The Boeing 707 was built as a major gamble by Boeing in a time when most airlines were still using piston engined airplanes. Boeing bet the entire company on the success of the 707 or (as it was known in the early days for secrecy reasons) the model 367-80. Luckily for Boeing the gamble paid off and the 707 became a best seller. Some 707s are still in service in cargo and the oocasional passenger role.

The complete story behind the 707 barrel roll as the custodian mentions is this:

Tex Johnston, Boeing's test pilot on the 707 (or dash 80) project heard the Boeing executives were going to be playing golf with the press and top airline executives. He hatched a plan to sell the airplane to the press. As the executives played golf Tex flew over the course and rolled the airplane. He then turned around and rolled the airplane again! The press was delighted and Boeing immediately had orders for 707's. Johnston was reprimanded but since the maneuver he performed was perfectly within the airplane's capability (a slow roll such as this is a +1 g maneuver, the airplane never even knew it was inverted) and since it got so many orders he was let off the hook. he did have to promise never to do that again though.

Thanks The Custodian for reminding me of this great story.

The Boeing 707 survives to this day in that ultimate collection of slightly outdated aircraft - the U.S. Military! The U.S. Air Force's most popular 'utility' airframe for large jet applications is the '-135' body, as in the KC-135, the RC-135 (Rivet Joint), and even the VC-135. All -135 airframes are essentially militarized 707s. As the aircraft was retired from commercial roles, the U.S. military picked up some low-hour examples for spares; in addition, they have re-engined a number of different -135 aircraft with more efficient turbofan engines.

A minor piece of trivia; when the 707 was unveiled to the press and public, Tex Johnston, the test pilot flying the demonstration aircraft inverted the aircraft for several seconds (against orders!). The press and industry were impressed as hell.

Minor correction: The -135s aren't technically militarized 707s. The 707 and the -135 are both descended from the same prototype - the Boeing 367-80, or 'Dash 80' mentioned in kermitov's writeup above. That prototype was intended to launch the 707 and the entire 7-- family, but was named the '367-80' to hide its true nature from industrial espionage during development. It first flew in 1954, with performance specifications that are quite similar to today's jetliners in every area except perhaps noise level and fuel consumption due to its use of turbojets rather than turbofans. The Dash 80 was used to secure orders for both KC-135s and 707s, and today it (the sole Dash 80 prototype) rests at the U.S.'s National Air and Space Musuem's Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport.

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