July 10, 2007

Boeing 2707

Boeing had worked on a number of small-scale SST studies since 1952. In 1958, it established a permanent research committee, which grew to a $1 million effort by 1960. The committee proposed a variety of alternative designs, all under the name Model 733. Most of the designs featured a large delta wing, but in 1959 another design was offered as an offshoot of Boeing's efforts in the swing-wing TFX project (which led to the purchase of the General Dynamics F-111 instead of the Boeing offering). In 1960, an internal "competition" was run on a baseline 150-seat aircraft for trans-Atlantic routes, and the swing-wing version won.

By mid-1962, it was becoming clear that tentative talks earlier that year between the Bristol Aeroplane Company and Sud Aviation on a merger of their SST projects were more serious than originally thought. It appeared there was a very real chance the combined companies would be offering a design. In November, the two companies announced that a design called "Concorde" would be built by a consortium effort. This set off something of a wave of panic in other countries, as it was widely believed that almost all future commercial aircraft would be supersonic, and it looked like the Europeans would start off with a huge lead.

The Boeing 2707 was developed as the first American supersonic transport (SST). After winning a competition for a government-funded contract to build an American SST, Boeing began development at its facilities in Seattle, Washington. Rising costs, the lack of a clear market, and increasing outcry over the environmental effects of the aircraft—notably sonic boom—led to its cancellation in 1971 before two prototypes had been completed.

Design competition

Preliminary designs were submitted to the FAA on January 15, 1964. Boeing's entry was essentially identical to the swing-wing Model 733 studied in 1960; it was known officially as the Model 733-197, but also referred to both as the 1966 Model and the Model 2707. The latter name became the best known in public, while Boeing continued to use 733 model numbers. The design had an uncanny resemblance to the future B-1 Lancer bomber, with the exception that the engines were mounted in individual nacelles instead of the box-like system on the Lancer.

A "downselect" of the proposed models resulted in the North American NAC-60 and Curtiss-Wright efforts being dropped from the program, with both Boeing and Lockheed asked to offer SST models meeting the more demanding FAA requirements and able to use either of the remaining engine designs. In November, another design review was held, and by this time Boeing had scaled up the original design into a 250-seat model, the Model 733-290. Due to concerns about jet blast, the four engines were moved to a position underneath an enlarged tailplane. When the wings were in their swept-back position, they merged with the tailplane to give a delta-wing platform.

Both companies were now asked for considerably more detailed proposals, to be presented for final selection in 1966. When this occurred, Boeing's design was now the 300-seat Model 733-390. Both the Boeing and Lockheed L-2000 designs were presented in September 1966 along with full-scale mock-ups. A lengthy review followed, and on December 31, 1966, Boeing was announced as the winner. The design would be powered by the General Electric GE4/J5 engines. Lockheed's L-2000 was judged simpler to produce and less risky, but its performance was slightly lower and its noise levels slightly higher.

Refining the design

The -390 would be an advanced aircraft even if it were only subsonic. It was one of the earliest wide-body designs, using a 2-3-2 row seating arrangement in a fuselage that was considerably wider than aircraft then in service. The SST mock-up included both overhead storage for smaller items with restraining nets, as well as large drop-in bins between sections of the aircraft. In the main 247-seat tourist-class cabin, the entertainment system consisted of retractable televisions placed between every sixth row in the overhead storage. In the 30-seat first-class area, every pair of seats included smaller televisions in a console between the seats. Windows were only 6" due to the high altitudes the aircraft flew at maximizing the pressure on them, but the internal pane was 12" to give an illusion of size.

Boeing predicted that if the go-ahead were given, construction of the SST prototypes would begin in early 1967 and the first flight could be made in early 1970. Production aircraft could start being built in early 1969, with the flight testing in late 1972 and certification by mid-1974.

A major change in the design came when Boeing added canards behind the nose—which added weight. Boeing also faced insurmountable weight problems due to the swing-wing mechanism. In October 1968, the company was finally forced to abandon the variable geometry wing. The Boeing team fell back on a tailed delta wing—somewhat in irony given that the rejected Lockheed design had a fixed wing. The new design was also smaller, seating 234, and known as the Model 2707-300. Work began on a full-sized mock-up and two prototypes in September 1969, now two years behind schedule.

A promotional film claimed that airlines would soon pay back the federal investment in the project, and it was projected that SSTs would dominate the skies with subsonic jumbo jets (such as Boeing's own 747) being only a passing intermediate fad.

In miniature

The Boeing SST is unusual in that it was a very popular subject for toys and models well before it (never) flew. The most popular example was a 2-ship kit with models in cruise and landing configuration in the original canary yellow paint scheme, also re-issued in Pan Am colors (which was re-issued in the mid 2000s). Lindbergh also made a small swing-wing model Monogram also produced the canard configuration. There was a very small fixed wing model by Entex, and a small die-cast model, most of which show up on online auctions from time to time. A resurgence in interest by the 2000s also led to production of new wooden models which were offered online. There is a substantial market for Boeing (and Lockheed) SST items, some kept by employees at the time.

Source: Wikipedia

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