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News Link • Transportation: Air Travel

July 15, 1954: Boeing 707 Makes First Flight

• Jason Paur via WIRED
1954: The Boeing 367-80 makes its first flight from Renton Field southeast of Seattle. The jet-powered airliner will become the Boeing 707 and usher in the jet age for passenger travel.

Boeing was not the first company to produce a jet-powered airliner. But just as Ford’s Model T popularized the automobile despite being a latecomer in the car world, the Boeing 707 would be the airplane to popularize jet travel.

Nearly five years before the prototype of the 707 first flew, the British-made de Havilland Comet completed its first flight. The jet was popular thanks to its high speed, but a string of accidents involving the Comet in 1954 forced the company to take the airliners out of service to fix some design flaws.

By that time, Boeing was already nearly two years into the development of its own jet airliner. The company flew its first large jet-powered aircraft, the B-47 bomber, in 1947. With the success of the speedy bomber, the company started looking into building a passenger aircraft that could take advantage of the quickly evolving jet-engine technology.

Boeing engineers started work in 1952 on an airplane that would be jointly developed as both a midair refueler for the Air Force, and a passenger-carrying jet for the airlines. The Air Force was the first customer for the airplane. With the accidents of the de Havilland Comet still fresh in people’s minds, commercial airlines continued to rely on piston-powered propeller aircraft such as the Douglas DC-6 and Lockheed Constellation to carry passengers in safe, well-known designs.

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