Why Did Boeing Build The 757?

The Boeing 757 is an interesting aircraft. Boeing developed it after its trijet 727, at around the same time that the 767 was entering production. It filled a unique hole in the aviation market that, in a way, has not been filled since. So why exactly did Boeing produce the 757?

United Boeing 757
Boeing produced more than 1,000 757s over a 23-year period. Photo: Getty Images

When did Boeing build the 757?

Boeing began to develop a new aircraft after the success of the Boeing 727 series. This three-engine jetliner had become the best selling aircraft of the 1960s, and the main workhorse of US commercial aviation.

Despite this success, airlines began to desire a larger version of the 727. As such, they enquired as to whether Boeing could improve on the 727-200’s one-class 155-seat configuration. Its exit limit was 189 seats, but, with seat pitch having been more generous in years gone by, the typical 727 did not generally come close to accommodating this many passengers.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

Pacific Southwest Airlines Boeing 727 Getty
The Boeing 727 was very popular, but lacked capacity for some airlines. Photo: Getty Images

The manufacturer offered two concepts, the first of which was a stretched-fuselage, higher-capacity Boeing 727-300. As a development of an existing aircraft, this would have had the advantage of being developed within just five years. The other option was a newer concept aircraft designed from the ground up, known as the 7N7. Initially, carriers such as United took an interest in the stretched 727-300 as it would easily fit into existing operations.

When Boeing released details of the 7N7, airlines learned how it would take advantage of newer technologies like high-bypass-fan turbofan engines and a lighter design to reduce operating costs. This caused carriers to reconsider their options. Seeing the wind change, they dropped the 727-300 and its three-engine design in favor of the 7N7. From here, Boeing decided to move forward on the 7N7 and renamed it the 757 after its first orders were signed in 1979.

Delta Getty
Boeing initially designated its new 757 as the 7N7. Photo: Getty Images

Original 757 concepts

When it received its first commitments in 1978, Boeing had two versions of the 757. The smaller of the two was the 160-seat 757-100, whose larger counterpart was the 180-seat 757-200. However, Boeing soon found that many airlines preferred the 757-200 to the smaller -100. Boeing dropped the shorter version, with its role eventually being filled by the popular 737.

In March 1979, Boeing officially signed two orders for the 757-200 with British Airways and Eastern Air Lines, totaling 40 aircraft. These carriers had initially publicly committed to the aircraft the previous August. Eastern received the first Boeing 757-200 in December 1982. This marked the end of a year that saw the 757 make its first flight and Farnborough Airshow debut.

The Boeing 757 borrowed certain features from the larger 767, which Boeing developed at around the same time. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

During the design phase, Boeing pooled resources away from the 707 line into its parallel 767 project, which ultimately replaced the 707. This led to many new 767 features being ‘borrowed’ by the 757 program, as the 767 was a further ahead in development.

Its technological improvements were a significant step up from the older 727 design from which the 757 had initially been working. Some of the borrowed features included the same interior and handling characteristics as the 767. Boeing also fitted the aircraft with a two-person cockpit removing the need for a third crew member on the flight deck. Thanks to this shared design process, many pilots would be able to fly both the 757 and the 767 with some minor training.

An evolving middle-market role

The Boeing 757 would go on to fill the middle-market role for airlines around the world. Unlike the 727 which preceded it, the 757 was ideal for routes with relatively high demand, but not enough to warrant the widebody 767. It also offered a far greater range than the trijet 727.

United Airlines Boeing 757-300
Boeing also developed a stretched-fuselage, higher-capacity 757-300. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

When ETOPS was changed to allow twin-engined aircraft to fly over the Atlantic, many airlines began operating the 757 and 767 between North America and Europe. They flew on ‘long thin’ routes, directly connecting smaller cities at either end. This allowed airlines to carve out lucrative tourist routes without needing to pass through hub airports, such as London Heathrow.

Overall, the Boeing 757 was designed for airlines looking for a bigger Boeing 727. It proved a useful refreshment, with technological advancements borrowed from the 767 that saw it outrank the 727 in many areas. Flying internationally wasn’t its original purpose, but, with the advent of ETOPS, this was another area in which it unexpectedly turned out to be highly suitable!

Have you ever flown on a Boeing 757? Let us know your memories in the comments!