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The 757 flies into the sunset
November 1, 2004, by Bill Cawthon
Last Thursday, one of the most successful jetliners in aviation history reached the end of its production run. With thousands of employees and guests in attendance, the last 757, a Shanghai Airlines 757-200, was the guest of honor at a ceremony held at the Boeing factory in Renton, Washington, just outside Seattle.
With a total production run of 1,050 airplanes, the Boeing 757 is a member of a very elite group. Of all the big commercial jetliner models ever built, only seven have enjoyed sales in excess of a thousand units. Nearly a hundred airlines, charter services, freight carriers and governments have one or more 757s in their fleets. Microsoft founder Paul Allen is also a 757 owner.
While production of new planes has ended, the 757 will be flying for years to come. Well over a thousand are still in commercial service, carrying passengers and cargo around the world.
In the twenty-two years since the first 757's maiden flight, the planes have carried a combined total of more than 1.3 billion passengers and logged almost ten billion kilometers (over six billion miles). That's enough for a round-trip to Neptune or more than 25,000 round trips to the moon.
The beginnings of the 757 date back more than twenty-six years, when Boeing needed a new short-to-medium range jetliner to replace the 727, a design that was already nearly a quarter-century old, but which had been very successful.
Boeing considered several ideas and finally settled on one that used the same single-aisle cabin cross-section as the 727 but had a longer fuselage and a redesigned wing. Boeing also discarded the 727's three rear-mounted engines in favor of two wing-mounted high-bypass turbofan engines.
The original 757 design, now called the 757-100, was a direct replacement for the 727 with seating capacity for about 150 passengers. This plane didn't attract any interest from the airline industry and none were ever built. It took a somewhat larger plane that could carry 200 or more passengers to bring in the first order. Boeing received that order on August 31, 1978 and production was given the go-ahead in April 1979.
Boeing began building the first 757-200 in 1981 and the finished jet was rolled out on January 13, 1982. N757A, equipped with Rolls Royce RB211-535C engines, made its maiden flight just over a month later, on February 19. Following ten months and 1,380 hours of testing, the FAA certified the 757 on December 21, 1982. Eastern, one of the launch customers, received its first 757-200 the next day. (Eastern did not get the first 757; Boeing kept that one for use as a test bed.)
The 757 carried paying passengers for the first time on January 1, 1983. On January 14, 1983, the British Civil Aviation Authority certified the new plane to fly in Great Britain. Boeing then began deliveries to British Airways, the other launch customer, which began flying 757 in regular service on February 9, 1983.
In March 1984, Boeing rolled out the first 757 with Pratt & Whitney 2000-series engines. Following certification, the plane was delivered to Delta Airlines in November of that year.
In remarks made at the October 28, 2004, ceremonies, Alan Mulally, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes noted, "The 757 changed the world of commercial aviation with its extended range capabilities, operational efficiency and the introduction of computer-aided design, composite manufacturing and integrated flight displays and controls"
Mr. Mulally was right: pilots liked the 757's extra power and advanced Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS) avionics. Airlines liked the two-member flight crew, increased passenger capacity and improved fuel efficiency. Communities in the flight path liked the fact the 757 was quieter.
The 757-200 was the first of a family of aircraft. Just three years after the delivery of Eastern's first 757 jetliner model, United Parcel Service ordered a cargo version. The initial 757-200F was rolled out on July 15, 1987 and flew for the first time on August 13. By the end of September 1987, the plane was in service with UPS. UPS is still flying the 757-200F and, with 71 of them, has the fourth-largest 757 fleet in the world.
On February 17, 1986, Boeing received the only order for a 757-200M, a special passenger/cargo combination built for Royal Nepal Airlines. The 757-200M carried 150 passengers and three 2.24 x 2.74 m (88 x 108 inch) cargo containers.
The fourth and final family member was the 757-300, an extended version with seating capacity for an additional 40 passengers. Boeing developed the 757-300 for charter operators, who needed more capacity and were willing to sacrifice some range to get it. Where the 757-200 has a maximum range of 7,222 km (4,488 miles), the 757-300's range is just 6,287 km (3,907 miles). The 757-300 program was given the go-ahead in September 1996 and, not surprisingly, the first order was placed three months later by Condor Flugdienst, a German charter airline. The 757-300 flew for the first time on August 2, 1998 and went into service on March 19, 1999. Production of the 757-300 ended on April 30, 2004 with the final plane being delivered to Continental Airlines.
U.S. airlines fly the majority of the 757s in service. Led by American Airlines with 139 757-200s, six of the ten largest fleets are operated by American carriers like United, Delta, Northwest and Continental, which use them primarily for regional service. Icelandair, which has ten 757-200s and one 757-300, uses them for transoceanic flights. Royal Brunei, like a number of eastern carriers, uses the 757 to provide service to Europe.
Most 757s were sold to airlines and airfreight carriers, but there are some notable exceptions. Among the U.S. government agencies using the 757 are the Air Force and NASA's Langley Research Center. The Air Force designates the 757 as the VC-32A and uses them for VIP transport. A VC-32A is "Air Force Two," the plane used by the Vice President of the United States. NASA's 757-200 is the first 757 Boeing delivered to Eastern Airlines back in 1982. It's still flying, but instead of carrying passengers, it's now a flying laboratory called ARIES, for Airborne Research Integrated Experiments System, and is used for research aimed at improving airline safety and air traffic control.
Other 757s are owned by the New Zealand Air Force and the governments of Argentina and Turkmenistan.
Although the 757 was a very successful plane, times and the air travel market changed. It was perfect for opening up routes previously either not served or requiring more costly planes, but as those routes grew and matured, there were better planes for the long routes, like the wide-body jetliners which offer better economies of scale. The shorter routes increasingly became the territory of the new-generation 737s and Airbus A320.
From the mid-1990s on, sales of the 757 declined, in spite of the addition of the higher-capacity 757-300. With the introduction of the 737-900 and development of the 7E7 Dreamliner, there was no place for the 757 in Boeing's product mix and the decision was made to end production.
Herpa offers a number of 757 models in the Wings collection. You'll find a variety of 757-200s, like the America West "Arizona" with its special graphics. There is also a DHL 757-200F, though there isn't one in UPS livery. There are a few well-chosen 757-300s, including models decorated for Condor, which got the first real 757-300, and Continental, which got the last one.
If you want a model in a larger size, there's a Herpa Northwest Airlines 757-300 in 1:400 scale and a British Airways 757-200 in 1:200 scale. There's also a 1:200 scale 757-300 decorated for Thomas Cook from Wooster. Dragon Wings has its own 1:400 Northwest Airlines 757-300.
As of the time I wrote this column, all the above models were in stock at Promotex.
Sadly, no one makes of model of the Hooters Air 757. Oh, well ….
All Boeing images are copyright © 2004 The Boeing Company and are used by permission.
See you next time!
- Bill Cawthon
Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is senior editor of Route 1-87, the magazine of the 1/87 Vehicle Club, and a columnist and product reviewer for Model Railroad News. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.
In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant for MARK III Systems, a successful information technology company. He also writes for just-auto.com, an international auto industry publication, reporting on the U.S. light vehicle industry.
He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.
Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.
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