Among the first airframes to choose from as the jet airliner started to become an accepted mode of transportation, were the de Havilland DH 106 Comet (which found its own very unfortunate place in history) the Douglas DC-8, Convair 880 and the Boeing 707. It was, perhaps, the Comet’s highly publicized demise that helped usher the Boeing 707 to center stage in the mind of a public that was ready to embrace safe, reliable, modern air transportation in the mid 1950s.
Before the 707 flew, Boeing developed a testbed transport at their own expense. This aircraft was the Boeing 367-80, know as the ‘Dash 80.’ The Dash 80 made its first flight on July 15, 1954, flown by Tex Johnston and Dix Loesch. Those of you who have seen footage of Johnston rolling (twice) what would soon become the world’s preferred airliner, can appreciate the impression the jet left on prospective buyers and industry representatives who witnessed the unrehearsed event. By 1958, more than 1 million passengers flew the Atlantic in a jet airliner — most aboard a Boeing 707.
In a move that saved time and money, the Dash Eighty served as the prototype for two aircraft, the 707 civil transport, and the 717 military transport/tanker. The 717 is known to most as the C-135 Stratolifter or KC-135 Stratotanker.* (Military 707s are C-137s.)
Developed in near secrecy by using the Boeing model number 367 of the earlier C-97 transport, the 367 grew from the wealth of experience Boeing obtained from designing the B-47 and B-52 jet bombers. Keeping in mind the safety concerns of the civil market, the Dash 80 used single engine pods instead of the dual engine pods of the military aircraft.
The Dash 80 reflected the needs of its desired customer, the U.S. Air Force — it had cargo doors and just a few cabin windows. Incorporating a 35-degree wing sweep, the new aircraft had inner and outer ailerons, and differential spoilers. This modern wing, and jet engines, led some to believe the airplane might prove to be difficult to learn, but pilots found that the modern jet simplified, rather than complicated, operating procedures. The 707 and the C-135 were flown with several different powerplants, and all were flown on the Dash 80 first. At one point the Dash 80 had one type of engine on the outboard pylons, and two different engines on each of the inboard pylons.
After serving as the mother of the 707 and 717, the Dash 80 went on to test further refinements and ideas for jet transports, including the aft engines of the 727. For these experiments, the rear-mounted engine had an extended exhaust, to divert the gases around the conventional tail of the Dash 80. The aircraft was operated for a time with NASA, and during SST testing had a long pointed nose attached to the airframe.
In light of the significance of the Dash 80, Boeing donated the aircraft to the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution at ceremonies held during the Transpo 72 airshow and transportation fair held in 1972 at Dulles International Airport. That Dash 80 returned to Seattle in 1990, where it currently, although it has been restored for exhibit at NASM.
*The Boeing C-135/KC-135 is the 717-100 series, and the Douglas DC-9 descendant which was briefly the MD-95 is now the Boeing 717-200 series. This has been explained as an oversight by marketers who didn’t realize there was a 717, or as an intentional ruse, so that no Long Beach product would have a designation higher than the Seattle-born 777.