In 1965, the Boeing name was synonymous with big multiengine jet airplanes, so when the company announced its new commercial twinjet, the 737, it quickly earned the nickname “Baby Boeing.”
The first 737 was the last new airplane to be built at Plant 2 on Boeing Field in Seattle, with a production run that included the legendary B-17 Flying Fortress, B-52 Stratofortress and the world’s first large swept-wing jet — the XB-47 Stratojet. While the old assembly building at Plant 2 seemed cavernous, it still wasn’t tall enough for the 737’s tail, which was attached using a crane in the parking lot. The plane was then rolled down to a nearby plant known as the Thompson Site, where Boeing had set up the first production line for the 737.
At a ceremony inside the Thompson Site on Jan. 17, 1967, the first 737 was introduced to the world. The festivities included a christening by flight attendants representing the 17 airlines that had ordered the new plane.
In 1967, the smaller, short-range 737 twinjet was the logical airplane to complement the 707 and the 727. There was increasing demand for transports in its category, but the 737 faced heavy competition from the Douglas DC-9 and the British Aircraft Corp. BAC 1-11.
To save production time, and get the plane on the market as soon as possible, Boeing gave the 737 the same upper lobe fuselage as the 707 and 727 so that the same upper deck cargo pallets could be used for all three jets. The 737 later adopted the 727’s cargo convertible features, which allowed the interior to be changed from passenger to cargo use in the 737-200 series.
The 737 had six-abreast seating — a selling point, because this way it could take more passengers per load (the DC-9 seated five abreast). The number of seats in the 737 also was increased by mounting the engines under the wing. This engine placement buffered some of the noise, decreased vibration and made it easier to maintain the airplane at ground level. Like the 727, the 737 could operate self-sufficiently at small airports and on remote, unimproved fields. The plane’s performance in these conditions led to orders in Africa, Central and South America, Asia and Australia.
At first, the 737 was called the “square” airplane because it was as long as it was wide. The new technology made the position of flight engineer redundant; the 737’s two-person flight deck became standard among air carriers.
On Dec. 28, 1967, Lufthansa took delivery of the first production 737-100 model, in a ceremony at Boeing Field. The following day, United Airlines, the first domestic customer to order the 737, took delivery of the first 737-200. The last 737-200 was delivered Aug. 8, 1988.
By 1987, the 737 was the most ordered plane in commercial history. In January 1991, 2,887 737s were on order, and Models 737-300, -400 and -500 were in production.
By 1993, customers had ordered 3,100 737s, and the company was developing the Next-Generation 737s — the -600, -700, -800 and -900. Boeing certified and delivered the first three Next-Generation models in less than one year.
The 126- to 149-seat 737-700 was launched in November 1993 and first delivered in December 1997. The 162- to 189-seat 737-800 was launched Sept. 5, 1994. The 110- to 132-passenger 737-600 was first delivered in 1998, and the 177- to 189-passenger 737-900 was first delivered in 2001. Customers began ordering the -900’s replacement, the higher capacity, longer range 737-900ER, in 2005.
The Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), launched in 1996 as a joint venture between Boeing and General Electric and designed for corporate and VIP applications, is a high-performance derivative of the 737-700. The BBJ 2, announced in October 1999, is based on the 737-800 and has 25 percent more cabin space and twice the cargo space of the BBJ.
The 737 serves as a platform for military derivatives, including airborne early warning and control (AEW&C). Nineteen 737-200s, modified as T-43 navigator trainers, served with the U.S. Air Force. The 737 also provides a platform for the U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon, a long-range maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft. The Navy C-40A Clipper is certified to operate in an all-passenger configuration, an all-cargo variant, or as a “combi” that accommodates both cargo and passengers on the main deck. The Air Force C-40B provides safe, comfortable and reliable transportation for U.S. combatant commanders and other senior government officials to locations around the world.
The 737 MAX is Boeing’s newest family of single-aisle airplanes. The family includes the 737 MAX 7, 737 MAX 8 and 737 MAX 9. The program has also launched the 737 MAX 200, a new variant based on the 737 MAX 8.
The 737 MAX’s more efficient structural design, lower engine thrust and less required maintenance are designed to give customers substantial cost savings. The 737 MAX will incorporate the latest quiet engine technology to reduce the operational noise footprint, and emissions will be approximately 50 percent below the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP)/6 limits for nitrogen oxides (NOx).
In July 2012, the 737 became the first-ever commercial jet airplane to surpass the 10,000 orders. By 2014, Boeing was building 42 737s at its Renton, Wash., factory every month, and planned to increase the rate 52 per month in 2018 to meet continuing demand.
The number one 737 was a prototype used for flight test and certification and never went into revenue service. In 1974, the plane turned in its Boeing house livery of dark green and cream for the sporty white and blue colors of NASA. For the next two decades, the plane was based at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia and had an outstanding career as a flying laboratory. Today, the plane is on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle surrounded by its bigger family members from the early 7 series and parked just a few hundred feet from where it first took to the air 40 years ago.