TWA 707
5 min read

One of the first large, long range, intercontinental jet airliners to come on the scene in the late 1950s and early 60s was the Boeing 707. For TWA’s most senior pilots, moving from pistons to jets was the biggest transition since the change from visual to instrument flying in the 1930s. Several of our older captains opted to bypass the jets and finish their careers flying the Connie. The younger fellows, on the other hand, could hardly wait to jump into a jet!

But for many of us less experienced young bucks the transition was not easy either, as there were many  differences and totally new concepts: thrust vs. horsepower and expressed as “EPRs” (Engine Pressure Ratio), making RPM and MAP obsolete; thousands of pounds vs. hundreds of gallons of fuel; high altitude meteorology and Mach buffet vs. stall buffet; spoilers vs. ailerons; split spoilers to control pitch in the event of a jammed stabilizer; Dutch roll, high altitude meteorology and physiology, and more.

When it came to flying the jets the first thing we learned was that jets don’t respond to power changes like prop planes. they will only go up or down if you point them up or down, and then they will—at alarming rates of climb and descent! Suddenly everything happened much faster than it used to.

Water wagon 707

The early “water wagons” were underpowered. (Photo by Jon Proctor)

Our first 707 was the Boeing 707-131 (707 is the basic model designation, -1 is the first variation and the next two numbers are the customer code, in TWA’s case, 31). The first were the “water wagons.” The Pratt & Whitney JT-3 straight pipe engines were injected with water, boosting engine thrust for takeoff from 11,600 to 12,400 lbs. per engine. When re-engined with higher thrust, cleaner, and quieter fan engines, they became B-707-131Bs. They seemed like rockets at fight training weights (low fuel loads and no payload)–practically unmanageable, it seemed! Most training was still done in the airplane as simulators had not yet advanced much beyond procedures trainers.

I had checked out as captain on the DC-9 in 1968 and a short time later graduated to the Convair 880 in 1969. By May of 1971 I had over 1000 hours of captain time in the 880. Then the energy crisis and recession hit us in the 1970s. I was displaced (twice) from the left seat due to cutbacks so I bid first officer on the 707 international out of JFK. I was rated on the aircraft as it was company policy that all international F/Os be type-rated on the equipment flown, but I never flew it as captain.

The first thing I learned from commuting to New York from Chicago was that it is the perfect way to really screw up the best job in the world. I also found out that there are four, not three, “most useless things in aviation.” In addition to, “the runway behind you, the altitude above you, and the fuel in the truck” there is: the four-stripe co-pilot, so I was told.

At the time, the senior 707 trip was the around-the-world flight: eleven days westbound, or ten days eastbound. One trip was worth about 10% more than a full month so after flying one trip a month for ten months (and with your one-month vacation) you were done for the year! Sound like a dream? They were killers. I flew only three, one westbound and two eastbound. When I got home, I was a basket case, getting up and going to bed at all hours of the day and night and crabby most of the time. When I told my wife, Sharon, that I wasn’t going to fly them anymore, she was overcome with joy, and said, “Oh, good—you’re just awful when you come home from that trip.”

My first around-the-world trip was the westbound. It began by wasting half a day getting to New York. Then after a quick nap (hopefully), I flew east all night to London (LHR) with a layover. The next leg was the polar flight west from London to Los Angeles (LAX). On a fine day this was most interesting, with magnificent views of the frozen polar wilderness. On the polar route, all directions are true, not magnetic. We would set our “polar path” compasses from slaved (magnetic) to the gyro position. Even the few VORs up there are oriented to true north.

TWA 707

Flying around the world in a 707 was not an easy job.

Then it was LAX to Honolulu (HNL) and HNL to Guam (GUM). Guam is an interesting “South Seas Paradise.” It was a very popular honeymoon destination for Japanese newlyweds. I had fun taking pictures of couples taking pictures of each other. I also loved looking through the remains of the Japanese concrete pill box bunkers along the beach. The water is so clear, they say it offers some of the best scuba diving in the world.

Next it was GUM to Hong Kong (HKG), where the crews bought so much duty free stuff you would wonder how the plane ever got off the ground. Then HKG to Bombay (BOM, now Mumbai); BOM to Tel Aviv (TLV); TLV to Rome Fiumicino (FCO); FCO to JFK; then stand-by for a space-available seat on a Chicago bound flight home.

At each stop the previous day’s crew would take over for the next leg, but the same old 707 would keep on a trucking with little more than fluids servicing and an occasional tire/wheel change. What a workhorse!

Okay, so what about flying the seven oh? In a word, RELIABLE. It was not a dream to fly like the Convair 880 and not as pretty, I think. The seven oh felt very “Mack truckish.” Of course, we were at nearly maximum gross weight on almost every departure, so it was hardly a rocket—we dusted off a lot of roof tops on our way out of town.

Jeff Hill
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15 replies
  1. David
    David says:

    Great stuff from the glory days of the airline biz! When I was with an AWACS squadron in the early 80s, deployed to Riyadh, we kept an E-3 (707-320B) in the air 24/7 with the help of our brethren flying the visually-similar KC-135 tankers. The KCs had water-burners back then, and watching a max-gross takeoff on a hot summer day was an exercise in nail-biting. The engines at full song on water (while painfully inadequate for hot, heavy takeoffs) were ridiculously loud, with prodigious amounts of black smoke admitting comparisons to “a runaway oil-well fire.” On the A-model E-3s, we had TF-33s — and we were never taking off in the middle of the day (as the tankers did, to refuel the “day shift” AWACS) — but our summer CFLs were still impressively long.

    Reply
    • Rob S
      Rob S says:

      David,

      Which squadron in AWACS? I was a pilot in the 964th from 1983-87, with many missions out of Elf-One (Riyadh) myself. I remember many times sitting poolside on the “Green Beach” at the Al Yamamah and hearing the growing howl of a -135 on water as they took off at the air base a couple of miles away, passing directly overhead sounding like a 4-ship of fighters departing in full burner and leaving a smoke trail miles long…good memories.

      Reply
      • David
        David says:

        I was also in the 964th! I was an FE, and I probably left for 3 years of AECP-provided undergrad work right around when you got there. I was working with Bernie Glaze as a simulator instructor when I left for school, but I did 7 trips over to Riyadh and one to Kef.

        Reply
  2. TWA CAPTAIN S.R.”DUSTY” West
    TWA CAPTAIN S.R.”DUSTY” West says:

    Jeff: I served with you @ TWA & “TARPA”- I too flew All the TWA 707’s, 727, L-1011,747,757,767- also flew the KC-135 water wagons( & flew the Max wt. -mido T.O.’s many times & the F-100’s & F-105’ in USAF & ANG- you are right the 707 was a reliable rugged workhorse- but of all the TWA A/C – I loved the L-1011 best !
    Cheers to you my old friend
    S.R.”DUSTY” West

    Reply
  3. mac mclauchlan
    mac mclauchlan says:

    British European Airways bought the BAC !-11 in 1968, their first 2 crew 2 engine jet. Initial conversion before their simulator purchase was all done on the airplane. As a F/O on the first course after 4 years flying Viscount 800s we climbed to 33000′ for a Mach run demo of .8Mmo, my splendid ex Vanguard instructor commented,” guess this is as high and fast as you have flown?”. My total untactful reply, ” Not quite, I went supersonic in 1957.” I bought the beer that evening! Later when a Boeing 747-400 training captain I trained ex F4 & Lightning pilots and kept a low profile.

    Reply
  4. Phil Brooks
    Phil Brooks says:

    Great stories, thanks! My all time favorite airline/aircraft combination. FYI the first photo is by Jon Proctor, can you please credit him? Here’s a page from his website showing that photo. The site is now maintained by the World Airline Historical Society. Jon passed in 2020. You may have known his brother Bill (also gone…), who retired off the Tristar at TWA.

    https://jonproctor.net/chicago-through-the-years/

    Thanks! Please keep these stories coming!

    Phil Brooks
    President
    World Airline Historical Society

    Reply
  5. Ian Goldie
    Ian Goldie says:

    I loved Jeff’s article. I am of a slightly later generation but privileged to have flown the seven- oh for five years. I particularly loved his comment comparing it to a Mack truck….boy can I relate to that. It has been easily the most physically hard aircraft I have ever flown…one had to watch it all the time…no bad habits just demanding. In hot’n high airports, you would invariably see the red lights ( Nairobi was a classic). No apu…horrible in the middle east summers, but it was a wonderful aircraft to learn one’s trade in. Probably the hest thing was learning anticipation.My next was the MD-83. It was soooo easy after the 707. Then the 757 with those great big asi’s…I could fly that to 1 knot. Ah the 707…hmm… never get that sort of foundation again.

    Reply
  6. John Mooney Capt. TWA
    John Mooney Capt. TWA says:

    Great story Jeff that I can relate to ; I also flew 3 round the world trips as F/O the last one taking 16days! Never again! Loved the 707 but still think the 1011 was the best of the best: wanted to fly the 880 but missed out and still kicking myself!

    Reply
  7. Francisco Dalmau
    Francisco Dalmau says:

    Great article altogether! I did not know soon-to-retire captains by-passed the chance to fly B707s and stuck on Connies! Really like “nuts about airplanes” before he finished grade school, It actually reminds of myself! Loved flying on TWA as pax

    Reply
  8. Chris Michaels
    Chris Michaels says:

    WENT WITH MY DAD SEVERAL TIMES AS HE FLEW THIS TWA ROUND THE WORLD BID BEFORE HE TRANSITIONED
    TO 74’S. BEING WITH HIM IN THE COCKPIT FOR THE CHECKERBOARD APCH INTO KAI TAK WAS SOMETHING I WILL
    NEVER FORGET. THIS ARTICLE BROUGHT ALL THOSE GREAT MEMORIES BACK. THANKS ALOT JEFF

    Reply
  9. TOM MAHER
    TOM MAHER says:

    Thanks for the memories, Jeff. I also flew a number of the RTWs each way as an type rated F/O. I am surprised not to have known you, just a few months junior to you, (early ’65) but what a BIG difference those months made! I tried to resign my regular USAF commission from Germany in July ’65, but was obliged to complete my commitment for training in the new F105/Thunderchief at Nellis AFB. I picked up a new F105 at the Republic factory on Long Island, NY; flew it to Mobile, AL. We were delayed there for a month because of the assassination of JFK before we could fly our flight of four across the Atlantic to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.
    On month to the day before my separation, December 1964, I was on a maintenance test flight. I was forced to eject because of a fire that eventually burned through the flight controls.
    My TWA class was 100% military, 65/03. We went directly to the 707 and assigned to International as second officers. Thus, I never turned a prop for TWA, but eventually became type rated in every jet that TWA ever owned.
    I was flying 707 F/O on the RTW flights when I got my B747 training assignment. Most of the training was in the actual aircraft in those early days. Our training was interrupted when our training plane, TWA’s 2nd, was needed for the JFK-FCO inaugural flight.
    Because of the RTWs and training, I had an 85 hour bow wave; couldn’t return to the line; Viola, a July vacation at my seniority?!
    My memories of the RTW include the fact that we stayed in the stayed in the same hotel rooms as the departing crew. We developed the tradition of leaving cold beer and snacks for the inbound crew, sometimes in the fridge but occasionally discretely hidden from the maids. A gratifying welcome!
    My crew was deadheaded to Guam on PanAm to replace the Guam inaugural crew, all 605 VIPs. We did get to fly the inaugural of Guam to Colombo leg. We were met with elephants and dignitaries on the ramp with a pound of tea and trinkets for all on board.
    Because of my seniority, OR lack thereof, I could only hold the 747 in the summer; back to the 707 in the Fall. I probably did this transition more than anyone, so much so that the check captains would comment on why I didn’t try to flare the 707 at 50 feet, which they were always alert for. I retired flying @ 60, on the B767.

    Reply
  10. TWA Capt. WEP Anymouse
    TWA Capt. WEP Anymouse says:

    Seniority rules, so RTW trips were beyond my reach. My initial assignment with TWA was JFK International 707 F/E. Two years later, having the required flight hours for the ATP (but no jet time), I bid JFK F/O. After ground school, simulator, and a couple of hops in a Lockheed Jetstar, I climbed in the left seat of a 707-331C cargo plane at the old Kansas City Airport, MKC. Although I wouldn’t fly captain for many years, it was fun to play the role during training; even taxiing was fun. Cool day, big fan engines, lots of thrust, light fuel load—at brake release, everything happened fast. On a series of flights, we did all the stuff in the syllabus, some high altitude maneuvers, but mostly approaches and landings (on night flights, waking up neighbors around MCI). I did OK, but I nearly gave my instructor a heart attack on the rating ride. Departed MKC, went to altitude, then approaches and landings at St. Joseph, MO. After ILS, all-engine, engine-out, VOR, etc., I was cleared for an ADF approach Runway 36, circle either direction to land Runway 18. The smart thing was for me to get down to the MDA (probably 500-600’ AGL—don’t remember—later changed to 1,000’ minimum) as quickly as safe and legal so my instructor could pop the hood, and I’d have plenty of space and time to set up on the downwind leg (preferably to the right of the runway for good visibility), complete the checklist, and complete the approach. In my concentration on tracking the tail of the needle, flying as smoothly as possible, not diving and busting the MDA, mentally reviewing missed-approach procdures—when Captain Ed Flynn pulled the hood, I was stunned to see that I was way down the runway, almost exactly abeam the touchdown zone, closer to the runway than comfortable, and on the left side. BUSTED!!! But immediately realizing I was still wearing the airplane and had to keep flying, I rolled into a 30-degree bank, called for final flaps, called to complete the checklist, desperately hoping I could safely salvage the approach. Fortunately, through no fault or skill of mine, barely able to see the end of the runway in the turn, we rolled out perfectly lined up, maybe 100-150’ AGL. Just as I started to flare, Ed commanded, “GO AROUND”, then burst out with a huge gasping sigh of relief, “WELL! I never saw one like THAT before!” In an act of compassion and generosity worthy of Pope Francis, FAA Inspector Bob Norris gave me an UP.

    Reply

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