field which Boeing didn’t want to leave to its competitors.
On 6 May 1958 John Bruce Connelly, manager of the civil airliner branch with Boeing, ordered Jack Steiner to build a plane. With no imagination about the dimensions of that new aircraft, no ideas about the engines and no valuable market analysis for the new airliner, two days later Steiner set up his team and started the development of an short / medium range airliner with two or four engines – and not to expensive – with a capacity of ca. 65 passengers. William Patterson, president of United Airlines preferred four engines, Trans World Airlines wanted a three-engined aircraft. Due to an expected loss of 200 Million Dollars in 1959 resulting of the 707 programme, Boeings account department suggestet a twin-engined 707 with a price of 2,1 Million Dollars. Although Steiners team incorporated many parts of the 707 into the new aircraft, the price for a technical better variant was 3,5 Million Dollars – the price of a Boeing 720, a four-engined medium range airliner derived from the 707 which had just entered production.
The Boeing 727 turned to be a competitor to Boeings own products before it had entered a serious stage of production. The engines were the next issue: no manufacturer, either General Electric or Pratt & Whitney had engines to power a two engined Boeing 727. Boeing had to switch back to a four-engined variant powered by available Pratt & Whitney jet engines. Then Douglas addressed to the public, its new airliner will be fitted with the same engines made by Pratt & Whitney. Boeing was about to cancel the project, but after United Airlines released a message about the purchase of medium-range jets on 2 June 1959, the 727 was officially started by Boeing. Once again, the two-engined variant was on top – until Eastern Airlines requested a three-engined aircraft, to have enough power for take-off from the short runway at New York / LaGuardia airport.
End of July 1959 Steiner presented the 727 to the Boeing management – as a two and a four engined model which led some of the members taunting „something between two and four engines“. Then Steiners team analysed a three-engined variant and came to the conclusion, that this would be the most efficient solution. 65 various designs were analysed, the resulting layout came close the Britsh build „Trident“ – only little enlarged with more range and a price of 3.8 million $. And powered by Rolls-Royce engines. Boeing needed 100 orders to start the production, when Eastern Airlines adressed, the carrier absolutely never would buy this aircraft equipped with Rolls-Royce engines. United followed Eastern and refused the British engines in favour of the heavier and expensive Pratt & Whitney engines.
1960: Shaping The New Jetliner
Boeing hat to redesign the aircraft again and it was not before 30 November 1960, when Eastern and United each ordered 40 examples of the new Boeing 727. The final design was a three-engined jetliner, with two engines (equipped with thrust reversers) mounted on external pods and a third engine at the bottom of the horizontal stabilizer. This disposal enabled Boeing fitting the aircraft with a rather short-legged undercarriage and a rear staircase under the T-tail. The completely new developed wings incoporated triple slotted flaps, allowing high speed descendings or landing on short runways with low landing speeds.
The production begins
With orders backed by United and Eastern, Boeing immediatly started the production of the new jet, which was offering many advantages to the existing propliners and early jet driven aircraft as the Comet. First foreign customer of the Boeing 727 was Lufthansa with an order for 12 examples to be delivered from 1964 on. American Airlines placed an order for 22 examples, soon followed by TWA. From the moment the decision to build the 727 Steiner and his team worked hard and efficient to complete the prototype which roll-out was terminated to October 1962. Hundreds of hours of flights were conducted by the Dash 80 prototype, which was used as a testbed for the engines and the flaps during 1962 – bringing this aircraft back to Renton for first time since 15 July 1954. Boeing invested 30 Million $ into the B727 development: undercarriage was stressed in more than 110.000 simulated flights and the structure was treated in 74 different stress tests – when the first Boeing 727 (s/n 18293) with the registration N7001U rolled out at Renton on 27 November 1962, the prototype aircraft had received 150 changes.
First flight took place on 9 February 1963 with Boeings testpilot Lew Wallick on the controls. A perfect airplane from the start and with a prelimninary registration the prototype made a 130000 km round-the-world-trip to 26 countries without any delay or technical issues, carrying Boeing executives introducing their latest product to prospective customers on all continents. Soon after the FAA issued the Certficate of Airworthiness for this type on 23 December 1963, United and Eastern Airlines started their service with the new type in early 1964, quickly followed by American Airlines and Trans World Airlines few months later. In 1965, three years after its introduction, Boeing had sold more than 200 Boeing 727 and in 1971 the production exceeded the numbers of the Boeing 707, which was in production since 1957.
After the first six examples were delivered to their customers in 1963, delivery numbers increased following four years with its peak in 1968, when 160 examples found their way to their customers. The magical number of 1000 produced examples was reached on 18 December 1973, when the 1000th Boeing 727 made its first flight. Despite the low orders of only 50 examples in 1975, Boeings best selling aircraft reached the mark of 1500 produced examples in June 1975.
1967: Boeing 727-200
After Boeing had build 571 of the short-body Series 100, in 1965 the stretched Series 200 was launched. On 27 July 1967 the first of the series 200 made its first flight and joined Northeast Airlines in December 1967. With a fuselage stretched by ca 6 meters, the new version could carry up to 189 passengers and had a range of 4000km. In the 1970s fuel costs had raised and with the advent of the Airbus A300B in 1974, Boeing had to react. Already present with the improved Boeing 727-200 Advanced model, a proposed stretched twin engined Boeing 727 was quickly abandoned, because of the high costs for the development and Boeing announced the end of the production coming in Summer 1984.
The Boeing 727 story ended after 22 years in production, when the last example (N217FE) was delivered to Federal Express on 22 September 1984
Retirements, New Customers or Scrapyard: The 1990s
Many Boeing 727 survived with its original customers until the mid-1990s, when they were withdrawn from use and replaced by modern types made by Airbus or Boeing. Some of this examples started a new life with charter carriers, others were converted into all-freight configuration for cargo operations with FedEx or DHL, not to forget the VIP or Government aircraft. Most of the 1832 build 727s went to storage or ended up at the scrapyard. Last Boeing 727 European operations ended in 2005 / 2006 when Spanish carrier Swiftair had retired its last example.
On March 2, 2016 the Boeing 727 prototype (sn 18293 / ln 1) made its last flight, when it was ferried to Boeing’s Museum of Flight. Painted in the 1960s United colors and with it original registration N7001U it will be temporarily displayed in the Museum’s Airpark.
More details can be found on the Museum of Flight website (external link)
Boeing 727 Gallery (07.03.2016)