Boeing through the ages: Planes that changed the way we travel

Story highlights

Boeing secured 259 orders and commitments for its 777X commercial jet this week

Boeing 707 credited with ushering in the golden age of commercial air travel

Company execs say Dreamliner will be as reliable as the Boeing 777 in six months

CNN  — 

There must have been some pretty wide smiles on the faces of Boeing executives waking up in Dubai.

The U.S.-based plane maker secured 259 orders and commitments at the launch of its 777X commercial jet at the 2013 Dubai International Air Show – “the largest product launch in commercial jetliner history by dollar value,” touts Boeing.

Boeing says the combined value of the agreements is more than $95 billion at list prices, a better result than some aviation watchers were expecting.

“We knew it was coming, and we knew it would be big, but the size and scale of the 777X order was still very impressive,” says aviation journalist Stephen Trimble of

“The only surprise is that no Asian carrier or leasing companies joined the launch party. Usually, the aircraft companies like to launch with a slightly more diverse mix of customers, but that’s being a little nit-picky.”

It couldn’t have come at a better time for the company, stinging from the three-month grounding of its Dreamliner fleet that ended in April this year.

It took a barrel roll to get buyers to bite on the 707.

If it hasn’t already, such a large order could usher in another chapter in aviation history.

It wouldn’t be the first time Boeing has left its mark.

Though rival Airbus has made a huge impact with planes like the massive A380 (Emirates airline ordered 50 more this week) and is excited about its super-efficient A350 XWB, Boeing’s role in the industry stretches back further.

Here are some of the other game changers the U.S.-based aircraft maker has produced.

Boeing 707 – the golden age of commercial air travel

Many aviation analysts credit the Boeing 707 with ushering in the golden age of commercial air travel.

When Boeing launched the plane in the early 1950s, it had less than 1% of the commercial airliner market.

“(Company) president Bill Allen persuaded the firm’s board to make an audacious gamble and develop the first American jetliner,” writes Sam Howe Verhovek in “Jet Age,” a book about the titans, engineers and test pilots who raced to design a safe and lucrative passenger jet.

“As the industry giants Douglas and Lockheed held off on jets and instead competed with each other to build the most luxurious propeller-driven airliners, Bill Allen and Boeing jumped headlong into the future.”

For five years, Boeing couldn’t persuade a single customer to buy their new jet – in either its military or civilian configuration.

Until August 1955, that is, when 350,000 people gathered around Seattle’s Lake Washington for the famed Gold Cup hydroplane races.

“Boeing’s swashbuckling chief test pilot, A.M. ‘Tex’ Johnston, took matters literally into his own hands,” says Verhovek.

“His demonstration of the 707 prototype, including a completely unauthorized full circle barrel roll of the $18 million jet, stunned the crowd and infuriated Bill Allen, who ordered Johnston into his office for an immediate dressing down.”

Legend has it, Allen asked Johnston what the hell he was doing.

His reply?

“Selling airplanes.”

Old Tex kept his job and the plane went on to be one of the most commercially successful jets of all time, dominating air travel through the 1960s and into the 1970s.

“The B707 was Boeing’s first transatlantic and transcontinental, four-engined aircraft and from this 120-seater evolved the jumbo, the B747,” says Phil Seymour, president and COO of the International Bureau of Aviation (IBA), an aviation consultancy.

The 707 was intended as a medium-range transport plane but made scheduled flights across the Atlantic and across the North American continent.

A smaller version, the 720, was created for short-to-medium routes with a fuselage nine feet shorter and turbofan engines.

Boeing 747 – Queen of the Skies

The 747 debuted at the Paris Air Show in 1969.

If we erase launch figures from the picture, the 747 is the Boeing jet that had the greatest impact on the global travel market, says Flight Global’s Trimble.

“It really paved the way for the 787 model.”

The 747 program was launched in 1966, when Pan American World Airways announced a $525 million order for 25 Boeing 747s.

By September 1966, orders had reached $1.8 billion.

The first 747-100 entered commercial service with Pan American in 1970, on a New York-to-London flight.

“It was game changing at the time,” says IBA’s Seymour. “Airports had to have wider taxiways and larger passenger terminals.

“Now we see the advent of even more efficient engines and wing design that take this to the next level in terms of lower fuel burn, lower noise and longer range.”

Today, Boeing has delivered more than 1,400 747s to airlines around the world – not bad for a plane now into its fifth decade.

Since its debut at the Paris Air Show in 1969, the company has introduced a number of variations to the 747 family, including the 747-100, 747-200 and 747-300. The most common flown by international travelers today are versions of the 747-400, of which production ended in 2009.

Its successor, the fourth generation 747-8 Intercontinental, rolled out last year.

Boeing announced in October that it will adjust the production rate for the 747-8 program from 1.75 airplanes to 1.5 airplanes per month through 2015 because of lower market demand for large passenger and freighter airplanes.

Boeing 777 – bridging the gap

The 777 carries more than 300 passengers.

Boeing’s 777 program kicked off in 1990 with the 777-200, with the first delivery going to United Airlines in 1995.

It’s the world’s largest twin jet, carrying more than 300 passengers up to 9,380 nautical miles (17,370 kilometers), depending on the model.

The plane is lauded for bridging a capacity difference between smaller jets and the likes of the 747, allowing airlines to expand their networks by flying on longer, thinner routes with too few passengers to fill a jumbo jet.

It was Boeing’s first fly-by-wire commercial jet – Airbus holds the crown for being first with its A320 – meaning it used an electronic interface instead of conventional manual flight controls.

“The improvement in engine reliability meant that two engines could be a safe as four, so the B777 soon became the long-range aircraft of choice and now we see the advent of even more efficient engines and wing design that take this to the next level in terms of lower fuel burn, lower noise and longer range,” says Seymour.

Carriers have increasingly used the 777 as a fuel-efficient alternative to other wide-body jets, particularly for long-haul trans-oceanic flights.

Since the first 777 entered service in June 1995, the airplane has flown almost 5 million flights and accumulated more than 18 million flight hours.

Boeing 737 and 757 – short-haul workhorses

Boeing 737. The best selling commercial plane of all time.

It doesn’t impress with size or technology.

But if you’ve ever flown, chances are you’ve been on a 737.

“The shorter range market cannot be mentioned without reference to the most successful aircraft type of all time, the B737,” says Seymour

The best selling jet in aviation history, the twin-engine 737 is credited for giving airlines the chance to offer six-abreast seating, allowing more passengers per flight and a cost-effective way for airlines to amp up regional networks.

Boeing has delivered more than 7,500 737s throughout the world.

Its first flight was in 1967 and it entered service in 1968, fast becoming the go-to plane for short-haul flights.

“It has evolved over time and the new 737MAX provides similar attributes to the new 777X, that is improved engine technology and enhanced wing design,” says Seymour.

His personal favorite is the B757, “comfortable enough for transatlantic flights yet also at home on one-hour commuter sectors.”

“Boeing have not really replaced it, so despite the generally positive comments I have about Boeing and what it has done for us all, the gap left by the lack of a B757 replacement bemuses me,” he says.

On November 28, 2005, Boeing wrapped up the 23-year run of the single aisle 757 passenger airplane with the delivery of the 1,050th and final plane to Shanghai Airlines.