From the Archives: Boeing 777 -- 20 years on -- a roll out to remember

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Photo credit: Boeing

It is hard to believe, but April 9 marks the 20th anniversary of the roll out of the first 777 at Boeing’s Everett site in Washington. Resplendent in a striking new red, white and blue striped house color scheme, ‘WA001’ was unveiled not once but 15 times over the course of a Saturday. Boeing estimated that around 100,000 employees and their families experienced the ‘roll outs,’ each of which were accompanied by stirring Spielberg-like music and the visuals of a carefully orchestrated imagery and light show from Dick Clark Productions.

Today the 777 is such an everyday sight at airports around the world it is hard to recall the striking new look of the big twin in 1994. Longer than its immediate competitor the MD-11, yet with only two engines, the 777 was then the largest twinjet – overtaking the recently developed A330-300 in terms of overall length by around 1 foot.  But it was the aircraft’s purposeful look, large fuselage cross-section and the world’s largest engine hanging beneath the big wings that most impressed people on the day. 

Although just 147 firm orders had been logged at roll out, Boeing knew it was on to a winner. Despite emerging into one of the most profound downturns yet experienced by the industry to that date, the company already knew the 777 would become a key player in Boeing’s long term recovery. While even the most optimistic at the event could probably never have guessed that within two decades orders would have already reached 1,548, the company was sketching out a bold roadmap that by 2013 would lead to the launch of the next generation version – the 777X.

Speaking at the event all those years ago, Boeing President Phil Condit prophetically described a carefully designed development path which the manufacturer has more or less followed ever since.  At the time of the roll out the evident capability of the basic design meant Boeing was already well advanced with design of the follow-on, heavier weight ‘B’ model. This would pave the way for the longer range 777-200ER, and using this as the structural foundation, Boeing would go on to stretch the airframe into the 777-300.

“After that we expect to build longer-range versions of the basic model and the stretch. That’s the basis of a 30, 40 or 50-year program,” said Condit. His vision has proved correct – the development of the GE90-115B enabled the -200 and -300 to be developed into the longer range -200LR and the best-selling -300ER, while the basic foundation of the -300ER provides the platform for the launch of the 777-8X and -9X. By the time the second member of the new family enters service in 2022, the 777 program will officially be 32 years old.


Credit: Boeing

Then there are the other predictions from the day that are on the way to becoming true – even if not quite in the way that the speaker expected or could possibly have foreseen. Alan Mulally, who led the entire program as vice president and general manager of the 777 division, never lost his belief in the folding wingtip option. Today the folding wingtip is part of the baseline 777X design, but in 1994 it was an optional feature that had been created at the behest of American Airlines to allow the 200-foot span aircraft to operate within the narrow confines of DC-10 sized gate areas at Dallas Fort Worth. No one ever ordered the original wing fold but Mulally said on roll out day “I think we’ll see folding wingtips some time on the 777.” How right he was!

Read our April 11, 1994 article: Boeing Rolls Out 777 To Tentative Market

 

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