A discussion recent occurred that raised the question about the future of Boeing; if the character of the company has changed over the years, and if so, what is the outlook for the future of Boeing?
First, the question did not come up among recognized, vetted aerospace industry analysts, but among reasonably well experienced and well-read aviation enthusiasts. The following is a three-part armchair analysis of Boeing’s past and present business model and business pursuits followed by a look into the future based on trends in relevant and emerging markets and trends within Boeing. You can read part 1 here.
Part 2: 1966-Present – The Jet Age
A comprehensive discussion of the Boeing Company from 1960 on would have to include its expansion into areas including rocket boosters, satellites, non-aviation weapons systems, hydrofoil vessels, light-rail rapid transit cars, and information (advanced computing) technology systems. And while these areas have had significant impacts on Boeings overall financial picture, this article is limited primarily to their aircraft business.
On, July 16th 2016, The Boeing Company celebrated its 100th anniversary. The second half of this century of aviation has been characterized by growth and diversification through sales, acquisitions and mergers as well as increased competition. The construction of the Model 367-80—the “Dash 80” and the prototype for the KC-135 and Boeing 707—was the beginning of its commercial jetliner business that continues today. But, Boeing would also face stiff competition from Convair (880 and 990), Douglas (DC-8, DC-9 and DC-10), and Lockheed (L1011) and later, Airbus.
To trace the progression of Boeing aircraft programs, it easiest to simply step through the progression of models beginning with the 707.
The Dash 80, KC-135 and 707
The Dash 80 launched Boeing’s modern era of jet transport business. The first production derivative of the Dash 80 was the Air Force’s KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft. The KC-135 has been in continuous service since 1957, and it is predicted that the aircraft could continue in service until 2040. A total production of 803 aircraft ended in 1965. The current fleet has been through several life-extension upgrades including new high-bypass turbofan engines.
A re-engined KC-135 refueling an F-15 fighter. (US Air Force Photo)
The 707 was introduced to airline travelers by Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) on December 20, 1957. The 707 remained in production nearly 25 years, until 1979, with a total production of 1010 aircraft. Like almost all Boeing airliners, each mark came in several versions to meet specific needs, or were upgraded as new technologies became available during production. In1959, Boeing introduced the shortened fuselage 707-138 long-range jet and the stretched, higher passenger capacity 707-320.
From 1968 to 1970, Boeing experienced a slump in demand and sales after the end of the Viet Nam War military spending, a general economic recession, a year without any aircraft orders, and their $2 billion debt to start up 747 production. This resulted in massive layoffs within the commercial aircraft group. After the Boeing 747 roll-out in 1970, Boeing’s orders began to grow again.
The narrow-bodied, single aisle Boeing 717 is one of two aircraft adopted as a result of the merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas. The aircraft was originally designed as the MD-95, a follow-on to the DC-9 series. The new Boeing Company produced 156 more 717s to fill orders McDonnell Douglas had booked prior to the merger. The 717 entered service in 1999 and production ended in 2006.
The Boeing 727 was Boeings initial design to fill the demand for short and medium length routes. The cross section of the upper fuselage and cockpit of the aircraft are essentially identical to the 707. It was powered by three engines mounted on the aft of the fuselage. This aircraft spanned several operational requirements. Airlines operating out of high-altitude airports wanted more power than just two engines. Twin-engine aircraft were not permitted to operate off-shore more than 60 minutes distant from a suitable airport. Other short-haul carries found the aircraft suitable for use into smaller airports with relatively short runways.
From 1962 through 1984. Boeing produced 1832 727s in several variants. It is reported that as of 2013, as many as 109 727s were still in passenger service. Most of these aircraft have been re-engined and modified with hush kits to meet noise restriction limits.
The 727 was heavily produced into the 1970s with the last aircraft rolling off the line in the early 1980s.
The Boeing 737
In 1967, Boeing introduced what has become the best-selling airliner in history—the short-and medium-range, twin-engine 737. The 737, which has progressed from the series 100 through 900, and continues in production today. The 737NG (Next Generation) includes the 600/700/800/900 series. The current aircraft have matured with advanced and improved engines, an upgraded “glass cockpit,” and aerodynamics. For example, the winglets, the vertical extensions on the wingtips, first appeared in early the 2000s. By reducing drag-producing vortices at the wing tips, winglets can improve fuel efficiency two to three percent, saving airlines millions of dollars in fuel cost annually.
In 1973, the Boeing delivered 19 737s, designated T-43, to the Air Force to be used as navigator training platforms. Several of these were later converted to personnel transports.
737NG aircraft will have increased seating, further reduce fuel consumption and increase range, and upgrade the aircraft with advanced technologies such as glass cockpits. The 737 remains in production as of 2016.
Boeing announced plans to build the 747 in 1967, secured $2 Billion in financing and immediately began to build the world’s largest production plant in Everett, Washington. The first flight of the 747 occurred two years later in 1969
The first 747, a four-engine long-range airliner, flew its first commercial flight with Pan Am in January 1970. The 747 changed the airline industry, providing much greater passenger capacity than any other airliner in production. Still in production in 1916, Boeing has delivered at least 1,500 747s in several variants. Like the 737, the 747 has undergone continuous improvements to keep it technologically up-to-date. Larger versions have also been developed by stretching the upper deck. The newest version of the 747-8 is in production as of 2015.
In 1996, President Ronald Reagan ordered two 747-200s to serve as presidential aircraft. Given the governmental designation of VC-25, with tail numbers 28000 and 29000. The aircraft entered service in August 1990.
The Boeing 757 was designed to take advantage of the latest in technologies, including a glass cockpit, and certification of a flight crew of two pilots (no flight engineer). It is Boeing’s largest narrow-body single-aisle passenger aircraft. Produced from 1981 to 2004, it was introduced to replace the market niche of the smaller 727. Depending on the model and the interior layout, it could carry 200 to 295 passengers over distances of 3,600 to 4,700 miles. It should be noted that the 757 was developed concurrently with the 767. Because of many shared features and performance characteristics, pilots are permitted to get a common type rating to operate both aircraft.
The stretched 757-300 is the longest narrow-body twinjet ever produced. It began service in 1999. In addition to commercial passenger and freight service, the US Air Force purchased eight (as C-32s) aircraft for military passenger transport. Passenger 757-200s have been modified to special freighter (SF) specification for cargo use. A total of 1050 757s were built.
The wide-bodied sibling to the 757, the Boeing 767 is a mid- to large-size, twin-engine, wide-bodied airliner. It has a glass cockpit similar to the 757. The 767 has seating capacity for 181 to 375.
The 767 is produced in several models of varying lengths: the first 767-200 entered service in 1982, followed by the 767-300 in 1986 and the 767-400ER, an extended-range (ER) variant, in 2000. Production began in 1981 and it is still in production. As of 2016, 1085 had been built, including the military KC-767 aerial tanker and VIP transports.
The Boeing 777 is a series of long range wide-bodied, twin-engine aircraft capable of carrying 314 to 451 passengers. It is the world’s largest twin-engine airliner and it has surpassed the 747 as Boeing’s most profitable commercial aircraft.
The design of the aircraft was a collaborative effort between Boeing and eight major airlines. Its target market is to replace older wide-bodied aircraft and provide an intermediate passenger capacity between the 767 and the 747. It also incorporates fly-by-wire computer-moderated flight controls.
The 777 entered commercial service in 1995. Follow-on variants increased emphasis on range with the 777ER extended range and the 777LR long range versions. Boeing recently announced plans for the 777X. These will be 777-800 and 777-900 models that will incorporate next generation engines and composite wings. The projected roll-out date for the 777X is 2020.
Boeing has constantly been on the leading edge of aircraft design and technology, and the 787 took the next logical step. First rolled out in 2007, the aircraft’s fuselage is largely a composite structure. Designed as a long-range, mid-sized wide-bodied aircraft, it is capable of carrying 240 to 335 passengers. The aircraft shares a type-rating with the 777, allowing pilots type rated in one to fly both aircraft.
The 787 got off to a rocky start. There were multiple delays during development relating manufacturing process for the composite structure of the fuselage. Once in service, the aircraft were ground due to several onboard fires associated with the lithium batteries. The aircraft remained grounded until the FAA approved a revised design.
First flight of the aircraft was in 2009 and 431 787 aircraft have been produced as of mid-2016.
Noteworthy Boeing Military Aircraft
The other aircraft that Boeing adopted due to the merger with McDonnell-Douglas was the C-17 Globemaster III.
The C-17 was developed to replace the 1960s era Air Force C-141 Starlifter transport. By the time the merger was complete, most of the US Air Force aircraft had been delivered, but Boeing finished out the production of international aircraft, and the aircraft is now referred to as the Boeing C-17.
The Boeing 707 also served as the starting airframe for the US Navy’s TACAMO (TAke Charge And Move Out) airborne command post designated the E-6 Mercury. The E-6 Mercury (formerly E-6 Hermes) is an airborne command post and communications platform. The E-6B replaced Air Force EC-135 airborne command posts assigned to “Looking Glass” duties. Introduced in 1989, Boeing delivered 16 of the aircraft.
This is the second part of a three-part series looking at the history, fortunes, and misfortunes of the Boeing Company (formerly the Boeing Aircraft Company). Part Three will look at Boeing’s other business units and enterprises and conclude with an armchair look into the future for Boeing.