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Anniversary; The Boeing 757

by David Hopwood

Today, 19th February is the anniversary of the maiden test flight of the much-loved and powerful Boeing 757.

The 757 is a mid-sized, single-aisle, twin-engine airliner, and the largest narrow-body produced by Boeing, with the ability to carry between 200 and 295 passengers over a maximum range of 7600 km. Two variants were produced; the original -200 and a stretched -300; the longest narrow-body twin-engine produced.

Delta 757-351 ©Motohide Miwa

In the early ’70s, Boeing had three aircraft available: the trail-blazing 747, the immensely popular 727 tri-jet and the ultimately record-breaking 737. Boeing’s future design efforts centred around development of the 727-200. Two directions were considered; a stretched 727 and a brand-new aircraft code-named the 7N7. While the 727-300 was a simpler project, customer interest was not enough to carry on with the work, but interest in new engines—the high-bypass turbofans—lower weight and better aerodynamics attracted airlines to the 7N7. Finally named the 757, the aircraft had a major emphasis on fuel efficiency–since fuel prices had risen dramatically in 1973—and the ability to serve short runways and hot-and-high airports. At the same time, the design of a twin-aisle aircraft was in progress ultimately resulting in the 767, sharing much in common with the 757.

Two versions of the 757 were planned: the -100 seating 160 passengers, and the -200 with 180 seats. The characteristic T-tail of the 727 remained. In 1978, the American Eastern Airlines and British Airways became the launch customers for the 757-200. Two engines were offered; the Rolls-Royce RB211 (the first time a non-American engine was used by Boeing) and the Pratt and Whitney PW20137.

While many of the design elements from the 727 were initially used, as the 757 design progressed more and more were excluded in the pursuit of improved efficiency and the last element—the T-tail—was dropped in mid-1979.

The maiden flight had its problems; an engine stall slowed the test flight programme, but in December 1982 the 757 received FAA approval and by the UK’s CAA the following month. The first commercial flight was operated by Eastern in January 1983 followed by British Airways in February that year. The fuel efficiencies promised by Boeing did materialise, using 40% less fuel per seat than the 727, but the expected sales failed to result until the late ’80s when Boeing received 320 orders. In 1986 the FAA granted the aircraft ETOPS certification, allowing operation over the North Atlantic and in 1996, the stretched -300 series was launched.

DHL 757-200SF © Tom Felce

While the 757 had been financially successful, sales declined in the early 2000s, when operators moved towards the smaller and newer 737 variants and the A320. The last 757 was delivered in October 2004 to Shanghai Airlines.

The variants of the 757 continue to give satisfactory service both in passenger and cargo configurations. At the end of November 2019, 661 examples remain in service, with Delta, American, Icelandair and DHL being some of the main operators.

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