New Vs Old: Comparing The Boeing 707 To The 787 Dreamliner

Boeing’s four-engine 707 was the US manufacturer’s first-ever jetliner, entering service with Pan Am in October 1958. In the more than 62 years that have followed this introduction, Boeing has become a key player in commercial aviation. Today, it represents one half of the industry-dominating Airbus-Boeing manufacturing duopoly.

Boeing 707 Getty
The Boeing 707 is widely considered to have been a catalyst for the ‘Jet Age.’ Photo: Getty Images

One of its more high-profile launches since the turn of the century has been the 787. The ‘Dreamliner’ entered service with ANA in 2011, exactly 53 years after the 707’s first commercial flight. Both of these aircraft defined their generations, but how do they compare?

Technical specifications

Boeing designed both the 707 and 787 families with the airline industry of the time in mind. As such, with air travel today being more accessible than ever, the Dreamliner is considerably larger than its late-1950s counterpart.

Nonetheless, their specifications make for an interesting comparison, and depict the changing demands of commercial aviation. In each instance, we will list the value for the 707-320B first, followed by the 787-8. These are the two variants that are closest in size and function.

LATAM Boeing 787 taking off
The 787 is well suited to the demands of the current airline industry. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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  • Length – 46.61 meters vs 56.72 meters.
  • Wingspan – 44.42 meters vs 60.12 meters.
  • Wing area – 283 m2 vs 377 m2
  • Height – 12.83 meters vs 16.92 meters.
  • Typical two-class capacity – 141 passengers vs 242 passengers.
  • One class capacity – 189 passengers vs 359 passengers.
  • Exit limit – 189 passengers vs 381 passengers.
  • Range (two-class configuration) – 9,300 km (5,000 NM) vs 13,620 km (7,355 NM).
  • Maximum takeoff weight – 151.5 tonnes vs 227.9 tonnes.

As we can see, the Boeing 787 outranks the 707 across the board. This reflects both advancements in technology and changes to the industry’s demands over the years. Another contrast is the number of cockpit crew each aircraft requires.

Today, almost all airliners, including the 787, have a two-person flight deck crew. However, older airliners, such as the 707, required a third crew member to be present in the cockpit. This person assumed the role of the flight engineer. However, the advent of glass cockpits eliminated the need for flight engineers as the twentieth century drew to a close.

Lufthansa, Boeing 707, Saviour Attempt
The 707, as was common with airliners of the time, required a flight engineer in the cockpit in addition to the two pilots. Photo: Getty Images

Operational history of the 707

As we have established, October 1958 saw US carrier Pan Am introduce the 707 commercially. Its maiden revenue-earning voyage was a transatlantic New York-Paris service, via a fuel stop in Gander, Canada. Before the year had come to an end, National Airlines had begun operating 707s leased from Pan Am on its New York-Miami route.

January 1959 then saw American Airlines begin flying its own 707s domestically. TWA followed suit in March, as did Continental in June. This year also marked the first example of a non-US airline flying the 707, in the form of Australian flag carrier Qantas.

By the late 1960s, the 707 had begun to become a victim of its own success, as it was too small for the demand it had created. As such, US 707 operations would come to an end in 1983, with TWA flying the last service on October 30th.

Lufthansa, Boeing 707, Saviour Attempt
Passenger numbers boomed over the course of the Jet Age. The 707 had been a catalyst for this, and, in the US, it ultimately became a victim of its own success. Photo: Getty Images

However, the aircraft enjoyed a much longer career elsewhere in the world. Indeed, it was not until three decades later that Iran’s Saha Airlines flew the very last scheduled 707 flight in April 2013. This meant that there was an 18-month overlap period in which both 707s and 787s flew.

Operational history of the 787

The first 787 variant to be launched commercially was the short-fuselage 787-8. As we have established, this first flew a revenue-earning flight in October 2011, exactly 53 years after the 707’s maiden commercial voyage with ANA. The popular, mid-size 787-9’s launch customer was Air New Zealand, who first flew the type commercially in 2014.

Saha Airlines Boeing 707
Saha Airlines operated the world’s last scheduled commercial 707 flight in Iran in 2013. After this, it continued to operate the aircraft for the Iranian Air Force. Photo: Danial Haghgoo via Wikimedia Commons

The latest and largest Dreamliner variant to be launched is the stretched-fuselage 787-10. Singapore Airlines launched this version commercially less than three years ago, in April 2018. As such, the Dreamliner has a lot of life left in it yet, and will likely enjoy a similarly long and successful operational history to the 707.

Design Life-Cycle reports that the 787 has a typical lifespan of thirty years. This suggests that the first retirements will occur in the early 2040s. However, Boeing is set to continue producing the 787 for the foreseeable future, given the number of unfulfilled orders (more on those shortly) on its books. As such, we may well see the Dreamliner gracing our skies well into the middle part of the 21st century.

ANA 787 delivery
ANA launched the Dreamliner commercially in 2011. Photo: Getty Images

Commercial success

Both the 707 and 787 have proven to be immensely commercially successful enterprises for Boeing. Across all variants, Boeing delivered 1,010 707s to customers worldwide. This figure includes 154 examples of the short-fuselage 720.

To date, this version remains the only Boeing jetliner not to follow its trademark ‘7×7’ naming system. With deliveries having reached four figures, the 707 sold nearly twice as many aircraft as the similar Douglas DC-8, which only managed (a still very respectable) 556 deliveries.

Meanwhile, the Boeing 787 is also closing in on 1,000 aircraft deliveries. It announced last April that Singapore Airlines would receive the 1,000th Dreamliner. However, according to Planespotters.net, this delivery is yet to take place.

Boeing 787-10, Operators, Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines is set to receive the 1,000th 787. Photo: Getty Images

Nonetheless, Boeing has still managed to deliver 992 Dreamliners since 2011. The most popular variant has proven to be the mid-sized 787-9, which represents 556 of these deliveries. 512 787 orders currently remain unfulfilled, giving a total order book of 1,504 aircraft. This is within the window for Boeing to break even on the project, which it estimates is between 1,300 and 2,000.

Conclusion

Looking at the two aircraft today makes for a fascinating comparison. Technologically speaking, such an analysis highlights enormous contrasts between the Boeing 707 and 787 Dreamliner. These differences depict just how far aerospace technology has come in the six decades since the 707’s first flight kicked off the ‘Jet Age.’

And yet, while they are technologically contrasting aircraft, they share an end result in having both fundamentally altered commercial aviation in their respective generations. The 707 had a democratizing effect on the industry, and helped change its social structure by bringing air travel to the masses.

Boeing 707 Pan Am
From the moment it entered service with Pan Am in October 1958, the Boeing 707 fundamentally changed the airline industry. Photo: Getty Images

Meanwhile, the 787 has been a key player in the drive towards more efficient twin-engine long-haul aircraft. The technological advancements that have increased its range and comfort have led to a widespread drive away from hub-to-hub traffic. This has rendered larger and less efficient four-engine aircraft such as the Airbus A340, A380, and Boeing 747 increasingly obsolete. The coronavirus pandemic only strengthened this trend as passenger numbers fell.

Overall, the respective commercial successes of the 707 and 787 families speak for themselves. In these aircraft, Boeing has produced two generation-defining airliners with industry-changing legacies. The question now is, what will its next one be?

Which aircraft do you prefer out of the Boeing 707 and 787? Have you ever flown on either, or both, of them? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!


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