Intermediate Range Passenger Airliner
The Boeing 727 was, for a time, the most-produced jet-powered commercial aircraft on the globe.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
After World War 2 (1939-1945) introduced the turbojet engine as a viable aviation propulsion system, the jet age was born and evolved throughout the 1950s. This period then begat a specialized group of three-engined aircraft recognized as "trijets" which gained in popularity during the 1960s. The first such commercial airliner to see service became the famous Boeing 727 model series, beating out the competing British-born Hawker Siddeley "Trident" by mere months during 1964. For the first three decades of jet-powered passenger service, the Boeing 727 proved the best-selling product in the world, making a name for itself on all-important short-to-medium-haul routes as a narrow-body, jet-powered airliner. Production of 707s eventually totaled 1,831 units spanning from from 1963 to 1984 to which some have remained in service even today (March 2014), though mainly now reserved as a cargo mover with numbers continuing to dwindle with each passing year.
Prior to the 727, Boeing engineers accrued a good deal of experience in designing and developing the preceding four-engined 707 and 720 marks. The three-engined 727 now moved the engine nacelles aft of the main wing appendages (as opposed to underslung) and added the third engine at the base of the tail rudder, streamlining the narrow design considerably. This gave the 727 model a most distinct appearance which made it easily recognizable in the Boeing aircraft stable. First flight of the prototype occurred on February 9th, 1963 and the aircraft was soon in service with Eastern Airlines on February 1st, 1964. It's typical operating crew would number three flight crew and up to four cabin attendants.
The 727 brought about several unique features which gave it excellent "hot-and-high" performance as well as short-field qualities, allowing it access to smaller, minor airports all over the world. Its wings incorporated a new leading edge slat design as well featuring triple-slotted trailing edge slats used to provide strong, low speed handling qualities used during take-off and landings. A thrust-reversal feature aided landings on shorter runways while engines were engineered with noise reduction qualities for service at busy civil airports. During its time aloft, the aircraft received favorable reviews from its crews and passengers who appreciated its performance and accessibility. In time, the aircraft also proved a suitable VIP and business jet. The 1,000th aircraft was eventually ordered in September of 1972, marking a product milestone, such was the popularity of the 727 in the airliner market (since surpassed by the upcoming 737 model).
The initial production 727 model became the 727-100 of which some 407 units were delivered by Boeing (though sales initially proved sluggish). The single-class configuration could haul 149 souls while the two-class configuration moved up to 131 persons. The "Convertible" then followed as the 727-100C which added a side cargo loading door to access the main deck, broadening the capabilities of the 727 airframe to serve as a cargo hauler, passenger hauler or a mix of the two. Total production of the 727-100C mark was just 164 units however. 727-100s were powered by 3 x Pratt & Whitney JT8D-1 turbofan engines of 14,000lb thrust each.
In December of 1967, the "stretched" 727-200 was brought online and proved the classic and hugely popular 727 product model. It incorporated a 20-foot lengthening of the fuselage which improved internal volume while increasing gross weight. With a full passenger load, the aircraft could now carry up to 189 persons, sales eventually proving the modified 727 a commercial success with many foreign parties now entering the fray. The 727-200F became a dedicated "freighter" which fitted up to eleven cargo pallets in the hold, this offering adopted by cargo powerhouse FedEx in fifteen examples. Production of all 727-200 marks netted an impressive 1,245 vehicles while power to the model was served through 3 x Pratt & Whitney JT8D-9 turbofan engines of 14,500lbs thrust each.
Boeing continued evolving their growing 727 product and this dedication produced the 727-200 "Advanced" which introduced a wide-body fuselage approach. The design also brought about use of uprated engines and improved hauling capabilities as well as increased operational ranges. The Advanced model was made available from May 1971 onwards and power served through 3 x Pratt & Whitney JT8D-17R engines of 17,400lbs thrust each.
The 727 saw service all over the world with operators spanning all continents. Some were also taken into military and government service where their versatility was truly tested over decades of faithful service. Its sheer availability led to it being the host aircraft to some 178 total hijackings during its career as well as involvement in 112 whole-hull-loss incidences which, rather unfortunately, produced 3,783 total fatalities.