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1965: Boeing’s Baby Jetliner – Five Decades of Growth


Today’s launch of a higher capacity variant of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 marks yet another step in the remarkable evolution of the company’s smallest jetliner. With potential seating capacity for 200, and even more in the stretched -900ER and MAX 9, the high density MAX 8 version is a far cry from the stubby little 82-seat design originally envisioned by Boeing in the mid-1960s for its 737 launch customer Lufthansa.

With the benefit of hindsight it is clear to see how a succession of newer engines and bigger wings have helped Boeing grow the 737 family into the world’s best-selling airliner family, but way back in March 1965, when Aviation Week & Space Technology took a close look at the fledgling project, it was a very different story. The 737 had won just 21 orders and all thoughts of a five-abreast cabin had been dismissed in favor of the familiar six-abreast layout we know today.

Yet even in 1965 Boeing told Aviation Week that an outline configuration for 94 passengers had been designed and already airlines were interested in more seats. The aircraft “had considerable growth potential” and could be grown by moving the aft bulkhead further aft and by increasing gross weight. At the time, the report says, “Boeing believes the 737 design has inherently at least 50% of the growth rate capability of the 727. The latter began initially as a 142,000-lb. aircraft, jumping to 152,000-lb. and recently increasing again to 160,000-lb.” This would suggest Boeing estimated the growth potential of the 737 max take-off weight to be between 90,000 lbs. and 100,000 lbs.

To see how incredibly conservative those growth estimates were here’s a snapshot of key differences between the 737-100 (as outlined in 1965, two years before its roll out) and the 737-900ER of today. Engine thrust has grown from 14,000 lbs. to 28,400 lbs., max take-off weight has grown from 83,300 lbs. to 187,700 lbs., range has extended from less than 1,000 nm. to more than 3,235 nm., while wing span has been extended from 87-feet to 117 feet 5 inches with winglets. Overall length has meawhile grown from 92 feet 4 inches to 138 feet 2 inches. 

No-one involved in this story could have possibly guessed at that stage just how important the little Boeing would become – not only to the company, but to the day-to-day fortunes of much of the world’s air transport system. Yet this piece, published a week before the first U.S. Marines were sent to Vietnam and as movie goers were watching the first screenings of “The Sound of Music”, already hints at the growth to come and the first signs of the design classic that was to emerge.

Read the report in the March 1, 1965 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology

► Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history, including viewpoints from the industry's most iconic names and stories that have helped change the shape of the industry.

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Aviation Week & Space Technology marked its centennial in 2016. Here, we highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history.

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