Boeing’s Concorde Competitor: The 2707 – Why Was It Canceled?

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The Boeing 2707 Super Sonic Transport (SST) was the United States’ answer to Europe’s Concorde. The manufacturer designed it to be larger, fly further, and have greater capacity than its counterpart across the Atlantic Ocean. However, the project was canceled in 1971, before two prototypes of the plane were completed.

Boeing 2707 Jet
A 1969 photo showing the full-scale mockup of the Boeing 2027 SST in the Boeing Developmental Center in Seattle, which was the first American supersonic transport project. Photo: Getty Images

High hopes

Altogether, Boeing was hoping that the 2707 would carry 292 passengers in two classes. 28 customers would be in first class with 40 inches of legroom, while 264 people would be in economy with 34 inches of legroom.

Moreover, four General Electric GE4/J5P turbojets would have powered the jet to help it have 63,200 lb/f (281 kN) of thrust, which would push the aircraft up to Mach 2.7. The plane would also have a range of approximately 6,400 km or 3,500 nautical miles.

The prospect of supersonic commercial travel was all the rage during the 1950s and 1960s. Boeing was working on several small-scale SST studies since 1952. However, after the formal announcement of the Concorde in 1962, there were concerns in the US.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) director Najeeb Halaby subsequently wrote a letter to President Kennedy. He stated that if the US did not immediately ramp up its SST effort, the nation would lose 50,000 jobs, $4 billion in income, and $3 billion in capital as local carriers would turn to foreign manufacturers.

On its way

Therefore, several American outfits, including Boeing, Lockheed, and North American Aviation, submitted their designs to take on the Concorde. On New Year’s Day 1967, Boeing found out that its proposal, which was going by the name of Model 733-390, was the winner of the competition.

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Following this achievement, Boeing went on to refine the proposal, which would become the 7207. Two years later, there were delivery positions reserved for 122 Boeing SSTs by 26 carriers. There was interest from the likes of Alitalia, Delta Air Lines, Iberia, and KLM.

Boeing 2707 sketch
A sketch of the Boeing 2707, showing its sleek shape. Photo: Nubifer via Wikimedia Commons

According to the BBC, Boeing’s resident historian, Mike Lombardi, said Boeing’s resources were shared across various groundbreaking projects during this period. However, despite split of attention, there was an extra focus on this supersonic aircraft.

“To put into context just how ambitious this was, when Boeing was working on supersonic transport, the company was also designing what would be the 747 Jumbo Jet, and the 737 airliner had just entered service,” Lombardi said, as reported to the BBC.

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“There was the space programme to get a man on the Moon, which Boeing was heavily involved in, and there were some military projects as well.”

Even though the company was helping to send humanity into space, and it was revolutionizing jet travel with the 747, the 2707 was still the number one project. According to Lombardi, Joe Sutter, who was in charge of building the 747, said it was challenging to get engineers to design the iconic widebody. He said that they were all committed to the supersonic plan.

A twist of fate

In 1971, the US government ended its financial support for the SST’s production, which forced its cancellation. At that moment, there were 115 unfilled orders by 25 operators. Meanwhile, Concorde had 74 orders from 16 companies.

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Lombardi states it was the global economic crisis that forced the scrapping of the project. The change of circumstances made it inefficient to deploy such a jet.

“What ended up killing [Boeing’s design], and eventually Concorde itself, was the amount of fuel you had to burn. It became prohibitive,” Lombardi said, as per the report.

“There was the recession of 1971, and the cost of oil started to rise. But even if it hadn’t ended then, the oil crisis of 1973 would have killed it. It would have ended up being a disastrous project if it had still gone ahead.”

Concorde
Many people were expecting supersonic travel to become an aviation mainstay during the middle of the 20th century. Photo: Getty Images

Struggles across the board

Ultimately, the atmosphere across the US and the globe had changed by the 1970s. On a commercial scale, the 747 was a massive achievement and opened the door for several new markets across the aviation industry. For many passengers, traveling on the superjumbo was the first time that they were in the air

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While the 747 was nearing its introduction heading into 1970, there were design issues with the 2707. To fuel the robust engines and carry the designed load, the plane would be too heavy to hit the skies. So, engineers needed a lighter material such as titanium. However, at the time, this was incredibly expensive, and authorities soon stopped any further funding.

There was also a lot of environmental opposition to the supersonic jet. Activists campaigned against the potential depletion of the ozone layer due to the high altitude flights. They were also anxious about noise near airfields, as well as from sonic booms.

Concorde Takeoff
Similar to the Boeing 2707, Concorde also had opposition to its production. Photo: Getty Images

An ever-changing market

In the aftermath of the project’s cancellation, there were mass layoffs at Boeing, forcing many workers to leave Seattle. Nonetheless, supersonic travel did not live up to its potential on either side of the Atlantic.

Following Concorde’s launch, only 14 units of the type entered commercial service, whereas there were 150 orders. These jets did serve well for many decades, but there was still potential when it came to expansion.

History often repeats itself, and this could be the case again in modern times. There has been a lot of buzz around supersonic travel making a comeback with new, more efficient technology. Business travel had also adapted over the years, opening up new opportunities for airlines.

However, another global crisis is once again forcing a shift within the aviation industry, which we are still determining what the full extent of the damage will be. Nonetheless, if done carefully, we may eventually see a prominent supersonic service.

What are your thoughts about the Boeing 2707? Would you have been keen to fly with this aircraft? Let us know what you think of the plane in the comment section.

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