Passenger jet does a double barrel roll (1955)

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707 prototype does a crazy maneuver

by Andy Warycka,

Before the now-iconic Boeing 707 made its debut with Pan-Am in 1958, truly ushering in the jet age, there was the Boeing 367-80.

Known simply as the “Dash 80,” this was the prototype for what would become the 707. Largely known as a manufacturer of military aircraft through the mid 1950s, Boeing never had much success in the commercial transport sector. The Dash 80 was designed as a proof of concept aircraft for both military and possible commercial applications — the last airliner Boeing tried to sell (the 377 Stratocruiser) had cost the company a $15 million net loss until they sold it to the Air Force as the KC-97 Stratotanker.

On August 6th, 1955, Boeing chairman Bill Allen had invited representatives of the Aircraft Industries Association (AIA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to Seattle’s 1955 Seafair and Gold Cup Hydroplane Races, where the Dash 80 was scheduled to perform a simple flyover.

However, perhaps sensing that something a little more, shall we say, dramatic would help sell the plane to prospective buyers, legendary Boeing test pilot Alvin “Tex” Johnston had a little trick up his sleeve: As he passed over the lake, in front of Allen and all the visiting dignitaries, Johnston took the Dash 80 through two barrel rolls:

The upshot

Well, despite getting called on the carpet the next day by Allen, Johnston must have been on to something — the production version of the Dash 80, the 707, went on to sell over 1,000 planes during the next 21 years.

And the roll went on to become so legendary that in 1994, on the maiden flight of the new 777, then-Boeing Chief Test Pilot John Cashman was told explicitly by then-Boeing President Phil Condit: “No rolls.”

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4 Responses

  1. Great little bit of history! Done properly, the barrel roll is a positive G maneuver, so just like regular flying. The issues start when you do it incorrectly…

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