25 January 1959

Boeing 707-123 N7501A, American Airlines Astrojet, Flagship Michigan, at Seattle. This airplane is the same type as Flagship California. (Boeing)
Boeing 707-123 N7501A, American Airlines Astrojet, Flagship Michigan, at Seattle. This airplane is the same type as Flagship California. (Boeing)

25 January 1959: “The Jet Age” opened when American Airlines began the first scheduled transcontinental passenger service with its new Boeing 707-123 Astrojet. Captain Charles Macatee flew Flagship California, N7503A, from Los Angeles International Airport to Idlewild in 4 hours and 3 minutes.

Other members of the inaugural flight crew were Captain Lou Szabo, Flight Engineer Bill Duncan, Flight Engineer Norman Rice, Stewardess Claire Bullock, Stewardess Edna Garrett, Stewardess Argie Hoskins and Stewardess Marilyn Rutkowski. Cyrus Rowlett Smith, president of the airline, was also aboard as a passenger.

The flight departed LAX via Runway 25 at 8:45 a.m., Pacific Standard Time. Ceremonies at the airport, with as many as 25,000 spectators, delayed the flight by twenty minutes, but a 150 knot (278 kilometers per hour) tailwind allowed the flight to make up for the lost time and they arrived at Idlewild Airport (IDL) on schedule.

Prior to the first passenger flight, Captain Macatee and Captain H.C. Smith had flown the Boeing 707 for 200 hours. In an interview thirty years later, Macatee remarked, “But those four hours three minutes were the big ones for me. They always will be.”

 American Airlines' inaugural flight crew with Boeing 707 Flagship California, at LAX, 25 January 1959. Left to right: Flight Engineer Norman Rice, Stewardess Marilyn Rutkowski, Stewardess Edna Garrett, Captain Charles Macatee, Stewardess Argie Hoskins, Captain Lou Szabo, Stewardess Claire Bullock, Flight Engineer Bill Duncan. (American Airlines photograph via Miss Argie Hoskins' AMERICAN AIRLINES 707 JET STEWARDESS)
American Airlines’ inaugural flight crew with Boeing 707 Flagship California, at LAX, 25 January 1959. Left to right: Flight Engineer Norman Rice, Stewardess Marilyn Rutkowski, Stewardess Edna Garrett, Captain Charles Macatee, Stewardess Argie Hoskins, Captain Lou Szabo, Stewardess Claire Bullock, Flight Engineer Bill Duncan. (American Airlines photograph via Miss Argie Hoskins’ AMERICAN AIRLINES 707 JET STEWARDESS)

The Boeing 707 was developed from the earlier Model 367–80, the “Dash Eighty.” It is a four-engine jet transport with swept wings and tail surfaces. The leading edge of the wings are swept at a 35° angle. The airliner had a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer. The airliner could carry a maximum of 189 passengers.

The 707-123 was 145 feet, 1 inch (44.221 meters) long with a wing span of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.878 meters). The top of the vertical fin stood 42 feet, 5 inches (12.929 meters) high. The 707 pre-dated the ”wide-body” airliners, having a fuselage width of 12 feet, 4 inches (3.759 meters). The airliner’s empty weight is 122,533 pounds (55,580 kilograms). Maximum take off weight is 257,000 pounds (116,573 kilograms).

American Airlines’ Boeing 707-123 N7503A at LAX, 1960. (Ed Coates Collection)

The first versions were powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-6 turbojet engines, producing 11,200 pounds of thrust (49,820 kilonewtons), and 13,500 pounds (60.051 kilonewtons) with water injection. This engine was a civil variant of the military J57 series. It was a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine with a 16-stage compressor and 2 stage turbine. The JT3C-6 was 11 feet, 6.6 inches (3.520 meters) long, 3 feet, 2.9 inches (0.988 meters) in diameter, and weighed 4,235 pounds (1,921 kilograms).

At MTOW, the 707 required 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) of runway to take off.

The 707-121 had a maximum speed of 540 knots (1,000 kilometers per hour). It’s range was 2,800 nautical miles (5,186 kilometers).

The Boeing 707 was in production from 1958 to 1979. 1,010 were built. Production of 707 airframes continued at Renton until the final one was completed in April 1991.

In 1961, N7503A was upgraded to the 707-123B standard. This included a change from the turbojet engines to quieter, more powerful and efficient Pratt & Whitney JT3D-1. The JT3D-1 was a dual spool axial-flow turbofan engine, with a 2-stage fan section, 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high pressure stages), 8 combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). This engine was rated at 14,500 pounds of static thrust (64.499 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and 17,000 pounds (75.620 kilonewtons), with water injection, for takeoff (2½ minute limit). Almost half of the engine’s thrust was produced by the fans. Maximum engine speed was 6,800 r.p.m. (N1) and 10,200 r.p.m. (N2). It was 11 feet, 4.64 inches (3.471 meters) long, 4 feet, 5.00 inches (1.346 meters) wide and 4 feet, 10.00 inches (1.422 meters) high. It weighed 4,165 pounds (1,889 kilograms). The JT3C could be converted to the JT3D configuration during overhaul.

The 707-123B wings were modified to incorporate changes introduced with the Boeing 720, and a longer tailplane installed.

An American Airlines’ Boeing 707-123B, N7523A, in the original Astrojet livery, at LAX, 26 December 1962. (Photograph © Jon Proctor, used with permission)
An American Airlines’ Boeing 707-123B, N7523A, in the original Astrojet livery, at LAX, 26 December 1962. (Photograph © Jon Proctor, used with permission)

N7503A was substantially damaged at Mineral Wells, Texas, 9 May 1965. It had flown through a violent thunderstorm and suffered hail damage. The crew made a precautionary landing, however the windshield had been crazed so badly by the impact of hail that it was opaque. The 707 made a hard landing and its gear collapsed. There were no injuries among the 89 passengers and 7 crewmembers. It was repaired and returned to service. After 28 years, American Airlines’ inaugural Astro Jet was scrapped.

American Airlines’ Boeing 707-123B N7503A, Flagship California. (Brian Lockett via Miss Argie Hoskins’ AMERICAN AIRLINES 707 JET STEWARDESS)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 thoughts on “25 January 1959

  1. Hello
    I am a little confused. What aspect of the jet age are we talking about here?
    The ‘jet age’ in the airline world should more accurately be said to have started in 1952 with the first scheduled service by the British Comet. Aeroflot started in 1956 with the TU-104. Even regular transatlantic jet services started by BOAC and PanAm in 1958.
    Keep up the good work, I am enjoying the articles.

    1. This is not the first time this subject has come up. The term “Jet Age” refers to a period of societal transformation, and is not defined by specific technological events. (Frank Whittle’s WU turbojet engine was the first, in 1937, while the first turbojet-powered airplane was the Heinkel He 178, which flew in 1939.)

      According to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, the “Jet Age” began in 1958 when Pan Am introduced the Boeing 707. You are correct that the de Havilland Comet flew in scheduled passenger service before the Boeing 707, but in only limited numbers. It’s several catastrophic failures severely damaged its reputation and the entire Comet 1 fleet was permanently grounded and its type certificate revoked in 1954, just two years after it entered service. Orders for the Comet 2 were canceled. There were on two Comet 3s, which were never in airline service. The Comet 4 didn’t enter service until 4 October 1958, and only 18 were built.

      In the decade following World War II, the vast majority of people crossing the Atlantic Ocean traveled aboard ocean liners. It wasn’t until the Boeing 707 entered service that airliners flying across the Atlantic Ocean carried more passengers than did the passenger ships.

      The Boeing 707 forever changed the way that most people traveled long distances. The Comet did not.

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