Tag Archives: Airliner

23 November 1959

Boeing 720-022 c/n 17907, N7201U. (Boeing)
Boeing 720-022 c/n 17907, N7201U, parked on the taxiway at the south shore of Lake Washington. (Boeing)

23 November 1959: The first Boeing 720 airliner, a 720-022, registered as N7201U, made its first flight at Renton, Washington. The 720 was a development of the 707 and no prototype was built. N7201U was used by Boeing for flight testing and was then delivered to United Airlines, 1 October 1960. The airline named the new 720 Jet Mainliner Capt. F. M. Crismore. Over the next two years, United acquired 29 Boeing 720s.

N7201U was sold to Contemporary Entertainment, owned by singer Bobby Sherman and his manager, Ward Sylvester, in January 1973. It was repainted in a gold and black livery and christened The Starship. As a VIP transport, it was used by such rock bands as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper and Elton John. It was last chartered by Peter Frampton.

N7201U was withdrawn from service in 1977 and after being stored for several years, was broken up at Luton Airport near London, England, in 1982.

The Boeing 720 was a variant of the Model 707, intended for short to medium range flights. It had 100 inches (2.54 meters) removed from the fuselage length and improvements to the wing, decreasing aerodynamic drag.

Boeing built 154 720 and 720B airliners from 1959 to 1967.

The Boeing 720 was operated by a flight crew of four and could carry up to 149 passengers. It was 136 feet, 2 inches (41.25 meters) long with a wingspan of 130 feet, 10 inches (39.90 meters) and overall height of 41 feet, 7 inches (12.65 meters). The airplane had an empty weight of 103,145 pounds (46,785 kilograms) and Maximum Takeoff Weight of 220,000 pounds (100,800 kilograms).

The Boeing 720 was powered by four Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3C-7 turbojet engines, a civil variant of the military J57 series. The 720B was equipped with the more efficient P&W JT3D-1 turbofan engines. The JT3C-7 was a “two-spool” axial-flow engine with a 16-stage compressor (9 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), 8 combustion tubes, and a 3-stage turbine (1 high- and 2 low-pressure stages). It was rated at 12,030 pounds of thrust (53.512 kilonewtons) for takeoff.

The JT3D-1 was a dual 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 maximum cruise speed was 611 miles per hour (983 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed was 620 miles per hour (1,009 kilometers per hour). Range at at maximum payload was 4,370 miles (7,033 kilometers).

The last flight of a Boeing 720 was on 9 May 2012, when a 720B aircraft used by Pratt and Whitney Canada as a test aircraft was placed in the National Air Force Museum of Canada at Trenton, Ontario.

United Airlines' Boeing 720-022, N7201U. (Unattributed)
United Airlines’ Boeing 720-022, N7201U. The airliner’s name, “Jet Mainliner Capt. F. M. Crismore,” is visible under the cockpit windows. (Bill Larkins via Wikipedia)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 November 1935

Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130 flying boat, China Clipper (NC14716), leaving the Golden Gate enroute to Honolulu, 22 November 1935. Photographed by Clyde Herwood Sunderland, Jr. (1900–1989).

22 November 1935: The Pan American Airways flying boat, China Clipper, a Martin M-130, NC14716, departed Alameda, California (an island in San Francisco Bay) at 3:46 p.m., Friday, and arrived at Honolulu at 10:39 a.m., Saturday, completing the first leg of a five-day trans-Pacific flight to Manila in the Philippine Islands.

The aircraft commander was Captain Edwin Charles Musick, with First Officer Robert Oliver Daniel (“Rod”) Sullivan. The navigator was Frederick Joseph Noonan, who would later accompany Amelia Earhart on her around-the-world flight attempt. There were also a Second Officer and two Flight Engineers. The cargo consisted of 110,000 pieces of U.S. Mail.

Captain Edwin Musick and R.O.D. Sullivan, at the center of the image, next to the China Clipper before leaving San Francisco Bay with the first transpacific airmail, 22 November 1935. The three men at the right of the image are (left to right) Postmaster General James Farley; Assistant Postmaster General Harllee Branch; and Pan American Airways’ President Juan Trippe.

Pan Am personnel called the Clipper “Sweet Sixteen,” referring to its Civil Aeronautics Board registration number, NC14716. The airplane and Humphrey Bogart starred in a 1936 First National Pictures movie, “China Clipper.”

NC14716 was the first of three Martin M-130 four-engine flying boats built for Pan American Airways and was used to inaugurate the first commercial transpacific air service from San Francisco to Manila in November, 1935. Built at a cost of $417,000 by the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, Maryland, it was delivered to Pan Am on October 9, 1935. The airplane’s serial number was 558.

Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130m China Clipper, NC14716, over San Francisco, California. (Clyde Herwood Sunderland, Jr./Library of Congress 94509045)

The M-130 was operated by a flight crew of 6–9, depending on the length of the flight, plus cabin staff, and could carry 18 passengers on overnight flights, or a maximum 36 passengers.

Cutaway illustration of Pan American Airways’ Martin M-130 China Clipper. Detail from larger image. (National Air and Space Museum SI-89-1216-A)
Martin M-130 3-view drawing. (Flight)

The Martin M-130 was 90 feet, 10.5 inches (27.699 meters) long with a wingspan of 130 feet, 0 inches (39.624 meters). It was 24 feet, 7 inches (7.493 meters) high. The total wing area was 2,315 square feet (215 square meters), including the “sea wings”. Its maximum takeoff weight was 52,252 pounds (23,701 kilograms).

The flying boat was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S2A5-G two-row 14-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.7:1.  They had a normal power rating 830 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 950 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propellers through a 3:2 gear reduction. The S2A5-G was 3 feet, 11.88 inches (1.216 meters) in diameter, 4 feet, 8.75 inches (1.441 meters) long, and weighed 1,235 pounds (560 kilograms).

Martin M-130 NC14716, right rear quarter view.

The airplane had a cruise speed of 130 miles per hour (209 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 180 miles per hour (290 kilometers per hour). The M-130’s service ceiling was 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Its range was 3,200 miles (5,150 kilometers).

Martin M-130, NC14716, China Clipper, moored at some distant exotic locale.
Martin M-130, NC14716, China Clipper, moored at some distant exotic locale. (Unattributed)

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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10 November 1995

Boeing lead test pilot for the 777, Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman, in the left seat of a Boeing 777-200LR. (Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum L60826)

10 November 1995: Captain Suzanna Darcy-Henneman set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world record for distance flown by a commercial aircraft when she and a crew of 7 additional pilots flew a Boeing 777-200LR Worldliner, N6066Z, non-stop from Hong Kong (HKG) to London Heathrow (LHR), a distance of 21,601.33 kilometers (13422.44 miles), in 22 hours, 22 minutes.¹ During the flight, Captain Darcy-Henneman also set two speed records. The 777 averaged 981.57 kilometers per hour (609.92 miles per hour) from Los Angeles to New York,² and 910.54 kilometers per hour (565.78 miles per hour) from New York to London.³

The record-setting Boeing 777-200LR touches down at Heathrow. (Boeing)

Suzanna Darcy joined Boeing’s engineering department in 1974. She learned to fly with the Boeing Employees Flying Association. Darcy graduated from the University of Washington in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautics and Aeronautical Engineering. She then became a ground school instructor for Boeing’s Model 757 and 767 airliners.

In 1985, Boeing assigned Darcy-Hanneman as a production test pilot, the first woman to hold that position with the company. She was also the first woman to earn a captain’s rating on the 747-400, and is also rated on the 737, 757, 767 and 777.  She performed flight testing on the 737-300 and was the project test pilot for the 777-200LR.

“Capt. Suzanna Darcy-Hennemann, the first female test pilot of Boeing, peers from the cockpit of a 777-200LR at Everett’s Boeing Plant in 2005.” (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

In 2008, Captain Darcy-Hanneman became Chief Pilot, Boeing Commercial Airplane Services. She is a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and was inducted into the Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2010. She retired from Boeing in 2015.

Boeing 777-200LR N6066Z. (Unattributed)
Boeing 777-200LR N6066Z. (Unattributed)

The Boeing 777-200LR was designed for very long distance airline routes. It is operated by two pilots, and can carry a maximum 317 passengers. The airplane is 209 feet, 1 inch (63.729 meters) long with a wingspan of 212 feet, 7 inches (64.795 meters) and overall height of 61 feet, 1 inch (18.618 meters). It has an empty weight of 320,000 pounds (145,150 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 766,000 pounds (347,452 kilograms).

The 777-200LR is powered by two General Electric GE-90-110B1 or -115B engines. The engine is dual rotor axial-flow high bypass turbofan. It has a single fan stage; 4-stage high pressure- and 9-stage low pressure compressor section; with a 2-stage high- and 6-stage low-pressure turbine. The high pressure rotor turns 9,332 r.p.m., and the low-pressure rotor turns 2,355 r.p.m. The engine is 286.67 inches (7.281 meters) long and weighs 19,316 pounds (8,761.590 kilograms). The fan has a diameter of 128 inches (3.251 meters). The GE90-115 produces a maximum 115,300 pounds of thrust (156.326 kilonewtons).

The 777-200LR has a maximum speed (MMO) of 0.89 Mach. Its maximum operating altitude is 43,100 feet (13,137 meters).

As of September 2020, Boeing had delivered sixty 777-200LRs.

¹ FAI Record File Number 12181

² FAI Record File Number 12182

³ FAI Record File Number 12183

© 2020, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 October 1957

The first production Boeing 707 after being rolled out of the final assembly plant at Renton, Washington, 28 October 1957. (Boeing)

28 October 1957: The first production Boeing 707 jet-powered commercial airliner, serial number 17586 (Line Number 1), was rolled out at the Boeing aircraft assembly plant at Renton, Washington. The Model 707 was developed from the earlier Model 367–80, the “Dash Eighty,” prototype for an air-refueling tanker which would become the KC-135 Stratotanker.

17586 was a Model 707-121. The new airliner had been sold to Pan American World Airways, the launch customer, as part of an order for twenty 707s in October 1955. The Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) assigned N708PA as its registration mark.

The first production Boeing 707 after roll out, 28 October 1957. (Boeing)

N708PA made its first flight 20 December 1957 with Boeing’s Chief of Flight Test, Alvin M. (“Tex”) Johnston. The airplane was initially used for flight and certification testing. Once this was completed, the new jet airliner was prepared for commercial service and delivered to Pan American at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), 30 November 1958. It was named Clipper Constitution.

Boeing 707-121 N708PA, photographed during its second flight, 20 December 1957. (Boeing)

In February 1965, the airliner was upgraded to 707-121B standards, which replaced the original turbojet engines with quieter, more efficient Pratt & Whitney Turbo Wasp JT3D-1 turbofan engines which produced 17,000 pounds of thrust. The wing inboard leading edges were modified to the design of the Model 720 and there was a longer horizontal tail plane.

Clipper Constitution flew for Pan Am for nearly 8 years, until 17 September 1965, when it crashed into Chances Peak, a 3,002 foot (915 meters) active stratovolcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. The point impact was 242 feet (74 meters) below the summit. All aboard, a crew of 9 and 21 passengers, were killed.

Boeing 707-121 N708PA retracts its landing gear after taking off at Seattle Tacoma Airport. (Unattributed)

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 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 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 3 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).

The airliner’s empty weight is 122,533 pounds (55,580 kilograms). Maximum take off weight is 257,000 pounds (116,573 kilograms). At MTOW, the 707 required 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) of runway to take off.

The 707-121 had a maximum speed is 540 knots (1,000 kilometers per hour). Its 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 military variants continued until 1994.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 October 1956

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser N90943, Pan American World Airways' Sovereign of the Skies, seen over San Francisco, circa 1947. (University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections, TRA0138)
Boeing 377 Stratocruiser N90943, Pan American World Airways’ Sovereign of the Skies, seen over San Francisco, circa 1947. (University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections, TRA0138)

16 October 1956: Pan American World Airways’ Flight 6 was a scheduled around-the-world passenger flight. The final leg, Honolulu to San Francisco, was flown by a Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser with civil registration N90943, and named Sovereign of the Skies.

The airplane had a flight crew of 7 and carried 24 passengers. The aircraft commander was Captain Richard N. Ogg, a veteran pilot with more than 13,000 flight hours accumulated over twenty years. First Officer George L. Haaker, Flight Engineer Frank Garcia, Jr., and Navigator Richard L. Brown completed the flight crew. The cabin crew were Purser Patricia Reynolds, who had been with Pan Am for over ten years, and Stewardesses Katherine S. Araki and Mary Ellen Daniel.

The flight from Honolulu to San Francisco was estimated to take 8 hours, 54 minutes. Captain Ogg had the airplane fueled for a total flight time of 12 hours, 18 minutes.

Pan American World Airlines’ Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, Clipper America. This airplane is similar to Sovereign of the Skies. (Boeing)

Flight 6 departed Honolulu at 8:24 p.m., Hawaii Standard Time, 15 October (06:24, 16 October, GMT), and climbed to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) on course.

4 hours, 38 minutes after takeoff, Flight 6 requested a pre-planned climb to 21,000 feet (6,400 meters), at a point about half-way—in terms of flight time—between the departure point and destination, what is dramatically called “The Point of No Return” in suspense movies. (Actually, this is called the Equal Time Point: Taking into consideration forecast winds, the time to fly back to the departing point is the same as the time to continue toward the destination.)

On leveling at the new cruise altitude at 1:19 a.m. (HST), First Officer Haaker reduced engine power. The propeller for the Number 1 engine, the outside engine on the left wing, suffered a prop governor failure and began to overspeed, with engine r.p.m. actually exceeding the limits of its tachometer. This created a very dangerous condition: If the propeller turned fast enough, it could be torn apart by centrifugal force. (See This Day In Aviation, 22 March 1956, for an example.)

The crew was unable to feather the propeller, which would cause its four blades to turn parallel to the slip stream, and increasing the load on the engine while reducing aerodynamic drag. The engine and propeller continued to turn at dangerously high speed so Captain Ogg decided to force the engine to stop by cutting off its lubricating oil supply. This caused the engine to seize but the propeller continued to “windmill.”

The drag caused by the propeller slowed the airplane considerably and the three remaining engines had to run at high power for the Boeing 377 to maintain its altitude. The Number 4 engine (the outer engine on the right wing) was developing only partial power at full throttle. At 2:45 a.m., it began to backfire and had to be shut down.

The airplane began to descend toward the ocean’s surface.

With the drag of the windmilling Number 1 propeller and only two engines running, Sovereign of the Skies could fly at just 140 knots (161 miles per hour/259 kilometers per hour), not fast enough to reach San Francisco or to return to Honolulu before running out of fuel. The navigator estimated that they would run out of fuel 250 miles (402 kilometers) from land.

The United States Coast Guard kept a high endurance cutter on station between Hawaii and California, at a point known as Ocean Station November. This ship provided assistance with weather information, radio communications and was available to assist should an emergency arise aboard trans-Pacific airplanes.

USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC 70) circa 1958. (U.S. Coast Guard)
USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC 70) circa 1958. (U.S. Coast Guard)

On 16 October 1956, this cutter was USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC 70), under the command of Commander William K. Earle, USCG. Pontchartrain was a 255-foot (77.7 meter) Lake-class patrol gunboat built by the U.S. Coast Guard ship yard at Curtiss Bay, Maryland, and commissioned 28 July 1945. The ship was redesignated as a high endurance cutter in 1948. Pontchartrain had a complement of 143 men.

The ship was 254 feet (77.42 meters) long, overall, with a beam of 43 feet, 1 inch (13.13 meters) and draft of 17 feet, 3 inches (5.25 meters). Its full load displacement was 1,978 tons (1,794 Metric tons). It was powered by a Westinghouse turbo-electric drive of 4,000 shaft horsepower and was capable on making 17.5 knots (20.41 miles per hour, or 32.41 kilometers per hour). Its maximum range was 10,376 miles (19,216 kilometers).

Pontchartrain was armed with a single 5-inch/38-caliber naval gun forward. It carried Hedgehog anti-submarine mortars and Mk 23 acoustic-homing antisubmarine torpedoes.

Captain Ogg notified Ponchartrain that he intended to ditch the airliner near the ship. The Coast Guard provided Captain Ogg with wind and wave information—five-foot (1.5 meter) swells, wind at eight knots (4 meters per second) from the northwest—and advised the best heading for ditching. The ship laid a trail of foam to mark this course.

Pan American World Airways Flight 6, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, ditches in the North Pacific Ocean near USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC 70), 6:15 am., 16 October 1956. (U.S. Coast Guard)
Pan American World Airways Flight 6, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, ditches in the North Pacific Ocean near USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC 70), 6:15 am., 16 October 1956. (U.S. Coast Guard)

At 6:15 a.m., at approximately 90 knots airspeed (104 miles per hour/167 kilometers per hour), the Boeing 377 landed on the water. A wing hit a swell, spinning the airplane to the left. The tail broke off and the airplane began to settle.

Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, Sovereign of the Skies, with its fuselage broken after ditching in the North Pacific Ocean, 16 October 1956. (Pan Am Historical Foundation/The New York Times)

Injuries were minor and all passengers and crew evacuated the airliner. They were immediately picked up by Pontchartrain.

Captain Ogg and Purser Reynolds were the last to leave the airplane.

Twenty minutes after touching down, at 6:35 a.m., Sovereign of the Skies sank beneath the ocean’s surface.

Sovereign of the Seas sinks into the Pacific Ocean, 16 October 1956. (U.S. Coast Guard)
Sovereign of the Skies sinks into the Pacific Ocean, 16 October 1956. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Pan American’s Sovereign of the Skies was a Boeing Model 377-10-29, construction number 15959, originally operated by American Overseas Airlines as Flagship Holland, and later, Flagship Europe. Pan Am acquired the airliner during a merger. On 16 October 1956, the airplane had accumulated 19,820:51 total time on the airframe (TTAF) since it was built.

The Boeing 377 was a large, four-engine civil transport which had been developed, along with the military C-97 Stratofreighter, from the World War II B-29 Superfortress long-range heavy bomber. It utilized the wings and engines of the improved B-50 Superfortress. The airplane was operated by a flight crew of four. It was a double-deck aircraft, with the flight deck, passenger cabin and galley on the upper deck and a lounge and cargo compartments on the lower. The airliner was pressurized, and could maintain Sea Level atmospheric pressure while flying at 15,500 feet (4,724 meters). The Model 377 could be configured to carry up to 100 passengers, or 28 in sleeping births.

The Stratocruiser was 110 feet, 4 inches (33.630 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and overall height of 38 feet, 3 inches (11.659 meters). Empty weight was 83,500 pounds (37,875 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 148,000 pounds (67,132 kilograms). Sovereign of the Skies had a gross weight of 138,903 pounds (63,005 kilograms) when it took off from Honolulu.

Crew members of Pan American World Airways Flight 6 receive commendations for their service during the emergency of 16 October 1956. Left to right, Captain Richard N. Ogg; Navigator Richard L. Brown; Purser Patricia Reynolds; (unidentified); First Officer George L. Haaker; Flight Engineer Frank Garcia, Jr.. (Pan Am Historical Foundation/The New York Times)

The airliner was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.489 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B6 four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines which had a Normal Power rating of 2,650 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., and 2,800 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. Maximum Continuous. It produced 3,250 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff (3,500 horsepower with water injection). The engines drove four-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic, 24260 constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 17 feet, 0 inches (5.182 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The Wasp Major B6 was 8 feet, 0.50 inches (2.451 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,584 pounds (1,626 kilograms).

The 377 had a cruise speed of 301 miles per hour (484 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour). During testing by Boeing, a 377 reached 409 miles per hour (658 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters) and the range was 4,200 miles (6,759 kilometers).

Boeing built 56 Model 377 Stratocruisers, with Pan American as the primary user, and another 888 military C-97 Stratofreighter and KC-97 Stratotankers.

A U.S. Coast Guard film of the incident can be seen at:

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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