The Boeing 367-80 was a prototype built by the Boeing corporation which was completed in 1954. It was the first of the now-iconic Boeing air transports - the precursor of the '700' family of airplanes. It was designated the 367-80 while under development to disguise the fact that it was an entirely new and groundbreaking design. The C-97 Stratofreighter, a large but then-conventional cargo aircraft based on the B-50 Superfortress, was originally based on the Boeing "Model 377" - so the "Model 367-80" sounded perfectly plausible as a follow-on.
Inside Boeing, it was referred to as the "Dash 80." Where the Model 377 and its variants were straight-winged, four-engined propeller cargo planes, the 367-80 had a sharply swept mainspar and four Pratt & Whitney JT3 turbojet engines developing a total of 40,000 pounds of thrust. At 128 feet in length and 130 feet in wingspan, it looked almost exactly like its immediate production descendent, the Boeing 707 - which would go on to change long-range commercial air travel forever. With a top speed of more than 600 miles per hour and a cruising speed of 550 mph and a ceiling of 42,000 feet, it set the standard for jetliner performance that remains in place today - broken only briefly by the Concorde and the Tupolev Tu-144.
Boeing had built the airplane as an enormous gamble. They had sunk more than two-thirds of their total profit since the end of World War Two into the project, and when the airplane was rolled out at its Renton, Washington plant they had no firm orders for any airplanes based on it. As part of the gamble, however, Boeing had gone ahead and invested into tooling up its factory to produce the Dash 80 types. In an attempt to woo the Air Force, the prototype had few windows and two large cargo doors to emphasize its carrying capability. Fortunately for Boeing, the Air Force immediately ordered 29 tanker versions which were designated the KC-135. As they attempted to sell the commercial 707 variant, however, Boeing found themselves in stiff competition with the Douglas Aircraft Corporation and its Douglas DC-8 jetliner. By concentrating their sales efforts on major airlines such as TWA and Pan Am, however, Boeing managed to secure an order for 20 707s from Pan American. The 700 series of airplanes, which fly today in U.S. airways in the forms of the 737, 747, 757, 767 and 777 - soon to be joined by the 787 - had been born.
The 367-80 was introduced to the public with an unexpected splash, when Boeing's test pilot Tex Johnston performed a full barrel roll in the aircraft while demonstrating it for the press and potential customers. Although he came close to being fired, he wasn't - and the Air Force was impressed. There are film clips and still footage of the Dash 80 in the roll available online if you look. The 367-80 itself went on to be registered as the first 'official' 707, with tail number N70700 (even though there were differences between it and the production jets that followed). After spending some ignoble years at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona, it now lives in comfort at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, in the Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport. You can look at it there next to its descendants, including the Concorde and the Space Shuttle Orbiter Enterprise.
Boeing 367-80 "Dash 80"
- Length: 128 ft
- Wingspan: 130 ft.
- Powerplant: Four Pratt & Whitney JT3 turbojets, 10,000 lbs. thrust each
- Ceiling: 42,000 feet+
- Range: 3,500 miles
- Cruise speed: 550 miles per hour
Boeing History: http://www.boeing.com/history/boeing/dash80.html
Steven F. Udvar Hazy Center
U.S. Air Force fact sheets on the KC-135