Air Travel in Australia: Boeing 707

The Boeing 707 is an American four-engine commercial passenger jet airliner developed by Boeing in the early 1950s. In many ways it was the aircraft which made air travel both possible and affordable to the man in the street, and as such must be considered as one of the most significant aircraft ever made.

Boeing delivered a total of 1,010 Boeing 707s, which dominated passenger air transport in the 1960s and remained common through the 1970s. A narrow-body airliner, the Boeing 707 was the manufacturer's first jetliner. Developed from the Boeing 367-80, a prototype first flown in 1954, the initial 707-120 first flew on December 20, 1957. Pan American World Airways began regular 707 service on October 26, 1958, and it was built until 1979. A quadjet, the 707 has a swept wing with podded engines. Derived from the 367-80 prototype, its larger fuselage cross-section allowed six-abreast economy seating, retained in the later 720, 727, 737, and 757.

Although it was not the first jetliner in service, the 707 was the first to be widespread and is often credited with initiating the Jet Age. It dominated passenger air transport in the 1960s and remained common through the 1970s, on domestic, transcontinental, and transatlantic flights, and for cargo and military applications. It established Boeing as a dominating airliner manufacturer with its 7x7 series.

The only rival in intercontinental jet aircraft production at the time was the British de Havilland Comet. However, this was never real competition for the American market as the Comet series had been the subject of fatal accidents (due to design flaws) early in its introduction, withdrawn from service, virtually redesigned from scratch, and reintroduced as version -4. It was also smaller and slower than the 707.

The first three Pan Am Boeing 707s awaiting delivery

Pan Am was the first airline to operate the 707; the carrier inaugurated 707 service with a christening at National Airport on October 17, 1958, attended by President Eisenhower, followed by a transatlantic flight for VIPs (personal guests of founder Juan Trippe) from Baltimore's Friendship International Airport to Paris.

In 1956, Qantas became the first non US airline to order the Boeing 707 jet airliner. Contrary to popular belief, the special shortened version for Qantas was the original version Boeing offered to airlines, called the 707-138. Boeing lengthened the aircraft by ten feet for all other customers, which compromised the economics for Qantas. This was the aircraft they had originally contracted for. Because the maximum takeoff weight remained the same as that of the -120, the -138 was able to fly the longer routes that Qantas needed.

The 707 became Qantas' mainstay on the Kangaroo Route (England to Australia), bringing many migrants to Australia and holidaymaker between the two counties. The 707 was operated by Qantas from 1959 to 1979.

In time, the Boeing 707 decimated the traditional form of passage for migrants from Europe to Australia - by ship - which began to fall into decline in the early 1960s and ended with the last migrant voyage of the Australis in October 1977.

Traces of the 707 can be found in the 737, which uses a modified version of the 707's fuselage, as well as the same external nose and cockpit configurations as those of the 707. These were also used on the previous 727, while the 757 also used the 707 fuselage cross-section.

Actor John Travolta ownd a former Qantas Boeing 707, which is still painted in the Qantas livery complete with the distinctive Qantas V-Jet tail insignia.

The front section of the last Boeing 707 to be used in the Qantas fleet (above) - and the first operated by the Royal Australian Air Force - is on display at the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society's headquarters and museum at Albion Park Rail, NSW.

The aircraft, a Boeing 707-338C, once known as VH-EAG "City of Alice Springs" last flew in 2001 and was withdrawn from service on 30th March 1979 and dismantled in 2009 after being used for parts by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

The 707-338C had joined the Qantas international fleet on 16th May 1968 and was named "City of Hobart" by Qantas and later re-named “City of Alice Springs” by Qantas in February 1974. As well as flying passengers all over the world, it carried troops to and from Vietnam. It holds the world record for the most amount of passengers flown out of Darwin after Cyclone Tracey in 1974, when it carried 270 passengers on board as they tried to move people out of the area.

The aircraft was sold to the RAAF in basic Qantas livery on 7th April, 1979, and re-named “Windsor Town”. It was retired from service and stored at RAAF Base Richmond in February 2001, having flown a total of 50,234 hours of which 12,175 hours were in RAAF service.

When the front section of the aircraft was restored internally, it was fitted out as a civilian airliner. It was painted on one side with Qantas and the other side in RAAF colours to recognise its former roles in Australian skies."

  • More about the Boeing 707

  • In 1959 Qantas only had 85 flight hostesses, but was receiving 800 applications a year. With the introduction of the round-the-world service and the new Boeing 707 services, advertisements were placed in the major daily newspapers for new flight hostess positions. In Melbourne the interviews would be held at Qantas House, over a period of three days. Applicants were expected to have a “pleasant personality and attractive appearance” and undergo three interviews before being selected into the training school.

    The Qantas Flight Hostess Manual was almost 260 pages, and Bev Maunsell, who had previously worked at Ansett-ANA for two years, remembers sitting in the Qantas training school thinking that they took things very seriously. As well as matters such as the placement of parsley on plates, the flight hostesses would be instructed about what to do during stopovers or between flights. They were advised to set aside one night each week to delve into their personal appearance.

    Most were happy to adhere to the checks and the strict standards knowing that if they didn’t they could be grounded and therefore lose their pay.

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