This month marks 54 years since the Boeing 737 first flew. The narrowbody twinjet has been a mainstay in commercial aviation for over five decades and is still familiar sight today. But why did Boeing launch the plane in the first place?
Catching up with the industry
Boeing was keen to compete with the likes of the BAC One-Eleven, and the Douglas DC-9 in the short-haul twinjet market. The company had success with the 707 and 727, but these jets had four and three engines, respectively. Airlines were becoming increasingly conscious about being more efficient with their operations. So, the pressure was on for Boeing to adapt.
Initially, the plane was set to serve 60-85 passengers. However, launch customer Lufthansa raised the capacity to 100.
To save time on production and introduce the plane sooner, the 737 was given the same upper lobe fuselage as the 707 and 727. Therefore, identical upper deck cargo pallets could be used for all three models. The 737 eventually took the 727’s cargo convertible capabilities, which enabled the interior to switch between passenger and freight utilization with the 737-200 series.
Legendary Boeing engineer Joe Sutter understood that Boeing had to stand out with its aircraft. After all, the competition was tight during this period. So, he cut up a drawing of the original 737 design, which also had a T-tail with aft-mounted engines.
He then moved the engines around to find a more effective configuration. However, placing them on struts under the wing, such as on a 707, would block passengers from boarding the main cabin door on the smaller 737.
So, Sutter thought of a solution to this problem. He said the following, according to The Boeing 737 Technical Site:
“I slid the cutout tight under the wing and felt a sudden flash of excitement. Instead of mounting the engines away from the wing on struts, why not mount them hard against the underside of the wing itself?“
Thus, the 737’s famous wing positioning was now born.
Boeing also made transitions in the cabin. The new narrowbody had six-abreast seating, which was a pull factor at the time due to the ability to serve more passengers per trip. For instance, the DC-9 had been given five abreast seating. The company could also add additional seats due to the fact that the engines were mounted under the wing.
There were further benefits to this layout. Boeing adds the following on its website:
“This engine placement buffered some of the noise, decreased vibration and made it easier to maintain the airplane at ground level. Like the 727, the 737 could operate self-sufficiently at small airports and on remote, unimproved fields. The plane’s performance in these conditions led to orders in Africa, Central and South America, Asia and Australia.”
Reaching new heights
Following a series of tests, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified the 737-100 for commercial flight on December 15th, 1967. Later on that month, Lufthansa took on its first -100 and was followed by United Airlines with its first -200.
The 737 family went on to dominate the skies over the decades. At least 23 variants of the type have been produced in total, and they have spanned through four generations. The Original, Classic, NG, and MAX have been snapped up by airlines across the globe.
The program has faced some significant challenges over the years. For instance, most recently, the 737 MAX crisis highlighted notable concerns following two fatal crashes and the grounding of the entire generation for over a year and a half.
However, over 10,600 units of the 737 family have been delivered since the launch of the program. The plane’s efficiency and versatility on short and medium-haul operations have undoubtedly contributed to its strong presence.
What are your thoughts about the launch of the Boeing 737 program? What has been your favorite model over the years? Let us know what you think of the type in the comment section.