Many assume that the Boeing 707 was the jet that changed air travel forever, but we would argue that the ‘Dash 80’, officially known Boeing 367-80, was the real game-changer for the industry. Built in 1952, the aircraft would be used to sell the production model Boeing 707 and would be the last aircraft in the Boeing name to carry a -300 series badge.
What are the details?
After the launch of the De Havilland Comet, Boeing saw that the future of commercial air was not with piston-powered aircraft but, in fact, with jet engines. Boeing got hard to work and, in 1950, designed a plane that would be known as Model 473-60C and pitched it to airlines.
This fascinating part of the story is that the airlines and the US Air Force were not impressed at all by Boeing’s specifications and did not believe in the builder’s jet aircraft ambition. To prove them wrong, Boeing borrowed $16 million USD ($171 million USD in 2020), raised against itself, and got to work building an actual physical aircraft. This physical model would have the name Boeing 367-80, and if it failed, it would bankrupt the company.
Construction of the prototype began in 1952, and unlike other Boeing fabrications after, it was utterly custom-built without any production line processes.
It took two years to build and flew for the first time in June 1954.
What was this aircraft like?
The aircraft had the following specifications:
- The Dash 80 could fly a range of 3,530 mi (5,680 km, 3,070 nautical miles).
- The aircraft was only designed to show off a potential interior had had a rather odd layout of half an economy cabin and half a luxury private jet with lounge chairs. The economy cabin had a configuration of 2-3 seats, and production models of the Boeing 707 would carry 160 passengers.
Boeing outsourced the interior design of the cabin to Walter Dorwin Teague as it wanted something in a radical departure from the usual aircraft interiors of the time.
Using the Boeing 367-80 as proof that a commercial passenger jet aircraft could work, Boeing set out to get some orders. This is where the marketing department stepped in.
How did Boeing sell the aircraft?
To ensure that there was a clear difference in product types, Boeing decided to move up the number from the -300 series (which was associated with piston-driven aircraft). As 400, 500, and 600 were already used for various missile-based technologies, Boeing decided to use 700 series as the designation for its new ‘jet aircraft.’
The aircraft was premiered to airline and industry representatives at the 1955 Gold Cup hydroplane races in Seattle. Boeing organized a flyby of the Boeing 367-80 but was shocked when the test pilot performed two unplanned barrel rolls to the captivated crowd. Needless to say, while Boeing was furious, the airline executives could not get enough of the aircraft.
“It’s a one-g maneuver. It’s absolutely nonhazardous, but it’s very impressive,” The test pilot, Tex Johnston, said to media regarding the barrel roll.
The aircraft would also be quite successful with the US Air Force as well. Boeing built 29 custom models of the Dash 80, called the KC-135A, as a tanker/transport. The US Air Force, finally confident in the design, would end up ordering 732 KC-135 aircraft over the lifetime of the model.
As for the original Dash 80, it would be used as a testbed aircraft until 1972 before being donated to the American Smithsonian Museum. It is on display today at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, outside Dulles Airport, in Virginia.
What do you think of the Dash 80? Let us know in the comments.