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Venerable Boeing 727 Prototype To Fly Again


Almost 52 years ago, Aviation Week & Space Technology’s cover marked the imminent delivery of the first Boeing 727 to United Airlines. The aircraft, N7004U, was the fifth off the line and was handed over at the end of October 1963. However all the early 727s were delivered that year under a provisional FAA certificate to allow for the start of crew training and it was not until February 1, 1964 that the first scheduled 727 passenger service was flown by Eastern Air Lines, the original launch customer.

Aviation Week’s cover showed a sister aircraft, N7006U, the seventh off the line and the second for United.

The most famous 727, the prototype aircraft which would join United as N7001U, was delivered to the airline in October 1964 having served its time as a Boeing test aircraft. This venerable trijet, which also graced the cover of Aviation Week in December 1962 following its roll out the previous month, was donated by the airline to Seattle’s Museum of Flight in January 1991.

Over 27 years of service with United the original 727 had clocked up 64,492 flight hours, completed 48,057 flights and carried more than three million passengers. However the story is not quite over for the prototype 727. Following 24 years on the ground at the museum’s restoration center in Paine Field, close to Boeing’s Everett assembly site, the prototype is being made airworthy again for a final ferry flight to join the museum’s main collection at Boeing Field, south of Seattle. 

Originally designated E-1, in honor of Eastern, this celebrated aircraft was the first to test the effectiveness of the 727’s remarkable high lift devices. Developed to meet the airline’s exacting requirement to fly from the shortest runway at New York’s La Guardia Airport to Miami with a full load, the complex array of flaps and slats represented a minor miracle of packaging design. Combining Krueger leading edge flaps inboard, leading edge slats outboard and triple slotted trailing edge flaps, the wing area increased 25% when all were deployed. Yet the same wing which enabled maximum energy landings in less than 900 ft. during the 1,100 hour certification program, could also be cleaned up to give a maximum cruise speed of 605 mph and a maximum dive speed of Mach 0.95 during tests.

Yet for the 727’s relative complexity, innovative design features and significant configuration changes compared to Boeing’s first jetliner – the 707, the testing and certification of the little trijet was markedly trouble free. Certification was awarded just three years after Boeing opted to go ahead with the 727 and less than a year after first flight. What’s more, the aircraft’s overall performance was as much as 10% better than Boeing’s original guarantees. Not only could the 727 cruise faster than predicted, it took off and landed in shorter lengths than expected and even burned less fuel than projected.


► Aviation Week is approaching its 100th anniversary in 2016. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight 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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