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Flashback Fridays: The World’s First Revenue 737 NG Flight

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Most airline geeks know that the 737-700 was the first of Boeing’s Next Generation (NG) 737s to enter service.  The -600, -700, -800, and -900 represent major improvements in range, emissions, and carrying capacity over the Classic Generation’s -300, -400, and -500 aircraft.  In turn, the Classics were a quantum leap over the two Originals models, the 737-100 and the 737-200.  Southwest Airlines was the first airline to operate a Classic Generation 737 in scheduled service when we introduced the 737-300, and the occasion was a huge deal with Bob Hope heading a big party, and General Chuck Yeager flying on the first flight the next day.  The first 737-300 was christened The Spirit of Kitty Hawk because it flew on December 17, 1984, the 81st anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight.  We also introduced the 737-500 into scheduled airline service in 1990.

 

Given our close association with the 737, it’s no wonder that we introduced the 737-700 and the NG line of aircraft into service.  On July 14, 1997, one of the test aircraft, N709GS (above), was parked at our Dallas Maintenance Base, and Employees could tour the new aircraft and get a taste of the future.  The tests operated simulated schedules over much of the Southwest system to give our Employees firsthand experience with the new airplane.

 

However, the first revenue flight was a very low key affair with no publicity.  This is a bit surprising, given the celebration we gave the 737-300.  This is especially so when you consider that, for Southwest, the introduction of the 737-700 required new interiors, new training procedures for all operating departments, new scheduling possibilities, and months of testing.  Yet, given all that, the 737-700 basically snuck into service on January 18, 1998.  N700GS sits (above) at the gate waiting for the ground crew to load the first bags.

 

No company photographers were there that morning to record the first flight, although fellow blogger Bill Owen joined me on the ramp prior to pushback.  This photo represents the “old” and the “new” of 737s.  Behind N700GS, a 737-300, N651SW taxies away from the gate.  This photo freezes a seminal transition point in air travel.  The 737-300 reigns supreme, at least for a few minutes more.

 

After Bill and the other first-flight Passengers head upstairs and settle in for departure, I am the only photographer left on the ramp to document the departure of Flight #11 to Houston Hobby and Harlingen.   The picture above is the first revenue pushback of a NG 737.

 

The tow bar is disconnected, Captain Greg Crum powers up the engines, and Flight #11 heads off for the runway.  If our collective memory serves correctly, Captain Milt Painter, who was the lead Pilot on flight testing and designing the training curriculum, was the flight’s First Officer.  A new air travel era begins just that quickly as a new airplane is about to enter the sky.  My camera and I are the only observers of this landmark event for commercial aviation, Boeing, and Southwest Airlines.

3 Comments

  1. Brian, good thing you were paying attention to document that noteworthy flight.

    Fuel was much cheaper when the NG took shape. The assumption was that one aircraft could cost effectively cover from short range to 3000 nautical miles.
    In the future, will there need to be two optimized aircraft for this size, one for up to 2000 miles, and one for longer legs?

    I think Boeing can competitively improve the 737-700. There is the ratio of engine fan area to take off weight. While Boeing may not be able to fit a fan big enough to compete in efficiency on a loaded 737-900ER, the current fan size might work for a lightened 737-700. If range is reduced and a less powerful optimized engine is used, maybe there is one more version left in this excellent platform.

  2. Hi JB,
    Thanks so much for your response, but Stanley is right, we never flew the Fairchild F-27 (the American liscense built version of the Fokker F27). In fact, we have only flown two types of aircraft in our 40 years of operation–the 737 and for a short time on two occasions the 727. Actually, Southwest has never flown an airplane with a propellor. You may be thinking of Pacific, West Coast, or Bonanza Airlines, which merged into Airwest, later becoming Hughes AirWest. Ozark and Piedmont also flew the F-27.
    Brian

  3. OK, Brian: That’s all fine. But listen to a SW old-timer passenger.

    I first became acquainted with SW when you were flying Fokker F-27s. Talk about quick turn-arounds! You would shut down #1 engine as you rolled to the parking place. The passenger door would pop open, and out came the co-pilot to meet the baggage handler, hand-pulling the cart. The rear left-side baggage door would pop open, the cart-puller would toss bags up to the co-pilot, (who had some mental system to load bags according to destination), the co-pilot would jump down, trot to the stairs behind the loaded new passengers, get back into the saddle, #1 engine would crank and fire, and you would taxi off to the runway. The whole think took less than 20 minutes; seemed like10.

    Come to think of it, you don’t miss that fire drill by much, even with 737s.

    Best Regards,
    J.B.