Why Boeing Never Built Its Proposed Propfan-Powered 7J7 Aircraft

While Boeing has had many successful airline models, it has also had many that didn’t work out. The propfan-powered Boeing 7J7 was one of those planes. Boeing proposed the idea of this plane in the 1980s, saying that it could carry up to 150 passengers.

This plane was to be the successor to the Boeing 727, and it was hoped it would be flying in 1992.

The goal of this project was to design an airplane that was fuel-efficient and used new aircraft technology. However, the idea never made it past the drawing board.

The idea of the 7J7

The Boeing 7J7 was the manufacturer’s attempt at replacing the Boeing 727. Initially, the 757 had been expected to fill this role, but sales were sluggish at the time. As airline deregulation began to take hold, it became clear not all airlines wanted a larger replacement plane. Rather, they would prefer something smaller, more efficient, and that could be used to add frequencies on short routes.

The 757 was selling slowly, and Boeing could see a gap in its line-up. Photo: Getty Images

Boeing had a gap in its line-up. The 737-100 had a passenger capacity of around 118 passengers, while the 757 could carry more than 200. Boeing knew if it could plug that gap, sales would skyrocket. As such, the planemaker revealed the aircraft in 1985 at the Paris Air Show.

Initially, there was a lot of interest in the project, particularly in the US, Europe, and Japan. Notably, the name of the airplane even gave a nod to Japan, having originally been called the 7-7, but changing to the 7J7 to reflect the Japanese confidence in the project. Boeing started taking orders for the model in 1988, and intended to start delivering the 7J7 in 1992.

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The 7J7 design

Being’s concept for the plane that would never fly with commercial airlines came in two flavors. The 7J7-100 would seat 150 passengers, while the smaller 7J7-110 would seat between 100 and 150. It would be equipped with the latest technology, like a glass cockpit, a fly-by-wire flight control system, an integrated avionics suite, and two UDF rear-mounted propfan engines.

This design was conceived to deliver savings on fuel consumption and was purported to be more efficient than any other passenger aircraft that was flying at the time. Boeing said that the propfan technology would’ve saved most of the fuel, but other aerodynamic elements would also help.

Boeing also planned to use aluminum-lithium composites in the plane, which would help reduce weight. The wings would be made of aluminum-lithium, but this material was also more expensive than the aluminum alloys that most planes had. In addition to that, Boeing wanted to use carbon fiber to design other parts of the airplane’s structure.

Why Boeing never built the 7J7

So why did Boeing never deliver on its promise for the 7J7? The first signs of trouble came when there were some confusing messages over the engine selection for the aircraft. It became apparent that it was planning to offer the smaller aircraft with turbofans, but the larger with ducted engines. Eventually, Boeing canceled plans for the smaller variant, planning instead on expansion of its 737 range. But this back and forth with the specifications of the plane made investors wary.

Despite this, Boeing had interest from two major airlines – British Airways and SAS. But before any deals could be signed and sealed, the announcement came that certification of the plane would be later than expected. Now, it would be 1993 before the plane was expected to be approved, with Boeing citing indecision over the size of the aircraft to be produced initially. BA and SAS wanted a smaller aircraft, with around 140 seats, while American Airlines had indicated interest in an order for a version seating 170.

The problem with this was that, at 170 seats, the selected engines would not be able to power a stretch of this size. Enthusiasm for the project began to peter out, as Boeing steered American Airlines towards its 757 and began work on the larger versions of the 737. Rumor has it that the project was killed off from inside, as Boeing executives believed the future lay in producing more variants of the 737. Turns out, they were right.

BUt the 7J7 was an interesting lesson learned for Boeing. It failed to consult with airlines properly in the planning stages, which is something it rectified in future aircraft projects. Much of the research and development fed through to future airliners for the US planemaker. And the friends it had made in Japan eventually led to some strong influences on the development of the 787.

Would you have flown on the Boeing 7J7? Do you like the 7J7 or 757? Let us know in the comments!


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