The Boeing 707 Jetliner in Civilian Service
Boeing 707 Overview
The Boeing 707 prototype, a model 367-80 made its first flight on July 15, 1954. It first entered service on October 26, 1958. It soon became the symbol of air travel. Boeing built 1,010 civilian versions before stopping production.[i] Boeing delivered the last production 707 built to Morocco in 1982.[ii] Boeing also built over 800 military versions of the 707. Boeing delivered the last military version in 1990. There are about 130 707s still in civilian service.[iii] Many military 707s are serving in the United States Air Force (USAF) and other air forces.
[i] BBC, Boeing 707: The aircraft that changed the way we fly, http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20141020-the-plane-that-changed-air-travel, last accessed 7/15/2018.
[ii] Commercial Transport Aircraft, Tri-Service Pocketbook, © Tri-Service Press, Series Editor: Michael J.H. Taylor.
[iii] Airliners.net, 707, http://www.airliners.net/aircraft-data/boeing-707/87, last accessed 7/7/2018.
The Boeing 707-320C and McDonnell Douglas DC8 Super 63
DC-8 Super 63
Number of Passengers
freight holds under floor
Rate of Climb
The Life and Times of the Boeing 707/720 Jetliner
Boeing engineers Ed Wells, George Schairer, and John Alexander began thinking about a design for a jetliner in 1949. Boeing had a history of losing out to Douglas and Lockheed in the airliner business. Boeing’s last piston-engine airliner, the 377 Stratocruiser was a commercial failure as an airliner[i]. De Havilland built the first jetliner, the Comet. A design flaw caused three fatal accidents within a year and the Comet was withdrawn from service. The Boeing model 367-80, called ‘Dash 80’, was the prototype for the 707. It used the same Pratt & Whitney engines that were used in the F-100 fighter and the B-52 bomber. In August 1955 Boeing’s chief test pilot Tex Johnson barrel-rolled the Dash 80 over Lake Washington.
Pan-Am was the first airline to fly the Boeing 707. Pan Am ordered 20 707s and 25 Douglas DC-8s. The DC-8 was slightly larger and wider than the 707. Boeing redesigned the 707 to make it ½ inch (1.3 centimeters) wider than the DC-8. This convinced American Airlines to buy 50 707s. The first fatal 707 air crash was an American Airlines Boeing 707-123 that crashed on a training flight killing all five on board.[ii] There was another fatal training flight on October 19. There were two more training flight crashes in 1961. The first crash with passengers on board occurred on February 15, 1961. A Sabena B-707-320 crashed near Brussels when its flying controls failed. The crash killed all 72 people on board and one person on the ground. The dead included all 18 members of the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating team.[iii]
On August 3, 1961 two men hijacked Continental Airlines Flight 54, registration number N70775, and forced the crew to fly them to Cuba. In the 1960s planes being hijacked to Cuba was so commonplace some TV shows and at least one movie made jokes about it. No one was killed in these “fly me to Cuba” hijackings. N70775 also had another tragic first on May 22, 1962. Thomas Doty, an armed robbery suspect, insured himself for $300,000 and exploded a bomb in the plane’s lavatory. He killed himself and the other 44 people on board. It was the first case of a bombing on board a commercial jetliner. The 1970 movie “Airport” has a similar story line but with a happy ending. The movie “Airport” gave some plugs for the Boeing 707. The aircraft used in the movie “Airport” crashed on March 21, 1989. This Transbrasil Flight 801 cargo plane accident killed the three crew members and 22 people on the ground in Vila Barros, Brazil. Over 200 people on the ground were injured.
Air France Flight 007 crashed on takeoff at Paris’s Orly Airport on June 3, 1962. The crash killed 130 people. At the time this was the largest number of fatalities in an air crash involving a single aircraft. Two flight attendants survived. The tragic record of largest number of fatalities in an air crash involving a single aircraft was broken periodically until the Japan Air Lines Boeing 747 crash on August 12, 1985.[iv]
Pan American World Airways aircraft “Clipper Friendship” had its number 4 engine disintegrate after takeoff on June 28, 1965. The Clipper Friendship lost 25 feet of its right wing. The 707 made an emergency landing at Travis Air Force Base. The nose gear collapsed on landing but all 153 people on board were uninjured.[v]
Shelling at the Beirut airport damaged a Middle East Airlines 720-047B beyond repair on August 21, 1965. On July 23, 1968 three terrorists of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked El Al flight 426. The ordeal lasted until August 31 when the terrorists released the last of the hostages in exchange for 16 convicted criminals.[vi] On December 26 Mahmoud Mohammed Issa Mohammed and Naheb H. Suleiman of the PFLP attacked an El Al 707 at the Athens Airport. Mohammed killed Leon Shirdan and injured a woman passenger. Greek authorities captured both terrorists. Mohammed served less than 4 months of a 17 years, 5 months sentence. Greek authorities freed him when terrorists hijacked a Greek airliner. Israeli commandos destroyed a Middle East Airlines 707 and 13 other aircraft at Beirut, Lebanon on December 28.[vii] On August 29, 1969 Leila Khaled and Salim Issawai of the PFLP hijacked TWA Flight 840. Leila Khaled was the first woman to hijack an airliner. They forced the plane to fly to Damascus. They damaged the front of the 707 with grenades. Two hostages were held for a month.[viii] On October 31 TWA Flight 85, was flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco. U.S. Marine Raffaele Minichiello hijacked this 707 and what should have been a short flight became the longest hijacking in history covering 6,900 miles (11,000 kilometers). The Italian government refused to extradite Minichiello. At his trial the court was sympathetic to Minichiello and he served 18 months in jail. On September 6, 1970 the PFLP attempted to hijack 4 jetliners. They successfully hijacked 3 jetliners, including a TWA 707. The other 707 was El Al Flight 741. Leila Khaled and Patrick Argüello attempted to hijack the El Al flight. Israeli sky marshals killed Argüello and captured Leila Khaled. When the plane landed the Israelis handed Leila Khaled over to British authorities. Three days later the PFLP hijacked BOAC Flight 775, a Vickers VC-10. The PFLP destroyed the 4 planes they captured at el Khana, Jordan on September 12. Britain said they would release Leila Khaled in exchange for the release of the hostages on September 13. The PFLP actions made Jordan’s King Hussein appear weak. On September 16 King Hussein sent his army into action against the PFLP. The Jordanian Army decimated the PFLP fighters. Some ran into Israel to escape the Jordanian military. The PFLP released the hostages in exchange for Leila Khaled and some other PFLP prisoners.
On December 21, 1971 Everett Leary Holt hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines 707 after it took off from Chicago. He demanded $300,000 in ransom and a parachute. The crew and passengers escaped and Holt surrendered.[ix] This was one of a series of hijackings in the U.S. where hijackers demanded money and a parachute with the intent of parachuting from a jetliner in flight. Two days later an American Airlines 707 was hijacked.[x] On March 8, 1972 a bomb destroyed a TWA 707 on the ground. No one was injured. Someone had demanded a $2 million extortion payment.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) attacked Roma-Fiumicino Airport. They took six hostages at the terminal and attacked a Pan Am 707, named “Clipper Celestial”, as it was boarding passengers. The attack killed 29 passengers and 1 crew member. The terrorists then killed a guard and hijacked a Lufthansa Boeing 737. The hijackers surrendered in Kuwait. Kuwait returned the terrorists to the PLO.[xi]
On January 30, 1974 Pan Am Flight 806 crashed in Pago Pago, killing 97. This was American Samoa’s worst air disaster.
A bomb on board TWA Flight 841 exploded and it crashed in the Ionian Sea killing all 88 people onboard. A Palestinian organization claimed credit for the bombing. This was the first known instance of a suicide bomber on an American airliner.[xii]
The largest number of fatalities involving a Boeing 707 occurred on August 3, 1975. A Royal Jordanian Airlines 707-321C crashed killing all 188 on board.
A bomb exploding on board Middle East Airlines Flight 438 killed 81 people over Saudi Arabia on January 1, 1976. On June 27 rocket and artillery bombardment destroyed a Middle East Airlines 720 while it was parked in Beirut, Lebanon and killed one person on the aircraft. On September 7 seven masked men destroyed an Air France 707-328 in Corsica.[xiii]
Soviet Sukhoi Su-15s attacked Korean Air Lines Flight 902 on April 20, 1978. The Su-15s fired two air-air missiles at the Boeing 707-321B. One missile struck the jetliner and the rapid decompression killed two passengers. The Korean Air Lines crew made an emergency descent to 5,000 feet. The Su-15s lost the 707 in the clouds. The 707 made an emergency landing on a frozen lake outside Murmansk.[xiv]
The first Boeing 707 accident attributed to wind shear occurred on February 19, 1979. Quebecair Flight 714 the aircraft, registration C-GQBH, dropped 6 meters (20 feet) onto the Saint Lucia-Hewanorra runway. There were no fatalities but aircraft was severely damaged and scrapped later on that year.[xv] Wind shear caused, or contributed to, 26 major civil transport accidents in the U.S. from 1964 through 1985. These accidents caused 620 deaths and 200 injuries.[xvi] In 1988 the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration mandated all commercial aircraft have on-board wind shear detection systems installed by 1993. Wind shear caused two other Boeing 707 accidents. These accidents caused the loss of the 707s but no fatalities.
Tanzanian forces destroyed a Ugandan Airlines 707 at Entebbe Airport on April 1, 1979. The fighting in Lebanon destroyed two 707s at the Beirut airport in Lebanon in 1981. On January 26, 1982 an Alvemda 707 was flying military supplies from Libya to Damascus when it was attacked by a fighter plane. The fighter damaged the 707-348C beyond repair but the crew landed the plane safely at Damascus. It’s unknown if the fighter was Israeli or Iraqi. Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee on June 6, 1982. The aircraft at Beirut International Airport were caught up in the fighting and its aftermath. On June 12 shelling at Beirut International Airport destroyed a Middle East Airlines 720-023C. Israeli artillery destroyed five 707s and 720s at Beirut International Airport on June 16. Israeli Air Force aircraft destroyed a Middle East Airlines 720-047B on August 1. Shelling damaged another Middle East Airlines 720-023 beyond repair at Beirut International Airport on June 1, 1983. On August 21, 1985 shelling destroyed two Middle East Airlines 720s. Shelling destroyed a Middle East Airlines 707 shortly after it landed at Beirut International Airport on January 8, 1987. There were no casualties.
On November 29, 1987 North Korean agents Kim Sung il and Kim Hyon Hui put a bomb on board Korean Air Flight 858. The bomb exploded over the Andaman Sea, killing all 115 on board. Bahrain authorities arrested Kim Sung il and Kim Hyon Hui. While awaiting interrogation they took suicide capsules hidden in their cigarettes. Kim Sung il died but Kim Hyon Hui survived. Bahrain extradited Kim Hyon Hui to the Republic of Korea. Kim Hyon Hui became a celebrity in South Korea when it became public she was a virgin. The Republic of Korea court sentenced her to death in March 1989. The sentence was never carried out and South Korean President Roh Tae Woo pardoned her in 1998.[xvii]
Shelling at Asmara, Ethiopia damaged an Ethiopia Airlines 707-385C on March 25, 1981.
The last fatal accident involving a Boeing 707 was on October 21, 2009. Azza Transport Flight 2241 crashed shortly after takeoff killing all six crew members on board. The last Boeing 707 accident occurred on May 18, 2011. A Boeing 707 tanker operated by Omega Air Refueling Services crashed on takeoff at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California. The resulting fire destroyed the aircraft. This 707 was previously owned by Pan Am and was damaged by a bird strike in 1969. Regular passenger service for the 707 ended when Saha Air, a Tehran based airline, ended active operations in 2013.[xviii]
In 1990 Kenneth R. Plunkett, then director of research for Aviation Safety Institute, gave the overall accident rate for the Boeing 707 as 4.7 crashes per million departures. By that time Boeing 707s had ceased regularly scheduled service in the United States because of noise-abatement regulations. For an aircraft of its era it was a relatively safe airliner.[xix]
Frank Sinatra bought an ex-Qantas 707, that was built in 1964. John Travolta purchased this 707 in 1998.[xx]
The profits from the Boeing 707 wasn’t as great as the numbers indicate. Boeing gambled that if they went out of their way to please their 707 customers they could make greater profits with later aircraft in the 700 series. The gamble paid off and Boeing dominated the jetliner market for many years.
[i] Boeing sold a military tanker version of the aircraft, the KC-97 Stratofreighter.
[ii] Plane Crash Info, http://www.planecrashinfo.com/1959/1959-39.htm, last accessed, 7/11/2018.
[iii] Plane Crash Info, http://www.planecrashinfo.com/1961/1961-9.htm, last accessed, 7/12/2018.
[iv] The JAL Flight 123 crash had 520 fatalities. If the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are counted JAL 123 would be the third largest crash involving a single aircraft. On September 11, 2001 American Airlines Flight 11 killed roughly 1,700 people and United Airlines Flight 175 killed roughly 1,000 people.
[v] Plane Crash Info, http://www.planecrashinfo.com/1965/1965-33.htm, last accessed, 7/12/2018.
[vi] Airline Safety.net, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19680723-0, last accessed, 7/14/2018.
[vii] Airline Safety.net, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19681228-0, last accessed 7/14/2018.
[viii] Airline Safety.net, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19690829-1, last accessed 7/14/2018.
[ix] New York Times, Hijacker of 707 Seized in Chicago, by United Press International, December 25, 1971, https://www.nytimes.com/1971/12/25/archives/hijacker-of-707-seized-in-chicago-he-holds-plane-at-airport-3-hours.html, last accessed 7/14/2018.
[x] Aviation Safety.net, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19711226-1, last accessed 7/15/2018.
[xi] Jewish Virtual Library, Terrorism: Middle East Terrorist Incidents (1968-1973), last accessed 7/14/2018.
[xii] TWA Flight 841 (1974), https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=TWA%20Flight%20841%20(1974), last accessed 7/14/2018.
[xiii] Aviation Safety.net, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19760907-0, last accessed 7/15/2018.
[xiv] Aviation Safety.net, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19780420-1, last accessed 7/15/2018.
[xv] Aviation Safety.net, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19790219-0, last accessed 7/15/2018.
[xvi] NASA Facts, Making the Skies Safe from WIndshear, June 1992, https://web.archive.org/web/20100329221032/http://oea.larc.nasa.gov/PAIS/Windshear.html, last accessed 7/15/2018.
[xvii] Aviation Safety.net, https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19871129-0, last accessed 7/15/2018.
[xviii] BBC, Boeing 707: The aircraft that changed the way we fly, http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20141020-the-plane-that-changed-air-travel, last accessed 7/11/2018.
[xix] New York Times, Boeing 707: the First U.S. Commercial Jetliner, by Keith Bradsher, January 26, 1990, https://www.nytimes.com/1990/01/26/nyregion/boeing-707-the-first-us-commercial-jetliner.html, last accessed, 7/15/2018.
[xx] BBC, Boeing 707: The aircraft that changed the way we fly, http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20141020-the-plane-that-changed-air-travel, last accessed 7/15/2018.
© 2018 Robert Sacchi