The Boeing 7J7 – The 727 Successor Which Never Got Built

Did you know that Boeing originally had plans for a propeller passenger aircraft? This aircraft would have been perfect for commuter routes between cities and might have gone on to replace the Boeing 737 entirely. But the aircraft never really saw active service, and there are even some rumors that the project was killed off internally.

Boeing
The Boeing 7J7. Photo: Boeing Concept Art

Let’s explore the history of the Boeing 7J7.

Humble beginnings

The Boeing 7J7 started out as the 2nd attempt at replacing the Boeing 727 in 1983. Boeing had built the 757 earlier, but sales were weak following airline deregulation in the United States. Airlines had discovered that increased frequencies were more popular with passengers rather than bigger capacity aircraft (like the 757). Between cities like New York and Chicago, airlines were flying the smaller Boeing 727s and 737s hourly.

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Additionally, with the Boeing 727 set to be retired, Boeing found itself with a gap in its portfolio. The Boeing 737-100 only carried around 118 passengers and the 757-200 over 200. Thus the Boeing 7J7 was conceived as an incredibly fuel-efficient aircraft to operate these short domestic routes and got huge interest from Europe, Japan, and the United States.

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The Japanese government so much so that they signed a letter of understanding to fund and own 25% of the project if the aircraft took the Japanese turbofans. Boeing, however, would backpedal on this deal and go for the new General Electric gearless unducted fan (UDF) concept. This shocked the Japanese investors as it was only revealed during a Boeing press conference. This choice would push back the entry into service to the 90s.

The aircraft was revealed to the world officially at the 1985 Paris Air Show, with Boeing taking orders in 1988 and final entry into service in 1992.

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The Boeing 727 that Boeing wanted to replace. Photo: B727 via Wikipedia

Design problems

Japan would come around eventually, and join several other partners and private firms to fund the project. The name of the aircraft was changed from 7-7 to the 7J7 to reflect the Japanese influence.

SAS, the European airline, met with Boeing in 1986 to inspect work on the project and dangled the prospect of a huge order (and thus become the launch partner of the type). They wanted to also have an option for 2-2-2 configuration onboard the widebody aircraft, and a 7-across economy (presumably in a 2-3-2 split).

Boeing initially offered two different models of the 7J7:

  • 7J7-100 – 150 seats
  • 7J7-110 – 100-110 seats smaller shink of the original airframe.

However, then it leaked that Boeing was going to offer the smaller 7J7 with turbofans and the bigger one with ducted engines. This was confirmed in 1987 when Boeing canceled the smaller 7J7 to expand the Boeing 737 range and then replaced the fated GE concept engines with turbofans.

engines
Similar concept engines that would have been used on the Boeing 7J7. Photo: NASA via Wikipedia

This confusion and flip-flopping on a design made airlines wary to invest in the product. Additionally, the new turbofan engines may have been very noisy and had not yet been proven.

Boeing had actually neglected to consult with airlines on the design (which they would rectify with the Boeing 777) and was initially surprised by the lackluster reaction when it started to shop the Boeing 7J7 around.

Stalling production

By May 1987, Boeing actually had two major airlines interested in the product. British Airways wanted 35 7J7s to replace their 737-200 aircraft, and American Airlines wanted 100 units of a stretched version of the 7J7. SAS was still interested to be the launch partner and said they would have the biggest fleet of the type in the world.

But later that very month before any deals could be inked, Boeing pushed back the certification from 1992 to 1993, claiming at the time that they could not decide between a 140 seater or a large 170 seater. This was due to the difference in preference between British Airways and SAS (who wanted the smallest version) and American Airlines (who wanted the biggest version).

To make things worse, if Boeing went with the bigger version (170 seats), their fabled engine that they had committed to would not be able to power a further stretch.

In 1988, Boeing ‘paused’ development of the Boeing 7J7, citing that they needed to rethink the market.

Boeing would encourage American Airlines to buy the Boeing 757 instead, and would further develop the Boeing 737 to fill up to 200 seats over the next few decades.

Ryanair, Boeing 737 MAX 10, New Order
The Boeing 737 may not have been so successful had the 7J7 gone ahead. Photo: Boeing

Insiders at Boeing have claimed that the project was slowly killed in the 90s to try and pave the way for an expanded Boeing 737. Had the Boeing 7J7 been built, we may have not seen the rise of the Boeing 737 as one of the world’s most popular aircraft.

What were the aircraft’s specifications?

Based on the mockup, we know that the aircraft had the following specs:

  • Passenger Capacity: 147-166
  • Length: 87 ft 8 in (26.72 m) cabin, 124′ 11″ (38.1 m) fuselage, 143′ 11″ (43.9 m) airplane
  • Wingspan: 121 ft (37 m)
  • Height: 35 ft (11 m)
  • Wing area: 1,365 sq ft (126.8 sq m)
  • Empty weight: 97,380 lb (44,170 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 159,000 lb (72,120 kg)
  • Cruise speed: Mach 0.83
  • Range: 2,250 nmi-4,250 nmi

The concept of the 7J7 may have never gone ahead, but much of the research and development was pushed into other Boeing products like the Boeing 777. The Japanese partnership would extend into the Boeing 787 program.

What do you think? Should Boeing have built this aircraft? Let us know in the comments.

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Noel S. Rabina

I liked the McDonnell Douglas concept of counter-rotating turbo-prop engines on the then brand new MD-90.

Debashis Dutta

Yes, tristar again.

Dharkon the Transfinite

What is that plane that looks like a 717 crossed with a Piaggio Avianti? Is that a 7J7 or something else cuz u said the 7J7 was never built…

Transworld

As the open rotors were and are not viable its an absurd speculation.

Talk about a hosed up offering. Boeing must have gotten into the special brownies .

While the 737 is aged not so good, it was a good and right offering at the time.

Phil Blinkhorn

This article is badly flawed. The first glaring error is the statement that Boeing had a gap in its portfolio between the 737-100 and the 757 with the withdrawal of the 727. First off the 737-100, of which only 30 were built, was long out of production. The -200 did seat 118 in some layouts but Britannia and others had, since the early 1970s, been able to carry 130 passengers. The 737-300 able to carry 149 passengers was already in production and the -400 with up to 188 seats was announced in 1986 and was in service in 1988. What… Read more »

czarnajama

It wasn’t just cabin noise but external noise, too. Contra-rotating turboprops are notoriously noisy; the Tu-95 “Bear”, the Russian counterpart of the B-52, is famously noisy, as was its airliner derivative, the otherwise quite successful and safe Tu-114.