27 Years Ago The Boeing 777 Made Its First Flight

Yesterday marked the 27th anniversary of the Boeing 777’ss first flight. This twinjet allowed Boeing to fill the gap in its portfolio between its existing 747 and 767 designs in terms of size and capacity. Today, it has produced more than 1,600 examples of the type. The next-gen 777X remains in development, with its introduction expected later in the decade.

Boeing 777
The 777’s testing regime was more thorough than previous Boeing designs. Photo: Boeing Dreamscape via Wikimedia Commons

Originally a three-engine design

While the 777 is Boeing’s largest twin-engine widebody today, it actually began life as a trijet concept. This was a reflection of the aircraft that Boeing had hoped to compete with and ultimately replace with the 777. These were the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, and the Lockheed L-1011 ‘TriStar.’ Both of these designs had a third, tail-mounted engine.

Boeing revealed the original 777 concept, along with the 757 and 767, in the late 1970s. The latter two designs enjoyed considerable market success. This became particularly evident after the advent of ETOPS, which allowed carriers to deploy them on lower-demand long-haul routes. Airlines preferred these designs, and Boeing dropped the original 777.

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27 Years Ago The Boeing 777 Made Its First Flight
Boeing originally planned for the 777 to have three engines, like the DC-10. Photo: Getty Images.

Testing and commercial introduction

However, the 777 eventually came into existence as a larger twinjet concept in the late 1980s. In its early stages, it was known as the 767-X. The need for the aircraft had come about as the aforementioned DC-10 and Tristar were reaching their retirement ages. There was also a gap in size that needed plugging between the 747 and 767 families.

However, with airlines uninterested in the 767-X, Boeing produced a clean-sheet widebody that it designated as the 777. It consulted carriers during the design process in order to ensure that it would produce an aircraft that sold well, eventually launching the program in 1990. Its rivals would be the Airbus A330/A340 and the McDonnell Douglas MD-11.

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777
The first 777 spent six years at Boeing before flying for Cathay Pacific from 2000 to 2018. It has been preserved at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Arizona. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

Boeing eventually rolled out the first 777 in April 1994, with 100,000 guests attending 15 ceremonies. Just over two months later, and 27 years ago yesterday, the aircraft took its maiden test flight, on June 12th, 1994. All in all, the testing process lasted 11 months. Finally, just under a year later, United Airlines launched the 777 commercially on June 7th, 1995.

The 777 today

More than two-and-a-half decades after its commercial introduction, the 777 remains a key aircraft in the world of long-haul travel. Boeing has produced 1,662 examples across all of the type’s variants, including 205 freighters. The most popular variant is the stretched-fuselage 777-300ER. Its 827 examples account for nearly 50% of all 777 deliveries.

Boeing 777X
Boeing’s 777X program has been subjected to several delays. Photo: Jay Singh | Simple Flying

The ‘triple-seven’ also has an exciting future in the form of the next-generation 777X series. This will include the 777-8 and 777-9 variants, the latter of which will overtake the 747-8 to become the world’s longest airliner. It first flew in January 2020, but the program as a whole has been riddled with uncertainty and delays, only made worse by coronavirus.

It is unclear when the aircraft will enter commercial service. Qatar Airways expects deliveries as early as next year, whereas Emirates thinks it could be as late as 2025. In any case, the type has a relatively healthy order book, with 320 having been placed as of last month. It will be interesting to see what role the 777X will play in the industry going forward.

What do you make of the 777? Do you have any particular memories of flying on this popular Boeing twinjet? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!