The Early History of the Boeing 737
and the Prototype Airplane

Boeing 737 Prototype Airplane    by Bob Bogash

The 4-engine Boeing 707/720 Series of airplanes marked the return of the Boeing Airplane Company to a prominent position as a supplier of commercial airplanes to the world's airlines.  Boeing's Stratocruiser had fared poorly alongside the Douglas DC-4-6-7 series and Lockheed Constellations.  It also marked the major transition of commercial air travel from propeller driven airplanes to those that were jet powered.  The 707 Prototype, the famous 367-80, or Dash 80, made its first flight in July 1954.  The 707-120 series entered commercial service with Pan American in October 1958.

As the 707-120 line expanded in size and range with the 707-320 and 720 series, Boeing designed a new airplane to bring jet airplane advantages of  speed, smoothness, and comfort to short and medium sized cities, and routes demanding less capacity than the 707.  The three engine 727 made its first flight in February 1963, and entered commercial service in 1964.  See the 727 Prototype story here.

To move further down the size and range chain, Boeing designed a smaller twin-engined airplane designated the 737.  (Many thought it curious that the airplane designated 727 had three engines while the twin-engined model was called the 737, but that was merely the result of Boeing's serial model designations.)  The 737 shared the same cab, fuselage size and construction as the 707 and 727, and also shared the same engines and many systems with the 727.

The 737 was designed by the same team under Jack Steiner that developed the 727, and many of its features were developed as variations of the 727 ultimate configuration.  Jack is credited with making the body the same diameter as the 707 and 727; Joe Sutter gets the nod for tucking the engines under the wings - a break from the then "norm" of tail mounted engines.  It became a formal program and offered for sale in November 1964.  At the time, much of the market for short range twin jets appeared sewed up by the competitive models already in service for several years:  the British BAC-111, Douglas DC-9, and to some extent, French Sud Caravelle.

The 737 program was kicked off on February 19, 1965, when the German airline Lufthansa (DLH) ordered 21 of the -100 models (-130, 30 being DLH's model code.)
 Gerhard Holtje, DLH's head guy, had forced the issue with a middle of the night ultimatum phone call to a dithering Boeing  top brass.  See here.  Boeing's Board had never before commenced such a new jetliner program with just a single customer and such a small number of airplanes.  They placed a bet - and the bet paid off.  The 737 was very late to the party, but ultimately beat all the hares in the contest.

Boeing 737 Prototype  Boeing 737 Prototype

In April 1965, only artist renderings and models placed on the Boeing Field flight line were available.

Boeing 737 prototype    Boeing 737 Prototype

Early promotional advertisements

A wind tunnel model used during the development

The airplane was assembled in the Summer of 1966 in Plant II at Boeing Field - where other historic Boeing airplanes were built, including the B-17, B-29, B-47 and B-52.

    43 Section

    Aft Pressure Bulkhead

    Joining 41 Section

In 1966, I was a liason engineer working on the 737 program.  My office was in the old 2-25 building, behind the old headquarters building (since demolished.)  Many people don't realize the 737 has been built in several places, and it is an especially obscure fact that the first 8 airframes were built in the Plant II building where B-17's once were assembled.  Seven of these airplanes became flying examples, the 8th (third built) was the static test article that was tested to destruction across the street in the Flight Center.  I participated in all the major events of the Prototype's construction, including joining of the body sections, the joining of the wings, installation of the horizontal stabilizers, and dropping the airplane onto its landing gear for the first time. 


This culminated in September 1966 with the first "Rollout".  The official rollout would come later, in January 1967, but on a beautiful late summer afternoon, we rolled the airplane out of  the factory.  Then and there on the ramp, (normally an employee parking lot,)  the vertical fin was installed (it was too tall to be installed inside the factory building), and the first engines were hung.  Little did I think that years later, she would be 'mine', nor did I dream I would be her Captain in operation.  But, these are the first pictures of the new 737, coming out of the factory, into the sunlight for the very first time.

The airplane was then rolled across the highway (East Marginal Way) for the first of six times over a 37 year period (I was there for all six !)  It was then towed down Boeing Field and back across the road into the factory building Boeing had built especially for producing the 737 (known as the Thompson Site.)  As the airplane was positioned in slot Number One of the 16 position building, I moved with it, and began a new work schedule: 4:00 PM - 2:00 AM, 7 days a week!


PA099 in her new spot in the Thompson Building

The 737 Prototype has had a number of designations.  Her Serial Number is 19437.  She is a 737-130, -1xx because she is a -100 series airplane (the shortest of what are currently 9 different lengths) and 30, because she was built to a Lufthansa (DLH) Detail Specification.  In Boeing internal manufacturing paperwork, she is PA099, as she was assigned the last number of a 99 airplane block (PA001-PA099) assigned to DLH airplanes.  [ This is different than other Boeing models; the first 727 was built to a United Air Lines spec and block and was assigned E1; likewise the first 747 was RA001, the first 757 NA001, the first 767 VA001, and the first 777 was WA001.]  She was registered with the FAA as N73700, and ultimately became N515NA with NASA, (or NASA 515 as I called her during her last 6 airworthy years.)  She's my 'baby.'

   Back into the Thompson Bldg from the Paint Hangar

By December 1966, the airplane had her flight controls and many systems installed, and was ready for painting for her official 'debut' or Rollout.  In Boeing jargon, she was "Shop Complete", although that was hardly the right description, and like many Boeing airplanes over the years, she would be built "on the Field."   Nevertheless, at midnight, on a December night, she was declared "Shop Complete" and was towed back across the highway to the purpose-built two-stall Paint Hangar at the north end of Boeing Field that would now have its first customer.  With a mechanic on the tug, and another in the cockpit on the brakes, I asked the shop if I could close the entry door prior to the tow.  As aware of history then, as I am now, I sensed this was the birth of something that would have an impact on both aviation and the world; it certainly had a big meaning to me.  At midnight on a weekday night, not too much competition was floating around, and they said "Sure."  So I climbed the steps of the aerostand, asked if the mechanic in the cockpit was ready, and swung the door closed.  It was an airplane now, at least on paper; she was the first Boeing 737.  And I completed her birthing and sealed her entry into the aviation world.  I was 23 years old and very proud then; I'm even more proud now.

The "Official" Rollout was January 17, 1967


Sadly, of the first 17 'kickoff' customer airlines, 13 are no longer in business, and 2 others have gone through

Bill Allen, addressing the assembled group of customers and workers


Stewardesses (they're Flight Attendants these days), from the kickoff customer airlines cracked champagne bottles across both her wing, and her nose radome - I was there too (of course!)

After the formal rollout, the airplane was taken across the street again and moved to the Boeing flight line at the northwest end of Boeing Field.  There, final installations were made, systems tested, and fueling performed.  I moved again with the airplane, this time working from a trailer behind the Flight Center with two old veterans, Al Kernick and John Ramsey -- still on night shift.  Since one of my first jobs was writing the maintenance procedures for the new airplane that involved, among other systems, the engines, I was there with a Powerplant Staff engineer named Sid Kent on a sunny Easter Sunday, when we started the engines of the new bird for the first time.  Four engine runs were done that day.  As her systems came alive, and she began operating on 'ship's power', she noisily shook in her wheel chocks and truly became the living thing that an airplane - a product of man's mind and hands - can become.  Thirty six and one half years later, on that same flight line, I started this great airplane's engines for the last time, and after a run of 2 hours and 37 minutes to nearly fuel exhaustion, sadly shut them down for the last time.  There for the first, and there for the last --  as linked by time, heart, and history as one can be with what is -- at least to some people -- just a machine.  Full story - click here

On Saturday, April 8, 1967, high speed taxi tests were performed on Boeing Field's 10,000 foot runway.  Now moving under her own power, she had truly become a living thing, like the Iron Horses of yesteryear.  And, on Sunday, April 9, 1967, after the last minute change of a balky hydraulic pump, she began her first takeoff run down runway 13 to the southeast.  Sprightly, then as now, she accelerated quickly and climbed out smartly for a 2 hour 30 minute first flight.  After a very successful first flight (some other Boeing first flights, including the 757 and 767 being not nearly as smooth), she landed at Paine Field in Everett, her test base until 10 hours flying time had been accumulated, when she could return to Boeing Field.

737 Test Pilots  Capt. Brien Wygle and Co-pilot Lew Wallick before the historic first flight

  9 April 1967 1:15 PM First takeoff to the south --  Boeing Field
Photo by Bob Bogash

Being as 'gung-ho' then as now, I recorded all the VHF radio transmissions on my airplane receiver, including the first flight evaluations radioed back to Flight Test ("This airplane is a delight to fly".)  I hung on to these reel to reel tapes for about the next 25 years, before dubbing them onto cassettes and presenting them to Brien Wygle at his retirement party, as well as giving a copy to the Boeing archives.

    Bill Allen

Boeing President Bill Allen shows his joy at the successful first take-off.  This picture says a lot.  Despite having a group of fine company photographers from whom he could obtain great pictures, Mr. Allen was out there with his trusty Rollei - and not an easy camera to use either (I have one.)

737 First Landing

After flying 2 hours and 30 minutes, the Prototype landed at Paine Field;
  Bill Allen's back to camera on right side,


            ......and yes, that's me!

Many more customers had signed up for the airplane, following Lufthansa's lead.

Brien Wygle, Lew Wallick, and Bill Allen talking to the press after the first flight.  On the left is Division GM Ben Wheat.  When long time Seattle TV anchorman Chuck Herring asked Bill Allen what he thought of the new airplane, Bill said "I think they'll be building this airplane when Bill Allen is in an Old Man's Home!"  (I have that on tape as well.)  Well, Bill Allen was more than right.  He's long gone, I've retired after a complete career at Boeing, and now it looks like Boeing will be building 737's when Bob Bogash is in an "Old Man's Home",.....and, beyond!  Like the Eveready Bunny, this is an airplane that just keeps going and going and going.

Six airplanes were involved in the flight testing and certification program - 4 -100's and 2 -200's.  They were added to the flight test program as follows:

Line Nbr 1 - 737-130 - N73700  -  First Flight 9 Apr 1967

Line Nbr 2 -  737-130  - N2282C  (D-ABEA) - First flight 13 May 67

Line Nbr 3 - 737-130  -  N2286C  (D-ABEB) - First Flight 12 Jun 67

Line Nbr 4 - 737-130  -  N2289C  (D-ABEC) - First Flight 5 Jul 67

Line Nbr 6 - 737-222  -  N9001U  (United Air Lines - UAL) - First Flight  8 Aug 67

Line Nbr 8 - 737-222  -  N9002U  (UAL) - First Flight 31 Aug 67

After 8 months of flying, FAA certification of the airplane was received in December 1967 in a ceremony in the Flight Center hangar.


      NASA 515 today

The 737 Prototype has had 3 names over its lifetime.  Shortly after, the first flight, she affectionately became Lil Toot.
Not too many people know that.  Maybe even fewer remember her second name, applied after Boeing became embroiled in a dispute with the FAA and the Air Line Pilots Assn (ALPA), over ALPA's demand that the 737 carry a 3 man crew (she was designed for 2 man only.)  That name was, appropriately enough, "Crew 'O Two."  (That disagreement hung out there for several years, with most U.S. airlines flying 3 man cockpits, while foreign airlines used two.  Eventually, after a special study commission, the U.S. carriers dropped the third crewman.)


A rare picture taken during early flight testing with Lil Toot still worn as her name.

The Prototype's third and final name, still worn today, was applied by NASA -  Fat Albert I


  As certification neared, Boeing began advertising intro into service.



On December 15, 1967, in a ceremony in the Flight Center hangar, the airplane received its FAA certification, with Approved Type Certificate A16-WE.

Lufthansa took delivery of the first 737 on December 28.  In the meantime, right after the certification of the 737 (literally), I packed up all my things and drove to New York, where I was assigned to Newark Airport to help United Air Lines place their first delivered airplanes into service.  The initial airplanes were operated from Newark where they began replacing 20 Caravelles United had in service on Northeast U.S. routes.  For more than 10 years thereafter, I worked as a Boeing Field Service Engineer, or 'Tech Rep', helping airlines all over the world introduce, operate and maintain their 737 airplanes.

Thirty years later, my life with PA099 rejoined, each of us in our retirement, as I became her caretaker for six years, preparing her for her Final Flight from Moses Lake to Boeing Field.  That story here.

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Copyright 2004-2022 by Robert A. Bogash.  All Rights Reserved

Last revised 10 Jul 2004
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