The Boeing 737 made its First Flight 9 Apr 1967 and received its FAA Certification on 15 Dec 1967.
During the period before first deliveries began, the
airplane was ordered by a number of airlines that operated into remote
areas and required the airplane to operate off unpaved runways.
These included Canadian airlines Nordair, Transair, and Pacific
Western, and Alaskan airlines Wien and Northern Consolidated.
With the low-slung, wing-mounted engines, this presented a challenge which Boeing was unable to solve in time to meet promised delivery schedules. Accordingly, initial airplanes delivered to those airlines were delivered without gravel runway capability until Boeing sorted out the challenges.
During 1968 and early 1969, Boeing developed a package of modifications that solved the problems.
Testing the gravel kit at Annette Island Airport near Ketchikan in Alaska
These included a nose gear gravel deflector (commonly called a
"ski"), pressurized air nozzles beneath the engine inlets (called
"vortex disipators"), and assorted other lesser changes.
After the changes were certified, the delivered airplanes were returned to Boeing for modifications in March 1969 and began gravel runway ops immediately thereafter.
Nordair 737 at Resolute Bay (CYRB) - world's most northerly airline airport
After several years of operating successfully from gravel
runways, several African airlines became interested in operating off
unpaved runways, but their runways were grass. Cameroon Airlines
was the first. The President of the airline came to Montreal to
observe Nordair's gravel runway ops. During that visit, the
Boeing salesman - Mark Holland - brought him up to my (tiny studio)
apartment, where I showed him a slide show of Queen Elizabeth's 1970
tour of the high Arctic, in which we flew her and the Royal Family off
gravel runways in 737s. The President was VERY impressed by my
July 1970 - Queen Elizabeth arrives at Resolute Bay
(Note the engine Vortex Dissipator)
To expand operations from gravel to grass, Boeing needed to develop performance numbers for the different characteristics of grass vs. gravel. One thing needed was the effect of wet grass on stopping distances. To research these effects, Boeing used PG199, a Flight Test 737-200, built to a United Air Lines spec, and retained for testing purposes. It was painted in the original yellow and olive drab paint scheme of the 737-100 Prototype (PA099) - and is often confused with that airplane.
It was fitted with the gravel runway package and flown by Boeing test pilot Lew Wallick into the grass strip at Hope, B.C. Water trucks were used to wet down the grass to allow the wet grass performance to be measured. The date was 21 Sept 1972, and it was late summer, and hence dry. Ordinarily, Hope is plenty wet and no water trucks are needed!
I found a video of the operation on YouTube - narrated by Peter Morton and Lew Wallick - you can find it by clicking here
Cameroon Airlines later bought the gravel/grass runway airplane and operated into grass runways in Africa.
A lot of P.R. pictures were taken of the Hope operations and were widely shown over the years. Accordingly, it popped up on my Bucket List to visit the airfield at Hope, and to do it in my RV-12 airplane - Tail Number N737G. By my reasoning, it would be the first return of a 737 (of sorts) to Hope. I wondered if the folks there were even aware of the small airfield's place in 737 aviation history.
On Tuesday, 11 October 2016, I pointed the nose of N737G north, then east and up the Fraser River canyon towards Hope - CYHE - after clearing Canadian Customs at Pitt Meadows.
Pitt Meadows Airport - CYPK
Here's the view of my instrument panel - the red is terrain above my altitude!
Coming around a bend in the river, there's the strip - in the right foreground, with Hope in the background.
Town of Hope, B.C.
Left Base Leg - landing to the East
On the ground. At about 1400 hrs local, on a beautiful Fall afternoon, a "737" has returned to Hope after 46 years!
Hope Airfield has a restaurant! - of sorts.
It's help yourself, and payment is on the Honor System
Hey! It's not every day that a big jet airliner shows up at a small grass strip in the mountains. Eh?
A 737 returns to Hope Airstrip.........great Memories indeed
We took some "snaps" - that's Canadian for "pictures"
Time to leave and return home to Port Townsend
Hope is at the confluence of the Fraser and Coquihalla Rivers
Following the Fraser River back west towards Vancouver
At one point, the afternoon sun, mountain shadows and reflections off the river combined to produce a stunning and surreal image.
A great view of Mt. Baker - this time taken from the North side.
A fine day for flying and a fine day to revisit a bit of Boeing 737 history.