If one single aircraft could be credited with making interstate air travel affordable for the average Australian, it would have to be the Boeing 727. This aircraft was not only the best-selling airliner in the world during the first 30 years of jet transport service, it was the first jet airliner brought into service (by both domestic carriers, Ansett and TAA) onto Australia's interstate air routes.
When the first 727-100s for both Trans Australia Airlines and Ansett-ANA arrived at Essendon Airport in November 1964, they ushered in the jet age for domestic travellers. Its introduction gave other forms of interstate travel their first significanct challenge from aviation. Its speed, comfort and range was ideally suited to Australian conditions, and it went on to be the most popular airliner in the country for a number of years. For many Baby Boomers, an interstate flight on a Boeing 727 was their introduction to air travel. TAA would eventually replace its 727s with the Airbus A300-B4; Ansett replaced theirs with the Boeing 767. Both added the smaller Boeing 737's to their fleets around that time.
A TAA hostess with passengers in the first 727
After the heavy 707 quad-jet was introduced in 1958, Boeing addressed the demand for shorter flight lengths from smaller airports by producing the Boeing 727, a narrow-body airliner. On 5th December 1960, the 727 was launched with 40 orders each from United Airlines and Eastern Air Lines.
Boeing's only trijet is powered by Pratt & Whitney JT8D low-bypass turbofans below a T-tail, one on each side of the rear fuselage and a centre one fed through an S-duct. It shares its six-abreast upper fuselage cross-section and cockpit with the 707. The 727 proved to be such a reliable and versatile airliner that it came to form the core of many startup airlines' fleets. The 727 was successful with airlines worldwide partly because it could use smaller runways while still flying medium-range routes. This allowed airlines to carry passengers from cities with large populations, but smaller airports to worldwide tourist destinations.
The 727 had been designed for smaller airports, so independence from ground facilities was an important requirement. This led to one of the 727's most distinctive features: the built-in airstair that opens from the rear underbelly of the fuselage, which initially could be opened in flight. Hijacker D. B. Cooper used this hatch when he parachuted from the back of a 727, as it was flying over the American Northwest.
The 727 was used across the world for many domestic flights and on some international flights within its range. Its last commercial passenger flight was in January 2019. It was succeeded by the 757-200 and larger variants of the 737. As of July 2018, a total of 44 Boeing 727s (2× 727-100s and 42× -200s) were in commercial service with 23 airlines, plus a some in government and private use. There have been 118 fatal incidents involving the Boeing 727. Until the last one in September 1984, 1,832 have been built.
Australia' Last Boeing 727
31st August 2010 saw the passing of an era as the last Australian registered Boeing 727 departed from Sydney Airport for the final time. Boeing 727-221F VH-DHE, which has been part of the Tasman Cargo Airlines (formerly Asian Express Airlines) fleet since 1995, was the last operational 727 on the Australian register. With the type now in retirement, so ends the local career of a jet which redefined travel in Australia and was the favourite of many of its pilots.