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The United States was not the first nation to enter the jet age in commercial aviation, for that honor goes to Great Britain with its de Havilland Comet. But when America's airlines did convert to turbojet-powered aircraft in 1958, they did so with the most successful jetliner yet constructed - the Boeing 707.
The 707 had its beginning in the early 1950s when the Boeing Company - builder of more heavy military planes than all other aircraft manufacturers combined - decided to return to the civilian market with a brand new jet-powered transport. The decision enveloped the considerable gamble for Boeing. It had lost more than $4 million on its prewar 307 Stratoliners and 314 Clippers and more than $13 million on the postwar Stratocruiser, a commercial version of the B-29 bomber. But Boeing took the risk and ordered the 707 into production in April of 1952.
Two years later the 707 completed its maiden flight - and found its first customer when the U.S. Air Force ordered 29 of these planes to be fitted out as aerial tankers for the Strategic Air Command. It was not until October of 1955, however, that Pan American World Airways placed the first order for 20 commercial versions of the 707. And by the time Pan Am took delivery of its first 707 in August 1958, Boeing's investment in the aircraft exceeded the company's total net worth by approximately $36 million.
But in the end Boeing's gamble on the success of the 707 paid off handsomely. By 1968, just ten years after the 707 made its inaugural nonstop flight from New York to Paris, Boeing had orders for more than 2,000 of its jetliners from airlines throughout the Free World.
Since that time the 707 has been produced in great number of different configurations for both military and civilian use.
Powered by four Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines developing up to 18,000 pounds of thrust each, the sturdy swept-wing 707 could carry as many as 200 passengers at speeds up to 620 miles per hour. And the 707 is a long-range transport capable of carrying a full load of passengers for thousands of miles without refueling. It is so safe and reliable that it was selected as the official aircraft of the President of United States before being replaced by a Boeing 747.
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
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Updated: March 12, 2004