Saving the Boeing 727 Prototype

We live in an age where pretty much all civil airliners look much the same. The advent of computer aided design, advances in aerodynamics and engine technology and noise abatement regulations mean that we no longer hear the roar of passenger jets taking off, leaving a plume of exhaust smoke hanging in the air. Today’s turbofan engines mean that unless you’re directly below the immediate flight path, all airliners simply whisper overhead. And there’s little point in looking upwards, they all look much the same.

But as a small kid, airliners were all different. It didn’t take much skill as a young enthusiast to pick them out. Britain’s BAC 1-11 was incredibly loud, the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 was slim, pencil like and pretty. But one of my favourites was the Boeing 727.

Back in the day – Boeing 727 N7007U on the ramp

The flight path close by my home was the training ground for long defunct airline Dan Air’s fleet of Boeing 727 pilots. They would spend hours burning Jet A1 shooting approaches in the Boeing airliners before being released onto the fare paying public as working pilots.

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The Boeing 727 has a distinctive style about it. Don’t ask me why, but the three engine configuration is infinitely more pleasing on the Boeing 727 than the DC-10 or Trident and is something that stayed in my memory. Add in the ventral access stairs at the rear, plus the long, slim wing span, positioned quite a long way back down the fuselage and the tall, T-Tail rear gave the Boeing 727 a distinctive outline.

Boeing 727’s have long ago left scheduled airline service and, with one or two notable exceptions, are no longer to be seen in the air. So it was with great heart that I stumbled across this twenty year effort to restore the original Boeing 727 prototype to flight.

Sadly, it was only to be for a single flight, to enable the old airliner to be re-positioned to it’s final home at The Museum of Flight. This link will take you to the remarkable story of the aircraft’s restoration after 25 years sitting idle, steadily being stripped of part with useful life remaining.
Civilian airliners are rarely held in the same regard as their military counterparts. They are, after all, constructed in far greater numbers and are simply transportation tools to do a job, before steadily moving down the food chain and pecking order of old airliners, ending in the breaker’s axe or a dry Arizona desert.

And apart from the lack of glamour, they’re also difficult to preserve. They’re obviously way larger than a military fighter, suffer corosion issues and a host of other challenges including simply find the space to park them.

They’re never going to be valued and saved in the same way that a Harrier, Tomcat or Phantom is. So when someone takes the trouble to save the odd one or two, we should be grateful.

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Author: Neill Watson

If you love the sound of the Cosworth V8 as much as the V12 Merlin, the smell of Jet A1 as much as Castrol R and admire the late Ray Hanna as much as Sir Stirling, you’ll find you’re both on the same page. Neill's love of art deco buildings means that his ideal home would be a brilliant white, 1930′s control tower in Southern France, with crisply mown grass, biplane parked on the driveway and a Ferrari 288GTO in the garage. This is something that those around him tolerate, though it does concern them from time to time.

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