is Boeing Going?
Part 1 : The Early Years
A Boeing 247 operated
by Boeing's then subsidiary, United Airlines. Boeing's
refusal to sell these planes to TWA encouraged Douglas to
develop the DC3 - a plane that was vastly superior to the
1 of a 5 part series - click for Parts
Boeing has been one of the
proudest and most obvious examples of American technological
success. But in the last ten years, it seems to have lost its
direction, while its competitor, Airbus, has been steadily
advancing, to the point where it now dominates the market.
How did this happen? Is there a
future for Boeing? What should it do?
This series chronicles Boeing's
rise to industry leadership and domination, explains how that
leadership was lost, and then offers suggestions for Boeing's
Boeing was formed by William
Boeing, and the company built its first two planes in 1916.
These two planes were known as B&W seaplanes (after the initials
of the two designers - William Boeing and then partner George
Westervelt). The US Navy declined to purchase them, and so they
were sold to the New Zealand Flying School, becoming not only
Boeing's first sale but also their first international sale. The
B&W seaplane cruised at 67 mph, had a 320 mile range, and
carried a crew of two.
William Boeing's partner
moved to the East Coast, and Boeing continued alone,
incorporating the company on 15 July, 1916, initially as Pacific
Aero Products Company, and then renaming it as Boeing Airplane
Company the next year.
In 1917, the company made a
sale of 50 Model C seaplanes to the US Navy, marking their first
ever production order.
World War 1 ended in late
1918, and military orders for planes also ended, while a surplus
of ex-military planes depressed the market as a whole. Boeing
managed to win some contracts to build planes from other
company's designs, but it became increasingly clear that they
needed to design, build and sell their own planes if they were
to get more control over their future destiny.
A successful design for a
fighter resulted in the sale of 586 P12/F4B fighters over the
decade from 1929-1939.
Help from the Government
In 1925, the US Postal
Service started contracting with private companies for the
delivery of airmail. People would hitch rides on the airmail
freight planes, marking the informal start of scheduled air
transportation. The growth of passenger services closely
followed the airmail routes (and the USPS contracts that funded
Boeing designed and built a
mail carrying plane, the Model 40, which had room for two
passengers as well as mail cargo. This plane cruised at 105 mph
and had a 650 mile range.
After winning a US Mail
contract to carry mail between Chicago and San Francisco, Boeing
formed a subsidiary company in 1927, Boeing Air Transport, to
provide airmail and passenger services. The first flight was on
1 July, 1927 in a Model 40A - a 22.5 hour flight between San
Francisco and Chicago. The success of these flights encouraged
Boeing to develop its first ever plane specifically for
passenger services - the three engined Model 80 biplane,
carrying 12 passengers and cruising at 125 mph, with a range of
460 miles. Shortly thereafter, Boeing added the first female
flight attendants to its passenger services.
1927 was perhaps the year
that aviation finally moved into the mainstream of public
thought, when Charles Lindberg flew (not in a Boeing plane)
nonstop between New York and Paris. Passenger numbers started to
quickly grow, as did airlines and airplanes.
Reflecting its broader range
of activities, Boeing renamed itself as United Aircraft and
Transportation Corp in 1929. Included in this conglomerate were
companies such as Pratt & Whitney, Northrup, and Sikorsky. Rapid
developments were occurring in the aviation field, and Boeing's
planes were prominently featured, for example the 247, developed
in 1933, and the first of what we'd now recognise today as
modern airplanes, with a low single wing, smooth and streamlined
all-metal fuselage, and retractable undercarriage. The 247
enabled the journey time between New York and Los Angeles to be
cut by 7½ hours, down to 'only' 20 hours (with seven stops along
the way. The plane carried 10 passengers, cruised at 189 mph,
and had a range of 745 miles.
refused to sell the 247 to competing airline TWA, reserving the
first production run of 60 planes for its own airline
subsidiary, United Airlines. Because of this, TWA commissioned a
similar plane from Douglas, the DC-2 and which evolved into the
DC-3, a plane that eclipsed the 247 in size and speed and
rendered it quickly obsolete. United's 247s cost $50,000 each.
Hindrance from the Government
New anti-trust legislation
in 1934 prevented aircraft manufacturers from also owning
airlines with US Mail contracts, and so Boeing split itself into
three parts - the Boeing Airplane Company, United Air Lines, and
United Aircraft (now known as United Technologies, with engine
building Pratt & Whitney as one of the main divisions).
Saddened by this, founder
William Boeing retired that same year, and the new
President/Chairman, Clairmont Egtvedt, focused Boeing more
strongly on developing large bombers and passenger planes.
The Golden Age of Aviation ....
Results of this development
were soon seen in the form of the model 314 'Clipper' flying
boat, a luxurious plane that carried up to 74 passengers with a
range of up to 4500 miles, cruising at 184 mph. Reminiscent of
today's 'sleeper seats', the 74 seats could be converted into 40
bunks for overnight sleeping.
The 314 Clipper first flew
on June 7, 1938, and was the largest, heaviest, longest-range,
highest capacity airliner, using the most powerful engines in
the air. They cost $550,000-$800,000 each, but only twelve were
produced - World War 2 interrupted the sale and use of these
Flying boats were developed
for two reasons - they could be operated to places that did not
have expensive airport facilities, and the public felt safer,
due to the fact that, if the engines failed, the plane could
land safely in the sea. As air travel became more popular, more
airports were built, and as planes became safer, the need for
emergency landings at sea became less important, and so the era
of the flying boat was shortlived (from the mid 1930s to the
Meanwhile, the B-17 'Flying
Fortress' bomber was developed from concept to test flight in
less than 12 months and first took to the skies in 1935. Why is
it that, with all the modern computer modeling and CAD/CAM
productivity aids, such rapid model development is no longer
During the war years, Boeing
built 6,981 B-17s, and 5,745 more were built by Douglas and
Lockheed. A passenger variant, the model 307 Stratoliner, was
the world's first pressurized passenger plane, and could fly
above bad weather, up to 26,000 ft, cruising at 220 mph, with a
maximum range of 2400 miles. One of the Stratoliners was
purchased by eccentric millionaire (and aviation enthusiast)
Howard Hughes who fitted it out as a flying penthouse.
Only ten were made in total, prior to the onset of WW2, and no
Another famous Boeing plane
from World War 2 was its B-29 Superfortress. These pressurized
planes could fly higher than other bombers, and had a 5830 mile
range. B-29s were chosen to deliver the two atomic bombs to
Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The end of the war saw the
almost immediate loss of 70,000 jobs at Boeing, and the company
attempted to refocus on civilian aircraft development and
production. Its first new passenger plane was the model 377
Stratocruiser, a derivative of the B-29 bomber design. This
plane had two levels - much like the new A380 - and could carry
up to 100 passengers, cruising at 300 mph with a maximum range
of 4,600 miles. Only 56 were sold, at a cost of $1.5 million
.... but Not Golden for Boeing
The brutal reality is that
Boeing was failing to produce a successful passenger airplane.
Its 247 was eclipsed by the Douglas DC-2 and DC-3 and only 76
were built. It produced a mere twelve 314 Clipper flying boats,
ten 307 Stratoliners, and 56 Stratocruisers.
Although Boeing was enjoying
outstanding success with its heavy bombers (B-17, B-29, B-47 and
B-52) its passenger airplane programs desperately needed
The Jet Age Arrives
Boeing released its first
jet airplane, the B-47 bomber, in 1947, which was shortly
followed by the B-52, a bomber still in service today.
In 1952 an insignificant
seeming event occurred that would, in time, vastly alter the
market for air travel. Pan Am introduced a second class of
service on international flights, making them more affordable
than the previous all 'first class' service and fares.
Also in 1952 Boeing decided
to invest $16 million into developing a revolutionary new jet
plane, the model 367-80 (commonly referred to as the 'Dash 80').
This new plane took three years to develop.
Boeing's costly gamble paid
off, and the plane formed the basis for the first jet tanker,
the KC-135 Stratotanker, and the 707, the first Boeing passenger
jet, which had its first flight in 1957. This plane would
revolutionize the industry, and make Boeing the clear
international leader in passenger aircraft manufacturing.
Read more in the rest of this
five part series
Part 1 : Boeing's early
Part 2 : Boeing's best
Part 3 : Boeing in decline
Part 4 : Does Boeing have
Part 5 : Key facts and
figures about Boeing, its planes, and its competition
If you liked this, you might also enjoy our multi-part series 'Airbus
Fires the First Shot in the New A320/737 War with Boeing'.
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12 Dec 2003, last update
20 Jul 2020
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