by Dr Ron Yates, AM



The Boeing Company did not have a particularly good name in the civil aviation business but had good military experience with the Air Force B-47 and B-52 bombers. Boeing's Chief of Design, George Schairer, had accompanied an Occupational Team to Germany after WW2 and reviewed the aerodynamic studies they had made. He immediately notified Seattle that wings swept back 35 degrees were optimum.

To overcome the airlines' scepticism of both the Company and the jet the Boeing Board decided on 22 April 1951 to build a prototype. It also saw this as a way of hedging their bets as the Air Force's B-52s would need aerial refuelling from tankers and such a tanker might spring from the prototype jet liner. And so was the birth of the Dash-80. On 15 July 1954, the company's 38th anniversary, the Dash-80 took to the air.

Some 12 months later the Boeing test pilot Tex Johnson was authorised, as a publicity stunt, to fly low over Lake Washington during the Gold Cup Race for hydroplanes. In front of a crowd of 200,000, unauthorised, Johnson performed a barrel roll in both directions along the Lake. The President of Boeing, Bill Allen, turned puce and later strongly reprimanded Johnson.


By the time Qantas placed orders for seven Boeing 707s in September 1956, we had explored several options. Initially it was thought that it would be 1960-61 before Qantas could enter the jet age with aircraft suited to its operations, and at that time the company was basing its forward plans on the Douglas DC-8 jet airliner. But to hold its position on world routes between 1957 and 1961, Qantas had to explore the possibility of introducing an interim aircraft type into service. Deliberations revolved around the Douglas DC-7C, the Lockheed 1649A and the Bristol Britannia. The Comet 4 was clearly being regarded as a short to medium range aircraft at this stage of its development and therefore unsuitable for Qantas routes. Besides, delivery of the Comet 4 could not be guaranteed before 1959 at the earliest. Qantas saw the Bristol Britannia as an aircraft designed for operation in the 1953-59 competitive era, but by 1956 the aircraft had still not entered service and we did not feel it could compete successfully in the late 1950s with a 1953 model. Interestingly, BOAC had to purchase ten Douglas DC-7Cs for its New York-London service to tide them over as a result of continuing delays with the Britannias. In March 1957, BOAC finally introduced Britannias on the Kangaroo route, seven months after Qantas had committed itself to Boeing 707s.

The Douglas DC-7C was an advanced version of the DC-7, developed at the request of Pan American Airways, which wanted it for their Pacific Ocean service to Australia. Known as the "Seven Seas", the DC-7C featured a greater operating range of just over 5,000 miles and cruising speed of 355 miles per hour. They represented a potential threat to Qantas operations on its Southern Cross route across the Pacific, because they flew 25 miles per hour faster than QEA's Super Constellations. From a commercial point of view, this would have made Qantas uncompetitive with Pan Am, so consideration was given to the Douglas DC-7C as a possible interim aircraft.

Then Lockheed announced the production of its 1649A, which had been developed for Trans-World Airlines (TWA) in direct competition with the Douglas DC-7C. According to Lockheed publicity, the 1649A was the longest range aeroplane in the world, capable of non-stop flights up to 6,300 miles without using its fuel reserves. Its 150 foot wing carried 9,600 gallons of fuel and allowed relocation of the engines farther outboard for least cabin noise level. The 1649A wing was one-sixth thinner than the 1049H making possible cruise speeds of 350 miles per hour and a top speed of nearly 400 miles per hour.

But we soon found that we would not be able to put either the Douglas DC-7C or the Lockheed 1649A into service in effective numbers before mid 1958.

There was a great deal of enthusiasm within Qantas to go with the 1649, since we already knew Lockheed very well and, commercially, we enjoyed a very good management relationship with them.

But Scotty Allan, who was then QEA's Assistant General Manager, and I had a completely different point of view. We had come to be very impressed with Boeing's knowledge of jet aircraft operation, as well as their background and experience. We also knew that Douglas did not have any depth of experience in jets at that point of time, and production of their DC-8 was running about a year behind Boeing's 707 project. The Boeing Company had had a lot of experience with jets because of their military involvement.

We were faced with the option of going with the Boeing 707 in 1959 or waiting until 1960-61 for the Douglas DC-8 and introducing either the Lockheed 1649A or the Douglas DC-7C as a stop-gap measure.

So Scotty and I said, "To hell with that! Why don't we push to make the 707 the type of aircraft we need. If we buy that aircraft, we will not have to adjust to the operation of two new aircraft types within a relatively short period, and we can scoop the pool by getting into the jet age a year earlier."

C.O. Turner asked me to determine how many 707s we should purchase. I took the traffic forecasts, added it to the current passenger seat mile capacity and decided that four 707s, because of their increased speed and capacity, would be adequate in 1959. C.O. listened to me carefully and said, "I think we should start with seven". I was astounded and, as time passed, I realised what a brilliant mind he had!

The decision to go with the Boeing 707 was taken, and Government approval for the purchase was announced by the Minister for Civil Aviation, Athol Townley, to the press gallery at Parliament House in Canberra on 6 September 1956. But there were many months of negotiation with Boeing still to be undertaken before Qantas would take delivery of its first 707.

Boeing was under great pressure from a number of airlines, including Pan Am and TWA, to stretch the 707 because they wanted it slightly bigger. So Boeing decided to put an extra ten feet into the length of the aircraft and, in doing so, absolutely destroyed its payload capability from our point of view on the Pacific, and that was where we wanted to use this aircraft. After much negotiation, Scotty and I finally reached agreement with Boeing to take ten feet out of the Qantas aircraft, so our 707 was built to the original length of 128 feet 10 inches instead of 138 feet 10 inches. This version was designated the 707-138 model and became widely referred to as the "Qantas Boeing".

It was also realised that the Pratt and Whitney JT3C-6 engines did not have sufficient thrust for take-off in high temperature conditions at Fiji, where the runway was only 7,000 feet long. Boeing improved the leading edge devices on the Qantas 707s to provide more lift for take-off, but that alone did not solve the problem.

We needed additional thrust up to 85 degrees fahrenheit when the thrust normally fell off quickly after 75 degrees, so after a lot of negotiation with Pratt and Whitney, they agreed to permit Qantas to use the thrust at the same level right out to 85 degrees before reducing it, just for take-offs at Nadi. It produced what became known as "The Nadi Bump", and that was a bump in the thrust curve which was only utilised during take-off at Nadi, Fiji.

In October 1956, I was Qantas Projects Engineer at the time, I was moved to Seattle to establish a company engineering representation at Boeing's Renton plant. I returned to Australia in 1957 and became Project Controller for the Boeing 707, a position that gave me total command of the project. I was responsible only to senior Qantas management, and was given complete leeway and financial control to handle all aspects of the project, including commercial, operations and engineering.

Preparations for the arrival of the jets had begun at Mascot in 1956. As soon as Qantas had made known its intention to purchase the Boeing 707, Chief Executive C.O. Turner announced a major program of construction at, what is now known as, the Qantas Jet Base. The 6 million ($12 million) scheme included a new Engineering Repair and Overhaul facility, a jet engine Test House, a 707 Maintenance Hangar with two-storey workshop annex, and a Technical Training Centre.


Within months of the introduction of the Qantas 707-138s in 1959, new jet technology became available. It was called the Fan Jet, since some of the first stages of the compressor blades were lengthened to make a mini-propeller inside the cowling. A proportion of the air entering the front of the engine now bypassed the combustion process. It moved around the main engine core and mixed with the hot exhaust effluent to pass rearward. These engines, designated the Pratt and Whitney JT3D-1, not only provided a substantial increase in thrust (from 13,500 to 17,000 pounds) but markedly reduced fuel consumption. Qantas was quick to recognise the benefits of the Fan Jet engine, arranging for them to be fitted to the four new 707s ordered for delivery in 1961. We embarked on a major program to modify the engines on the existing fleet of seven 707s, which were progressively returned to Boeing where the 707-138 airframes were modified to 707-138B specifications, while twenty-nine engines were converted from JT3C-6s to the new Fan Jet JT3D-1(MC6) specification by American Airlines at Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Note: The designation MC6 was applied only to engines that were converted to Fan Jets from JT3C-6 specifications.)

Meanwhile, at our Repair and Overhaul Base at Mascot, we converted a further twenty-five engines, which had been brought in from Line Stations.




Original issue.