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Posted by David Reed on 03/27/2020

The Boeing 720

On a warm, sunny afternoon on May 15, 1954, Boeing rolled out the first 707 from the factory. Two years later Boeing began studying the next logical step, a short-medium range jet for smaller airports. Remember, the first 707's needed almost two miles of runway to take off. The design shared a lot of commonality with the 707 to reduce development costs and certification time. The design had the same cross-section as the 707-120, but was eight feet shorter and retained the same 130' wingspan. Weight was reduced by 25% by using thinner fuselage skin and smaller wheels. United Airlines had the 707 and DC8, and were looking to order the CV880 for shorter routes. Not wanting to lose another big customer, Boeing formally announced the 707-020 in July 1957. United placed their order but didn't want to look like they were ordering more 707's, so the name was changed and the Boeing 720 was born. First flight was in November 1959 and featured the same JT3C engines as the original 707, Leading edge flaps across the entire leading edge of the wing, a redesigned inboard leading edge and other structural modifications to reduce weight. The 720 could carry 156 passengers in a single class layout, or 131 in two class. During certification, a landing was made in only 2200'! The FAA approved the 720 for service in June 1960 and one week later it entered service with United Airlines. Four months later, after an exhaustive design and feasability study, the 727 program was announced. While the 727 was competing with their own 720, the 720 lacked some critical features the airlines needed for smaller airports. The 720 needed a ground power cart and air cart for starting and separate airstairs for planing-deplaning. Short routes are financially leaner routes, yet the 720 operating costs were not much different than the 707. The 727 had an APU, built-in rear airstairs and a wing that made for even slower landing and takeoff speeds. The 720 engines were changed to the JT3D turbofan and the model became known as the 720B. Despite having only built 154 aircraft, the 720/720B program was profitable due to it's low development costs. The first 720 built, N7201U, was also the first one in service, Chicago-Denver-Los Angeles with United Airlines in 1960. In 1973 it was sold to Contemporary Entertainment as a charter jet with a 40-seat executive interior. Notable rock bands used the "Starship" for their tours between 1973 and 1977, including Led Zepplin, Deep Purple, The Band, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers, Alice Cooper and Peter Frampton. It was eventually broken up for parts in 1982.


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