Eastern 727
5 min read

The spiral bound 58-page illustrated booklet pictured below, TWA’s introduction to employees of the newest addition to our fleet, turned up in my company mailbox early in 1964. It was only of passing interest at the time. I wouldn’t be flying it for another ten years, after we started parking our Convair 880 fleet, and then I would fly it for the next twelve years as an ORD-based captain.

TWA book

The 727 ushered in a new era

There was no doubt you were flying a Boeing. It had that same “Mack truck feel” about it as the 707, but also like the 707 it was as sound and reliable as a US Dollar (in 1964). The cockpit and fuselage cross sections were the same as the 707 but that is where the similarity ended. Our first 727s, the dash 100s, grossed out at about a third of the 707-100’s weight but had two thirds of its thrust. Therefore, it was a little rocket by comparison.

The Seven Two had four main gear wheels as opposed to the Seven Oh’s eight. The 707’s wings and fuselages were much longer. The 707 had a ventral (bottom) fin with a replaceable hardwood skid in case of over-rotation, whereas the 727 had a tail skid that extended and retracted with the landing gear. The 727, flown domestically only, did not have the spear atop the vertical stabilizer for an HF antenna. We called her the three holer. When the wide body L-1011 and the DC-10 tri-jets came along, she became the “little three holer.”

The biggest difference in the 727 was its wing. Boeing wanted to deliver a (relatively) short field airplane, which called for many high lift device improvements and resulted in a wing with about as many moving parts as Rubik’s cube. Leading edge (LE) devices consisted of four LE flaps on the outboard, or skinny part, of each wing and three LE slats on the inboard, or fat part of each wing.

These not only increased lift but also caused the whole wing to stall at about the same speed to prevent the violent pitch-up characteristic of most swept wing aircraft. The LE devices deployed automatically with the extension of the trailing edge (TE) flaps, which were massive, triple-slotted, Fowler types. These significantly increased the wing area and camber, increasing takeoff performance at the takeoff setting and landing performance (and a lot of drag) when fully extended.

727 spoilers

To get its impressive short field performance, the 727 wing had a lot of moving parts.

There were both inboard and outboard ailerons and the outboards were locked out unless flaps were extended. In cruise, the inboard ailerons, in conjunction with the flight spoilers (raised on the down wing in a bank), provided excellent roll control with practically no adverse yaw. There were five flight spoilers on each wing and two ground spoilers. All spoilers were fully deployed on touchdown, killing virtually all lift and placing the aircraft’s weight on the landing gear for effective braking. It was quite a shock the first time passengers seated aft of the wing saw that they could see the ground through the middle of the wing when both flaps and spoilers were fully deployed!

The airplane was heavily promoted by all who operated it. Lighter, faster, quieter! Eastern Airlines even named it their “Whisperjet.” The joke among non-Eastern pilots was, “What is the Whisperjet saying?” The answer was, “I’m going to kill you.”

Most airplanes have an Achilles heel and the 727 was no exception. The Seven Two had a very nasty Dutch Roll characteristic. For that reason, there were two rudders with yaw dampers completely independent of each other. The yaw dampers were both required for dispatch and drastic speed and altitude reductions applied if only one was operative. The flight handbook warned that, “At high altitudes and cruise Mach numbers, the Dutch Roll characteristics of the 727, without the yaw dampers, is undamped and divergent. If not corrected it will deteriorate into a complete loss of control.” (Read a good explanation and demonstration of Dutch Roll here.)

Eastern 727

Whisperjet might have been a stretch.

As with so many successful designs, the manufacturer soon decided to stretch it. They added 22,000 lbs. with practically no increase in power, which caused one fellow I overheard to later say about the stretch, “She’s shore purdy, but she don’t fly so good.” Another captain told me he “had over 5000 hours in the stretch and 4000 of them were at climb power.” Well, our little sports car then soon became known as Miss Piggy.

The wags gave each ship a piggy name—it was usually hidden behind the buttons on the control yokes. There was, for example: Pigadilly; Sows about it?; Lard sakes!; Trough aloft; Pig o’ my heart; Star of Beiroot (the one that was hijacked to Lebanon); Auld Lang Swine; San Juan Sow; Queen of the Sty; and on, and on…

After all’s said and done, the 727 was a remarkable machine that served its operators well for many years. Boeing built almost 2,000 copies of the 727s between 1963 and 1984. Are there any 727s still flying? Yes, however you’re not likely to be able to fly on a 727 as a passenger anymore. Most active examples today are used as freighters or VIP transports. The last airline to operate passenger services with the 727 was Iran Aseman Airlines, who retired theirs in January 2019.

SOOIE!

Jeff Hill
16 replies
  1. Bryan
    Bryan says:

    As a passenger, I loved flying on the ’27. Not the fastest, but I think, next to the ’47, one of the prettiest of Boeing’s fleet. It had a look of ‘style’ that is sorely lacking in design these days.

    Reply
  2. Darren
    Darren says:

    Last night I was flying one of my airline’s newest Boeing 737-8 Max, delivered 2 months ago. While at the gate I pulled a handle back that unlocked the side window and slid it open and thought, “this window would be a direct fit in to a 727 (or a 707 for that matter)”. The Boeing bloodline is strong.

    Reply
    • Russell
      Russell says:

      I flew on a Max 8 for the.first time on Tuesday and was not impressed. It’s not much quieter inside than an 800 series and they’ve packed so many seats into the cabin that it’s very uncomfortable.

      Reply
  3. BBob
    BBob says:

    After flying for over 50 yrs and having flown numerous jets, I probably have more time in the 727 than any of them.. I started as a C/P
    at National then flew it as Capt at Pan Am, then as C/P and Capt at Delta. And as a note, I actually flew a couple of the same a/c in 3 different colors.
    First to make a note to Bryan above, the only transports faster at that time, were the Convair 880 and 990. Yes in normal cruise the 747 did cruise faster as did the 1011 and DC-10. I flew them all.
    People often ask “which one did I like the most” the 727 is right at the top of the list. And yes, the early 727-200’s were dogs, very under powered, once we got thee larger engines (-15&-17) it made a great performer out of it. So, I had fun in most, but the 727 was my favorite.
    If you can find the book,”Billion Dollar Battle” written by Harold Mansfield it is the story of how the 727 came into being. Quite a time in aviation history.

    Reply
  4. JohnW
    JohnW says:

    Love these airline history stories. My own career started in the mid/late 70’s just as the industry was being deregulated.
    Hat’s off to pilots like Jeff who jumped into the early jets with only 700 hrs and survived training and upgrades! Jet’s were new then, there was much less known about operating them and the training was far less “user friendly” then modern training has advanced to. Well done!

    Reply
  5. John
    John says:

    Although the Dutch Roll characteristics of the airplane were nasty, I’m unaware of any accidents attributed to that. I am surprised that there is no mention of the “gotcha” element of the airplane–those big and very effective flaps. The airplane may have climbed like a rocket, but it sank like the proverbial stone at flaps 40 and flight idle. Two fatal accidents in the summer of 1965 (CVG and SLC) helped call attention to the critical need for this airplane to be flown using stabilized approaches. See https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=5e7f072b-c5e7-42f8-9b15-1a2e94781766. . for a brief summary.

    Reply
  6. Judson Brandt
    Judson Brandt says:

    Did you ever fly with Capt Jay Brandt? He flew the Connie until TWA forced him into the 727. He never liked jets. He flew VFR KCI/STL at 3,000ft and STL/JFK at 14,500. I’m sure the CP “spoke to him about that.

    Great article.

    Reply
  7. John Mooney TWA Retired
    John Mooney TWA Retired says:

    I have more than 4000hrs flying the 727 and I think the leading edge flaps were on the inboard part of the wings with the slats on the outboard part! Correct me if I’m wrong. Also we flew the bird at Mach .85 cruise in the early years same as the 747 and 707-100’s!

    Reply
  8. LARRYO
    LARRYO says:

    I’m one that did not like the 72, it was great in it’s time, but has been replaced by much better Boeings. The 73, 74. 75. 76 replaced it rather quickly and other better planes followed. The 72 was a rocket ship and would do crazy things, like over the marker at 5K 250knots and still make a safe landing, but doing that with pax onboard was stupid.

    I was glad to get off that damn thing and flew the old 737 as a very senior captain for awhile… much better plane.

    Reply
  9. Rex Myers
    Rex Myers says:

    In 1965, I started on the 727 as a ships cleaner (dumping/servicing) the toilets. I upgraded to mechanic and did sheet metal repairs, engine changes, etc. That airline folded and in the meantime I got my Commercial and Flight engineer licenses. I did international flights as an engineer aboard 727-200s. When that airline went under I got a job as a copilot and became a Check Engineer. I then got on with UPS and flew the old gal as a Captain for a year. I retired off the 767 after 24 years with the company. Great story and great airplane.

    Reply
  10. Ron
    Ron says:

    Whisper Jet… Yeah that’s pretty funny. We laughed about that one often as we bored holes through the sky at 0’Dark 30 (Fedex). Right seat was the easiest. SO did all the grunt work, Capt had all the responsibility. But the right seater got every other leg and only had two switches to flip on the after start checklist. With the speed brakes partially deployed, she had an impressive roll rate. No passengers to upset. I flew all three seats over several thousand hours. I see those airframes parked at various airports being used for fire/rescue training and think,” gee, I’ve probably flown that ship at one time or another “ Makes me feel old.

    Reply
  11. BillM
    BillM says:

    I flew the 727 at two airlines. I once flew from LGA to DCA at 400 KIAS, mach .90. The noise in the cockpit was terrible, but the plane was fast!

    Reply

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