Commercial Jet Aviation Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Seattle (WA) - The Boeing 707, the world's first jet-powered commercial airplane, is celebrating the 50th birthday of its maiden flight: Boeing launched the first production 707 on Dec. 20, 1957 from Renton Municipal Airport near Seattle, WA. The first flight lasted only seven minutes, due to poor weather conditions. The second flight, which happened on the same day, lasted 71 minutes.

Pan Am was the first airline to take delivery of the first version of the 707 (707-120). This model was powered by "early" Pratt & Whitney turbojet engines and was considered to be "barely" able to cross the Atlantic Ocean, because of their limited range. Nevertheless, Pan Am used the 707-120 to transport passengers between New York and Paris, France. The first commercial flight of a 707 took off on Oct. 26, 1958. Later 707 models, including the 707-320, came as early as 1959 and were able to fly non-stop from Seattle to Rome, Italy.

A total of 878 707 planes were built. The productions top came in 1978. According to Boeing, about 130 707s are still in service today. Most of them are used as freighters as well as corporate transport planes, the company said.

The first jet plane was the Heinkel He-178, which was flown in Germany in August of 1939. The first jet-powered plane built in the U.S. was the XP-59, flown by Robert M. Stanley in Muroc, CA, in October 1942.

Boeing is currently preparing to rollout its first 787 airliner next year.