The birth of the Boeing 707 was no secret – everyone knew!

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September 06, 2020
Boeing 707
Mrs Boeing christens the 707 prototype as Boeing President Bill Allen looks on. Boeing Historical Archive picture colorised by Benoit Vienne.

The birth of the Boeing 707 was no secret – everyone knew – but the lay media has continued to keep pedaling that Boeing stole a march on its competitors.

And another related myth is that Boeing had access secret German aerodynamic wing designs and that also gave the company an edge. Again utter nonsense.

Certainly, Boeing’s George Scharer was at Volkenrode in May 1945 and saw first hand German aerodynamic data, but as noted, the top-secret files were to be shared. The author has been to the Douglas archives and seen over 10 five-draw cabinets full of German aerodynamic data so that “secret” data was available to Douglas years before the advent of the 707 vs DC-8 competition.

Read: Future Flight – The Flying V takes flight. 

In fact, Douglas built many military fighter designs in the late 40s with swept wings and also built B-47s for Boeing at its Tulsa plant.

Here is George’s letter to his Boeing colleagues.

In its annual report of 1952, Boeing announced under the headline “Jet Transport-Tanker Begun” that work has started on a jet transport prototype in the spring of that year.

It stated: “We are of the opinion that the company can build a prototype transport which will enable it to demonstrate to the military the principal characteristics of a combination tanker and jet transport, and at the same time demonstrate to the commercial airlines the principal characteristics of a production airliner.”

It estimated the cost at $15 million.

That year Boeing reported sales of $739 million and net profit of $14 million with a backlog at $1.6 billion, so not exactly betting the company as many say.

Down the coast, Douglas Aircraft Co. posted a profit of $10 million on sales of $522 million and held a backlog of $1.8 billion.

It stated in its annual report that it has spent $1 million of engineering work for a jet transport.

Just 12 months later in its 1953 annual report, Boeing showed images of its 707 prototype under construction announcing it would fly in the fall of 1954.

This is the first photo of the 707 shown in Boeing’s 1953 annual report

At Douglas despite soaring sales, profits, and backlog of $874 million, $18 million, and $2.2 billion respectively the company dithered saying that studies continued.

On May 14, 1954, the prototype 707, dubbed the 367-80, was rolled out and flew on July 15, 1954.

Douglas would not commit to its DC-8 for another full year and lost over a year in what would be the greatest sales race in aviation history.

And because it had not built a prototype and was playing catch up problems arose that were very costly to rectify, which cost it sales and also impaired its ability to compete with Boeing that swept all before it with the Boeing 720 and Boeing 727.

707

The roll-out of the first DC-8 in early 1958 below.