The story of the prototype 707.
- By R.G. Thompson
- Air & Space magazine, May 1987
(Page 5 of 5)
Dash 80 wore its high-lift wings to the end of its career, and Boeing and NASA engineers tested a series of design ideas that depended on solid control at slow speeds. The aging airplane was landed on grass, dusty lake beds, soft earth, and even mud, using a landing gear system being considered for what would become the Air Force’s enormous C-5A Galaxy transport. The landing gear spread the weight of the aircraft over 20 tires instead of Dash 80’s 10. The tires’ flotation allowed the airplane to land on dust-covered mud only marginally more supportive than yogurt.
In 1965, with a long needle-like sensing unit, a comical face painted on its nose in honor of its 11th anniversary, and computer-mediated controls, it imitated the landing characteristics of a series of supersonic designs for NASA. A second set of controls enabled the copilot to take over and fly the airplane normally, a precaution that allowed the computer to crash without the airplane following suit. Dash 80 also tested scores of cockpit instruments and controls, some of which later showed up in the video display cockpits of the 757 and 767. But this was the stuff of swan songs.
On January 22, 1970, after completing the last of a series of flights designed to test an automatic landing system for the space shuttle, Dash 80 went into retirement. Its logbook showed 1,691 flights over 16 years for a total of 2,349 hours and 46 minutes, but it was not quite closed. In 1972 Boeing returned Dash 80 to nearly original condition for a reenactment of the record-setting cross-country flight. It ended in Washington, D.C., where Boeing presented the grand old 707 prototype to the National Air and Space Museum.
After the ceremonies, Wallick and Edmonds ferried it west to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in the preserving climate of the Arizona desert. For the past 15 years it has sat patiently at an aircraft storage depot, awaiting a slot at the Museum. The paint scheme Boeing once described as “an eye-catching blend of canary yellow, chocolate brown, and silver” has faded, but Dash 80’s legend and legacy are likely to endure at least as long as its tired aluminum can hold together.