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The Boeing 707 & Qantas

Boeing 707

Image: Boeing 707

Source: Museum Victoria

Developed from the Model 367-80 first flown in 1954, the first Boeing 707 flew at Seattle on 20 December 1957 and entered airline service the following year. The British-built De Havilland Comet had demonstrated the potential of the four-engine jet airliner in the early 1950s but structural failures slowed progress in Britain allowed American aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing to establish a dominant position in jet airliner development which has only recently been challenged by Airbus Industries in Europe. The 707 quickly became the most popular long haul international jet airliner allowing limited stop or non-stop intercontinental services with greater speed and comfort than the piston-engined machines they replaced. The Sydney-London flight time could be cut from 63 hours in a Super-Constellation to just 33 hours in a Boeing 707. While still expensive, international air travel was now possible for many Australians and immigrants increasingly arrived by air.

 In Australia, the government-owned Qantas Empire Airways placed an order for seven Boeing 707-138 aircraft in 1956. The 707-138 was a shortened fuselage model designed specifically for Qantas. The first aircraft, VH-EBA was delivered to QEA in 1959 with the others following shortly thereafter. VH-EBA was the first turbojet aircraft to be given a civilian registration in Australia. Crew training took place at Avalon airfield near Geelong in Victoria. The 707 was not permitted to operate from Melbourne's Essendon airport which stimulated pressure for a new airport to be built. QEA had to fly Melbourne passengers to Sydney to connect with the London flight, the first of which left on 15 October 1959. A Sydney-Tokyo 707 service began in November 1961. The new 707 fleet were later marketed as 'V-jets' and carried this name on their tails. During the Vietnam war, Qantas 707's were frequently used to fly Australian troops in and out of Saigon. In Melbourne, 707 spare parts were made at the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation factory in Port Melbourne. The RAAF also operated the 707 from 1979 after taking delivery of two ex-Qantas aircraft. Additional 707's were later purchased and converted as air-to-air refuelling tankers to support the RAAF strike capability. These aircraft were retired in 2008. Qantas' first 707, VH-EBA was purchased in the UK by a syndicate in 2005 and flown back to Australia. It is currently displayed at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach, Queensland.

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