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By Lou Washington

Lou Jesse HallThis past week the Boeing 707 reached its 60th birthday. The 707 was not the first pure jet passenger transport in the air. But, it was such a huge commercial success that it attained a kind of iconic status among the flying public.

For many of us, the 707 would be the first jet aircraft we would fly. It was a ground breaking airplane. Boeing had not spent much time building or designing passenger transport aircraft after the war. The military kept them busy developing the B-47 and B-52 long range strategic bombers. Both of these aircraft featured technology and design elements incorporated in the non-military 707.

During my young life, I had occasion to fly now and then. Prior to the 707, I had flown in DC-3s, DC-7s and perhaps a Convair of some sort, but the model number was not of any significance to me at the time.

Air travel in these larger prop powered aircraft was pleasant enough. Yes, they were loud and there was a lot more vibration then you typically feel in a modern jet. But the big deal about the 707 was the speed. The 707 cruised at a rate in the neighborhood of 600 mph. That my friend, was very fast to most of the flying public.

By comparison, a Connie or a DC-7 cruised around 350 mph. A little better than half the speed of the four engine 707.

The effect of this was to shrink the world by about half. What used to be a ten hour cross country flight meant you could now fly five hours west in the morning, conduct your business in the afternoon and 707 st louistake the red-eye back east in time for work the next day. Flying the same route in a prop job, would require a day out, a day onsite and a day back.For business and sales folks, this was huge.

I remember vividly my first flight in a jet and it was, of course a Boeing 707. I was about 13 years old and I was lucky enough to be included on a class trip to Washington DC and New York City. I was just thrilled.

Standing on the tarmac at St Louis Lambert Field, The huge TWA 707 seemed to stretch out across my entire field of view. Flying was markedly different in those days. Upon entering the airplane the flight attendant took us to our seats. Once I was buckled in, I inspected the content of the seat pocket in front of me. In addition to the magazine and emergency procedure card, each passenger was provided with a 5 pack of Winston cigarettes! Of course, I was too young to partake.

My memories of the flight are vague, but I do remember that there was a pronounced feeling of acceleration that lasted somewhat longer than the acceleration phase in a prop. The other big difference was altitude. The 707 flew miles above the Earth, while the prop transports had a considerably lower operational ceiling.

This made most of the ground features all but invisible in the jet. But the ride was was sublime! Flying in the 707 after riding in a big prop transport was like riding in a Lincoln Towncar after spending days riding in a poorly maintained buckboard pulled by an ornery mule.

I have included a couple oScan 11f snapshots from my first jet voyage. I always enjoyed flying the 707 during my road warrior days in the ’80s. It was not my favorite, but part of the reason for that was it became increasingly rare as the ’80s moved on toward the nineties.

Boeing built the last 707 in 1979. A 21 year production run for a commercial airplane was phenomenal in those days. After starting production in 1958, Boeing turned out about 1,000 of the four engine 707s. According to Wikipedia, there were ten 707s still in commercial service as of 2013.

The plane figured prominently in the book and original “Airport” movie. If you have a chance to watch the original “Airport” (Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, George Kennedy) you will get an idea of just how fond people were of the 707.

The 707 also stared in an episode of The Twilight Zone. The speed of the aircraft inspired the author to write about a 707 that inadvertently traveled in time. Upon arrival at Idelwild (now known as New York JFK) on Long Island, they find a jungle full of dinosaurs rather than a nice modern airport.

The big Boeing was featured in popular music of the time as well. Gordon Lightfoot’s song, Early Morning Rain, uses the 707 as an image of escape from the cruel realities of life, “stuck here on the ground”  His lyrics tell us of the “big 707 set to go”.    He completes this image with, “Hear the mighty engines roar, see the silver bird on high, she’s away and westward bound, far above the clouds she’ll fly.”

The 707 was quite a show off in real life too. During a meeting of airline executives in Seattle, Boeing arranged to have their demo 707 do a fly by for the executive’s benefit. The test pilot at the controls, put the plane in a full roll during the fly by.

The You Tube link is well worth the time not only to watch the big plane perform this, but to hear the pilot’s son describe the event is very cool.

Boeing 707 Barrel Roll

So, here’s to Boeing! Here’s to the 707! What a great airplane!

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

The recent crash on landing of Asiana Flight 214 at San Francisco brought back a memory from my flying days back in the ‘80s.

Airframe manufacturers are obviously building safer products than in past years. More and more people seem to be walking away from downed airplanes than ever before.  So, I certainly tip my hat to those guys for doing their part in making flying an even safer alternative than in past years.

There is one thing that still disturbs me greatly. Let me briefly tell my story and then you can draw your own conclusions.

One evening back in 1987 I was returning home to the Bay Area after a business trip. I was changing planes in Denver to pick up a flight into San Jose.  Everything went smoothly; I made the connection on time and was seated toward the back of the coach cabin on a DC-8 stretch.

The DC-8 was a single aisle four engine aircraft. It was, even in the mid ‘80s, kind of “long in the tooth” for commercial service by a tier one airline. But, many had been retrofitted with the new generation of jet engines so you saw 8’s with some frequency in those days.

The plane was full that evening and people boarding were bringing with them the usual assortment of carry on stuff.  Laptops were just becoming common but people also still carried boxes of slide carousels and presentation transparencies.  Then there was the usual collection of shopping bags, overnight garment bags and brief cases.

Everyone was seated, the door had been closed and the jet-way had just been pulled back.  I was sitting in a port side window seat, so I could see the ground crew clearly. Inside, I noticed the AC outlets above the overhead compartments were venting something. Anyone who has flown on a humid day has probably seen this and it is invariably condensate, water vapor, cast off by cooling hot humid air.

On that particular evening, it wasn’t condensate, it was smoke.

Within a couple of seconds there were shouts of, “smoke!” and “something’s burning”. The cabin filled with a smell of burning oil.

The DC-8 cabin was a long narrow tube with frequent bulkheads to separate it into a series of smaller cabins. This meant that you could not see the front of the cabin from the rear of the airplane. You could see maybe ten rows before your vision was interrupted by a bulkhead.

The people sitting on the aisles almost immediately were on their feet, flooding the aisle and essentially blocking any view the seated passengers had beyond their immediate vicinity in the cabin. A little bit of panic began to grip the crowed plane as passengers exhorted those seated over the wings to open the emergency exits. Behind me, two flight attendants watched and said nothing.

After the fact, I found out that the DC-8 did not have any communication links from the flight deck or other flight attendant stations  to the aft end of the plane. In other words our flight attendants knew as much about what was happening as I did.

The aft emergency door was opened and by now escape shoots were deployed from the over wing exits and from the doors at the back.

People began to exit the airplane. From my seat (I couldn’t go anywhere because the aisle was filled with people) I could see a man walking along the wing with a garment bag over his shoulder. I remember thinking that he looked remarkably calm.

Almost every person in the aisle was digging through the stuff in the overhead bins trying to retrieve their belongings. Think about that and think about the time it takes to empty an airplane upon arrival at a gate.  We had every reason to believe that the plane was on fire and these guys were worried about their carry-on junk!

My only thought that evening was that I was going to burn to death because some jackass couldn’t get their carry-on bags out of an overhead bin.  That thought made me furious.

This morning, as I watched video shot in the aftermath of the Asiana crash I saw evidence of the same thing had happened there. People were walking around on the ground with their carry on bags! How selfish can people be? Is some souvenir from Korea more important than someone else’s life? Is that really how we think?

I know plenty of folks will hate this, but, the only way to fix this is to ban carry-on items on commercial flights. If all luggage was checked there would be no reason to stop for anything. When an airplane is on fire, time is of the essence. People have to move quickly and not be encumbered by bags, laptops, camera cases etc.

I could be persuaded to allow purses and briefcase size items. But I would remove the overhead bins altogether. Beyond those two items, I would ban it all.

I know people are clutching their chests at the prospect of having to go to baggage claim, but I just don’t see a better alternative.

With Asiana flight 214, we got lucky. We usually don’t get lucky in the world of airplane crashes.

Lou Jesse HallBy Lou Washington

Yesterday an unusual event took place. Boeing, specifically the Boeing 787 program VP Mike Sinnet and Test Pilot Heather Ross hosted a live interactive webcast.  I was lucky enough to catch about 45 minutes of the event.

I had received an invitation for the program the day before. It was an unrestricted log in and listen type format with Twitter serving as the medium for submitting questions. In a word, it was fascinating. It said a lot about the kind of company Boeing is.

Questions came from aeronautical engineers, business flyers, wannabe pilots and folks who were just curious about some aspect of the 787.  The subjects covered myriad topics from flying in general to specifics about the battery fix put into place by the folks at Boeing.

The 787 program is groundbreaking in so many ways; I guess it should not be a surprise that Boeing would turn to an event like this to open up the lines of communication between itself and the flying public. This is telling in that it supports the idea that Boeing knows who their customer really is. In case you are confused by that statement, let me clue you in. Boeing’s customer is the flying public far more so than the various airlines flying their equipment.

The airline/passenger relationship is totally different from the airframe manufacturer/passenger relationship is. This is not just some high level marketing concept, it is a very real dynamic that has profound effects on the actions all of us involved in the business of air travel.

Airlines select airplanes because they meet some performance criteria in terms of capacity, speed and fuel economy. They look at their mission as one of moving 50, 100 or 600 passengers between point A and point B. They will select and buy the aircraft that handles that job in the most economic fashion.

Airline passengers choose airlines because they offer flights to places they want to get to on a schedule that is convenient to them. Many times, passengers have a choice. That means the passenger will be comparing other factors in order to make a decision. One of those will be the equipment used for the flight.

As a business flyer, this factor is important to me. When I traveled frequently, it was very important to me. I was much less concerned about the paint scheme and logo on the skin of the airplane than I was about what type of airplane it was to begin with.

One of the things Boeing does very well is to bring the passenger into the concept development phase of a new airplane. Then, again and again at each design stage, throughout the development of that aircraft the passenger is consulted. The passenger is part of the design group.

Additionally, Boeing understands that all passengers are not alike, a great example of this is found in the design of the 777. The overhead compartments can be easily reached by persons of short stature.

When the plane is rolled out, takes to the air and finally enters into revenue generating service, everyone has a little stake in that airplane. People want it to do well because in part it is “their” airplane.

During the discussion yesterday, it was apparent that Boeing has earned a huge amount of respect and trust from the flying public. Both Mr. Sinnet and Ms. Ross were clearly excited about a chance to talk with people about their product. The Q&A was not all softball either. But, it was clear these guys knew their stuff. I had the feeling they had picked the right people to handle this event. Both of them made a point of stating how much they loved their jobs and being a part of Boeing.

When was the last time you heard a corporate apologist gush about how much they loved working for their company?

Hats off to Boeing for getting this right!

By Lou Washington

This past week a mile stone of sorts was clearly in view for our friends at Boeing. Their highly successful 777 program started the final build process on its 1,000th aircraft. This particular 777-300ER is slated for delivery to Emirates.

Boeing should be proud of this achievement, the 777 is a unique airplane. It is one of the first airliners that passengers actually participated in the concept and design stages of development. Many of the design elements used in the 777 are clearly present in the 787 and in later editions of other Boeing models.

Boeing 777

Photo by Lou Washington

Customer or user input is just as powerful in the business of designing airliners as it is anywhere else. Any marketer worth a damn will tell you that you can learn more from your customer than anyone else. As a consumer, we all benefit when we participate in the design of products. Companies that have learned this lesson are more likely to be rewarded by increased customer loyalty and in the end, more business.

If the onboard experience in today’s air travel is less than blissful, it is certainly not the fault of the aircraft manufacturers. Boeing and other major aircraft manufacturers go to great extremes to develop interiors that are comfortable and pleasant. Unfortunately, most airline operators undo all of this by turning these magnificent machines into livestock transports.

I’m not talking about the fantastical interior designs that accompany the roll out of a major new model. I know that my airline is never going to equip my flight to Des Moines with an on-board swimming pool or running track. Those are PR gimmicks that generate buzz much like concept cars do at auto shows.

But, Boeing takes the “User Experience” seriously. The Sky Interior program is not just a titillating concept, it is a reality. Softer, more natural lighting, larger windows, larger storage bins, flexible seating, higher ambient humidity and cabin pressure set much closer to normal sea level, all add up to a flying experience that will leave the passenger feeling much better upon arrival.

Any one who flies for a living or who spends a lot of time on airplanes has their own favorite aircraft, preferred seating configurations and more than likely, a specific favorite seat. Passengers who take the time to learn about seating charts and carrier seating configurations are rewarded with a more comfortable flight.

Knowing where the emergency exits are means more leg room, sitting near a galley can mean better drink service, sitting up front on the aisle means you are off the plane first or have ready access to the lavatory. Sitting in a seat just in front of a bulkhead can mean your seat won’t recline. But, seats just aft of the bulkhead many times have more leg room.

When I was on the road, flying all over the country at all hours of night and day, these little issues were very important to me. What was really remarkable to me was that airline personnel knew about all of these preferences. They would frequently help you make sure your preferences were addressed or recommend a close approximation alternative.

In those days my airline of choice was Delta. My airplane was the 727 stretch. Lucky for me Delta seemed to have a limitless supply of these birds and they also were the major carrier serving our local airport.

My preferences were pretty simple. I like a window seat because I can sleep without people climbing on me to get to the lavatory. I like lots of leg room because I like to stretch out. In those days, I smoked and I was sufficiently addicted to that nasty habit that I had to be far back in the smoking section to avoid risking the ever aft moving no smoking border. I also enjoyed having a couple of cocktails along the way so it helped to be close to one of the galleys.

Lucky for me, a friendly Delta Redcoat clued me in to party class. This was their lingo for row 35 on the 727 stretch. Row 35 was located at the back of the plane, there was a row 36 but it was lousy. Row 35 was next to the aft emergency exit and it was just opposite of the port side aft galley. Seat 35-F was the window seat. Row 34 didn’t exist, so a good three feet of deck was completely clear in front of row 35.

The fun started almost as soon as you buckled in. The flight attendants were busy with pre-flight activities, but almost always offered the row 35 passengers a pre-flight drink. Longer flights frequently turned into longer conversations with the flight attendants. This was a great opportunity to learn about your destination, where to go at night, what restaurants were great and what to avoid. There were almost always a few extra helpings of dessert or an extra cocktail available for those who flew party class.

For me, it made all the difference. Weekly or daily air travel is tiresome. It quickly loses the patina of glamour or excitement. But, it doesn’t have to be awful, it can be made pleasant. When I got the 35-F seat on my boarding pass, I was assured that I was going to have a very nice flight.

So, hats off to Boeing and congratulations on number 1,000. The 777 is a great airplane. But mostly, thanks for allowing us passengers to chime in on the design. Thank you for caring about what makes us happy.

You guys are the best!

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