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P_7878

A SIM flight & the fairy tale of the 1st B727 ever built...

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The 727 had followed in the foot-steps of (and heavily borrowed from) the highly successful design of 707, a quad-jet airliner, with which it shared its upper fuselage cross-section and cockpit design. The 727-100 first flew on February 9 (1963), from Boeing's Renton (WA) factory to its first landing at Paine Field (WA). It had first entered service with Eastern Air Lines on February 1, 1964. But, the distinction of owning the very 1st B727 to roll-out of the assembly line goes to United Airline, which along with EA and AA, had primarily contributed the specifications to the original concept. B727 is/was the only Boeing trijet to have entered commercial production.

In 1959, there was an initiative between Boeing and de Havilland (later Hawker Siddeley) to work together on their respective trijet designs, the B727 and DH-121 Trident. The two designs had a similar layout, the 727 being slightly larger, but this joint venture did not materialize due to many (conflicting) factors one being that the B727 aircraft was to be designed for the American markets, with six-abreast seating and the ability to use runways as short as 4,500 feet.  

B727 was built and offered with only P&W JT8D engines ("tailor-made" for 727) - those legendary and powerful work-horses, with equally "legendary" noise levels! 727 was one of the noisiest commercial airliners...and, therefore, the "Whisperjet" logo sometimes inscribed on the middle engine of these jets, in vintage pictures, would be probably a misnomer according to the modern standards. Even with the most complex hush-kits, these jets would struggle to meet current noise-regulations (stage 2 vs. stages 3/4), except possibly in parts of the world, where such regulations are not strictly adhered to.

This versatile (and reliable) plane and its subsequent variants, with their hot and high operability, began to eventually replace the earlier legends such as B707/DC8/DC4/DC6/DC7/L1049 etc., on short and medium haul routes. Its clean-wing design (without wing-mounted engines) were highly suitable for gravel (or lightly improved) runways of the time. B727s were also considered ideal for Cargo operations e.g. these jets comprised FedEx's backbone fleet until the 2000s. With a sophisticated and innovative (triple-slotted) flap-system, it provided un-precedentedly low-speed landing and takeoff performance on short runways.

One of the 727's many distinctive features was the built-in airstair that opened from the rear underbelly of the fuselage, which was initially not blocked from opening in flight. After the Hijacker D. B. Cooper used this hatch when he parachuted from the back of a NW 727, Boeing modified the design with the "Cooper" vane so that the airstair could not be lowered in flight. [Side Note: D. B. Cooper is a media epithet popularly used to refer to an unidentified man who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft in the United States, in the airspace between Portland (OR) and Seattle (WA), on the afternoon of Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, November 24, 1971. He extorted $200,000 in ransom and parachuted to an uncertain fate. Despite an extensive manhunt and protracted FBI investigation, the perpetrator has never been located or identified. It remains the only unsolved case of air piracy in commercial aviation history (books, reports, films etc. galore on the topic, if you're interested!)]

Another B727 innovation was the auxiliary power unit (APU). It was the 1st jetliner to feature a gas turbine APU, which allowed electrical and air-conditioning systems to run independently of a ground-based power supply, without having to start one of the main engines. Regarding Autopilot, it used the vintage Sperry SP-50 Autopilot (see shots of Pedestal, below which it's located)...and to think that this Autopilot had its roots from Lawrence Sperry, (born 1892, Chicago, IL), who had demonstrated in 1914, in Paris, for the 1st time, to an incredulous crowd how an aircraft can be flown with his hands away from the controls (and, as proof, his hands visible to the crowds)!

N7001U was the first type of Boeing commercial jet with no dedicated prototype i.e. this first airplane was not kept as a flight test airplane, but was actually delivered to the "kickoff customer" airline and went into regular service. This plane worked as a test vehicle for a year, and luckily avoided the prospect of being scrapped after the (brutal) rigors of testing, until it was delivered to United Airlines (as N7001U) on Oct. 6, 1964 - being No. 1 of 1832 total 727s! The aircraft stayed with UA until it was retired in 1991. During its entire 27-year career with the airline, it accumulated 64,495 flight hours, made 48,060 landings, and flew an estimated 3 million passengers. United's modest investment of $4.4 million for the airplane, paid them back handsomely, generating revenues of more than $300 million during the plane's career.

After retirement from UA service, in 1991, it was donated to The Museum of Flight (WA), and made a flight to the Museum's Paine Field Restoration Center, where it stayed for long 25 years, while dedicated volunteers struggled with the significant challenge to restore the airplane to airworthy condition. During this period, it lost many body-parts to other functioning B727s. But, (among many parties) FedEx came to its rescue, donating one of its B727s to help with N7001U's restoration. After 25 years, the (fortunate) plane was finally given the OK with a special (FAA) permit, and took off, one last time, for a (12 minute) 35-mile flight, with only essential cockpit crew allowed onboard, from Paine Field, KPAE, (the place it had landed on its maiden (test) flight in 1963) to Boeing Field International (KBFI) - you may search for video clips of this flight, if desired. For the occasion, former United crew members (dressed in uniform) gathered and reminisced. “It was in the days (when) we served escargot, Havana Cigars and three or four-course meals,” one member explained [Note the mention of "Havana Cigars" and, the "three or four-course meals" - not sure if I would miss Havana Cigars, but wouldn't mind the 3-4 course meals!].

So, 52 years after its maiden voyage and 25 years after its last revenue flight, the very first Boeing 727 "Whisperjet" completed its final short flight (without a hitch) on Wednesday, March 2 (2016). It was welcomed to a water cannon salute on arrival, and went on to enjoy a (much-deserved) permanent vacation - a sedate (new) lease of life joining the other illustrious prototypes of B737 and B747 on the Museum of Flight's Aviation Pavilion.

Please find below, SIM images of N7001U's last revenue flight, as UA Flight 838, KSFO-to-KSEA, on January 13, 1991 (just before it took the 25-year break). The repaint used, here, is true both in regard to livery and registration (thanks to the thoughtfulness of Captain Sim). I have performed a cold & dark start-up, and also, to respect the pedigree of this plane, just for fun, I've used a (custom added) INS mode navigation between these 2 cities. Hope you enjoy the images (and the memory) of this iconic plane - forgiving its prolific dark-exhaust fumes in some of the shots. [CS(727-100)/REX]

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VERY informative...a great read. And pictures to match!

John

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Great story, great pictures, great plane. Ah, and I see an INS is used for navigation... my way to fly the Dreamfleet 727 years ago with FS2004.

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   Harald Geyer
   Gründer der Messerschmitt Freunde Dresden v. V.

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John, Harald: Thanks for the comments. Glad you liked it.

And, Harald, yes Dreamfleet 727 (especially with INS) was a trend-setter, I recall...

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Another aviation history lesson brought to life via the sim. Cheers! :cool:

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Mark Robinson

"What's it doing now?"

Greenbrier Aero Club former member

I made the baby cry - A2A Simulations L-049 Constellation

Sky Simulations MD-11 V2.2 Pilot. The best "lite" MD-11 money can buy (well, it's not freeware!)

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Many thanks for this excellent lesson in aviation history and the superb pictures to go with it, P_7878

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