3 January 1981

One of the first Boeing 707 airliners delivered to Pan American World Airways, Clipper Maria, N707PA. (Pan Am)
One of the first Boeing 707 airliners delivered to Pan American World Airways, N707PA. (Pan Am)

3 January 1981: Pan American World Airways retired its last Boeing 707 airliner. Pan Am had been the launch customer for the 707. On 20 October 1955 the airline ordered twenty 707s, and later ordered 130 more. The first one, Clipper America, a 707-121, N707PA, was delivered 15 August 1958. On 26 October 1958, N711PA, also named Clipper America,¹ made the first regularly scheduled transatlantic flight by a jet airliner.

Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 707-121, N711PA, Clipper America, arriving at Aéroport de Paris–Le Bourget, Paris, France, 27 October 1958. (Photograph © Jon Proctor, used with permission)

The Boeing Model 707-121 was a four-engine jet transport with swept wings and tail surfaces. The leading edge of the wings were swept at a 35° angle. The airliner had a flight crew of four: pilot, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer.

The 707-121 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 41 feet, 8 inches (12.700 meters) high. The 707 pre-dated the ”wide-body” airliners, having a maximum fuselage width of 12 feet, 4.0 inches (3.759 meters). The airliner’s typical operating empty weight is 122,500 pounds (55,565 kilograms). Maximum take off weight is 257,340 pounds (116,727 kilograms).

Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 707-121 Clipper Constitution, N708PA. This was the very first production 707. (Pentakrom)

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 an economical cruise speed of 550 miles per hour (885 kilometers per hour) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters), and a maximum cruise speed of 593 miles per hour (954 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters)—0.87 Mach. 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. As of 2011, 43 707s were still in service.

Pan American World Airway's Boeing 707-139B, N778PA, Clipper Skylark, along with many of her sisterships, in storage at Marana Air Park, Arizona.
Pan American World Airway’s Boeing 707-139B, N778PA, Clipper Skylark, along with many of her sister ships, in storage at Marana Air Park, Arizona. (Goleta Air & Space Museum)

¹ At least three Pan Am 707s carried the name Clipper America. N709PA was renamed Clipper Tradewind. N710PA, was renamed Clipper Caroline. N711PA was renamed Clipper Mayflower.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 thoughts on “3 January 1981

  1. Did you forget what happened on January 4, 1989? On that date, a pair of F-14A Tomcats assigned to VF-32 downed a pair of Libyan MiG-23 Floggers over the Gulf of Sidra.

  2. On October 4th, 1958, two De Havilland Comets made the first official commercial jet crossings of the atlantic. Clipper America’s October 26th crossing in therefore not the first such event.

    1. Thanks, Marc. While the New York Port Authority had given its OK for the Comet to use Idlewild Airport, London Heathrow had not approved the 707, which was in fact at that airport on 3 October. The distinction, I believe is the term “regularly scheduled.” The BOAC Comet flights were last-minute flights; not regularly scheduled. “Early to-day the corporation’s passenger staff on London was telephoning people who for months past have been booked for the first flight. There will be 40 passengers on the outward trip, with a number of supernumerary crew undergoing training.” —Manchester Guardian, Saturday, 4 October 1958, Page 1, Column 4

      1. While BOAC were flying _somehow_ “scheduled”, PanAm flights were NON-STOP. (BOAC had to refuel in Gander due to lack of range) I think that counts. 😉

  3. Heh, I may have driven by that bird that one hellish summer I worked at Evergreen. I was once cleaning out a seat back before an aircraft went in for recycling, Pan Am bird, found an envelope with drink receipts and money from its last revenue fight. I remember feeling sad… thanking of the history of such a storied airline. Thank you for your work, Bryan.

  4. The tail height on the original -121 aircraft was not 41’8″ but rather approx 38’7″ (short tail).

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