Boeing’s game-changing 707 jetliner connected the world like nothing ever had before. Another registration number for the history books….N748TW…a Boeing 707-131B workhorse from the time it was birthed from Boeing’s Renton, Washington plant at the cusp of the 1960s to its end in 1980.
Hard to fathom now – but the 707, the 727, and the massive 747 were all 600 mph airplanes and they could do it at 39,000 feet. Today – the average is 550. Thanks to the vision of Pan American’s Juan Trippe and Boeing’s gutsy CEO – Bill Allen, Boeing birthed the “367-80” jet demonstrator – aka the 707.
The Boeing 707 served a long and distinguished career hauling passengers around the world thanks to Trippe and Allen. It saw every corner of the world. Britain’s misfortune with the ill-fated Dehavilland Comet jetliner (crashes from explosive decompression) became Boeing’s good fortune. It sold a lot of 707s and the stubby 707 known as the 720.
N748TW was a domestic 707 void of the telltale antenna sticking out of the vertical tail for overwater communications. N748TW crisscrossed this country every way imaginable from the early 1960s until 1980 when it was surrendered to the Arizona desert in 1980. When the airlines retired 707s – the USAF snapped up every 707 it could find to get engines, pylons, and tails for its KC-135A re-engining program. The KC-135 needed the 707’s more powerful JT3D engines and its improved tail to make them KC-135Es.
You can see N748TW’s remains below at David-Monathan AFB, Arizona in more recent years. Its remains are still there today.
I loved TWA in its best years in classic TWA colors like the black and white image below. My Uncle Dick and Uncle Johnny on the Smart side of the family flew Boeing 707s for TWA. My cousin Steve Bisig is the late Captain Dick Bisig’s son and we have been the best of buddies since 1961. In those days – my uncles flew Connies and ultimately jets for Trans World.
In December of 1965, N748TW was inbound to JFK/New York when it collided with an Eastern Air Lines Lockheed L-1049 or L-1649 Super Connie (Constellation). The Connie was the best looking airliner ever done – period. My God it was sexy. N748TW lost 20 feet of its right wing in the collision and managed to land safety at JFK with a load of soiled underwear on board. Eastern wasn’t so fortunate – it crashed and all were killed. N748TW was repaired and returned to service and flew another 15 years.
On a chilly November night in 1979, I boarded N748TW at St. Louis for the short ride down to Oklahoma City and the 135-mile drive down to Altus, Oklahoma (Altus AFB) where I lived from 1977-81. I had no knowledge of its death-defying history over New York.
N748TW would depart OKC for Phoenix and San Francisco – and that’s what 707s did in those days. They did the milk runs and they flew vast distances. UNITED, in particular, flew the stubby 720 domestically. It was never upgraded to 720B status. They flew the nation. My first ever airplane ride was a UNITED 720 in 1961.
My ride that November night aboard N748TW would be my last 707 ride ever. By 1983, all of TWA’s 707s would be gone. In due course all passenger 707s would be gone – hauling freight or giving up their parts for the KC-135 program.
In the late 1980s – I worked on Boeing 707s for Independent Air – which was a charter from St. Louis down to Mexico. Independent Air had three 707s at STL. Two were former American Airlines – 707-323Bs while one was a TWA 707-331B. As I wrenched on these classic Boeings, I marveled at their history. American’s had been meticulously maintained – pristine. The TWA – not so fortunate. One of them later crashed in the Azores.
To me – Boeing’s 707 was the epitome of what we were as a nation at the time. Our post-war greatness in the Kennedy years. We were headed for the Moon and there was no going back.