The first flight of Boeing’s 737 took place 50 years ago on Sunday. The occasion comes just weeks before the first delivery of the newest version, the Boeing 737 MAX.
Brien Wygle, the pilot who commanded that first flight on April 9, 1967, will participate in a panel discussion at noon in the museum theater. “Fifty years ago we had no idea,” Wygle, 92, said in an interview this week. “We were hoping to eventually sell enough to break even.”
Things turned out quite differently. Boeing, as of March 2017, delivered 9,448 of the single-aisle twinjets, with 4,506 more still on order. And with the delivery of the first MAX coming soon, Boeing plans to ramp up production in Renton later this year to 47 jets per month and up to 52 per month next year.
“The 737 took the aviation world by storm and has been improved steadily since,” Wygle said. “It obviously filled an incredible need.”
The 737 changed aviation, bringing jet transport to tiny airports all over the world. “Small airlines flew it to remote places,” said Bob Bogash, a 737 engineer. “We flew off unpaved runways in the Canadian North. Many of those airlines had never had a new airplane before and never had a jet airplane.”
The 737 also transformed the economics of domestic flying in the U.S. Its swift turnaround times, fuel efficiency and ability to operate from small airports produced the concept of low-fare carriers and brought air travel to the masses.