Question: From a pilot's standpoint, how revolutionary was the advent of the Boeing 707 vs. the 787?
— Submitted by reader George, N.Y.
Answer: The 787 and Airbus A350 are the latest generation of modern jets. They are much more fuel-efficient, automated and comfortable than the first-generation B707 and DC-8. However, in their day the B707 and DC-8 were a radical departure, due to previous airplanes being propeller-driven.
The 707 was more revolutionary in its day. Modern jets such as the 787 are easier to fly, and are more evolutionary.
Q: How much has the efficiency of planes improved over the last 30 to 40 years? For example, how much more efficient are Boeing 737s and 747s now compared to when they first entered service? What is their range now relative to three decades ago?
— Richard, San Antonio
A: The improvement in efficiency of modern jet engines compared to the first generation is remarkable. The last number I saw is that the most modern jets are 70% more efficient than the first generation. We now fly 18 hours routinely, where the first B707s and DC-8s struggled to get across the Atlantic.
Q: I just retired after 42+ years in the industry and am still amazed at how much things have changed. How does the length of the B707 compare with the longest stretch 737?
— Alan, formerly of Piedmont/US Airways
A: The basic length of a B707 was 145 feet, the basic length of a 737-900 is 136 feet.
Yes, there have been some real changes in our industry in the last 40 years. It has been wonderful to be a part of.
Q: Dear Capt. Cox, I have long admired the 707 owned by John Travolta and wondered how he was able to maintain it mechanically. To myself, as to other aviation enthusiasts, it is the embodiment of the Golden Age of commercial aviation.
— Peter Krey, Erlanger, Ky.
A: Several years ago, Mr. Travolta’s 707 was parked next to an airplane I was flying in Bermuda. The first officer and I walked over to admire it. This iconic airplane was in beautiful shape; the crew was kind enough to invite us onboard to take a look. I was very impressed with the level of detail he had maintained during the restoration. The announcement of it being retired saddened me. Hopefully, a way can be found to keep it flying. It was certainly a part of a “Golden Age.”
Q: Hypothetically, would it be possible for a pilot to do a barrel-roll or somersault in a commercial airliner carrying passengers?
— Troy V., Dallas
A: Yes, very early in the Boeing 707’s development, pilot Tex Johnson rolled the demonstration airplane over the Seattle Seafair. While physics may permit such a maneuver, good judgment would not.
John Cox is a retired airline captain with US Airways and runs his own aviation safety consulting company, Safety Operating Systems.
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