6 August 1955

Looking out across the right wing of the Boeing 367–80, inverted, at the city of Seattle, 6 August 1955. (Bill Whitehead/Boeing)

6 August 1955: Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, Alvin M. “Tex” Johnston, barrel-rolled the Model 367-80, prototype of the KC-135 Stratotanker and 707, over Lake Washington.


This photograph was taken by the flight test engineer, Bill Whitehead.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 thoughts on “6 August 1955

  1. Tex was a calm, cool guy. He knew exactly what he was doing when he did the Barrel Rolls. Tex was one of my childhood heroes, I met him when I was 6 years old and living in Willow Springs, California with my family in the Bell Aircraft XS-1 community. I kept up with all his exploits during his lifetime.

  2. And just think that in 3 years it will be 75 years since that event that launched the “Jet Age” and the KC135 will still be in service!….and with the problems they are having with the new tanker based on a 767 platform don’t look for the KC135 to be retired soon and could be flying 80+ years since this momentous day!

  3. The lead photo is iconic, but in Growing Up Boeing, Rebecca Wallick points out it is almost always shown upside down. The ground should be in the top of the frame. The picture is much more dramatic when viewed in the proper orientation.

  4. The story I heard was Boeing chairman Bill Allen was very offended by the barrel roll. At Allen’s retirement dinner, he was presented with a picture of the Dash 80 inverted during the roll, and he left it at the dinner.

  5. The photo is also inverted left to right. The engine should be in the upper left corner of the frame heading toward the viewer’s right.

    In the foreground is Seattle and Elliott Bay, West Seattle in the distance.

    Tex called it “Chandelle-Like a corkscrew through the sky.” It maintained 1G positive gravity through the maneuver.

    According to an article in the Seattle Times by reporter Don Duncan done in 1990, “Bill Allen, Boeing’s CEO, thought it was a mistake, that something had gone wrong. When he saw Johnston do the second barrel roll, Allen said, he thought the test pilot had either lost his mind or the aircraft was in serious difficulty.
    He said he turned to Larry Bell of Bell Aircraft, who had a heart condition that required regular medication, and said:
    “Give me one of those damned (heart) pills. I need it worse than you do.”

    There were rumors that Boeing had quashed the stories. But Carl Cleveland, then head of Boeing public relations, says that’s not so. “The press just dropped the ball.”
    Cleveland, long retired, says that at the time of the maneuver, he was on a yacht in Lake Washington with assorted bigwigs in the airline industry, including Bill Allen, then president of Boeing.
    “After the first barrel roll, Bill Allen turned to me and said, `I don’t think we should have anything in the papers about that.’ But I said, `All those people just saw it. I don’t know how we can stop it.’ ”
    Cleveland says the reporters covering the race simply forgot to mention it “for some damned reason.” He guesses that members of the press, mostly sports writers, were more interested in the outcome of the race than in what was happening overhead.

    1. As originally posted, the image was oriented as you suggest. But a reader pointed out that when Bill Whitehead took the photo, he was upside down (and presumably, so was his camera). So, TDiA inverted the image to its present orientation. It gives me vertigo just to look at it!

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