The success of the 737 has been immense but at the time of its development it had a mountain to climb. It would be United Airlines, more than any other, that Boeing has to thank for getting the type past its rough early years to where it is today and the ‘Fat Little Ugly Fella’ i.e. FLUF certainly put in the hard yards over the years for United.
Immediately following the Second World War it was obvious that the United States held a clear superiority in the field of piston engined aircraft. Though the C-54 Skymaster was already effectively obsolete, with the L-049 Constellation about to enter service and the DC-6 just around the corner, the best aircraft the British could put into service were crudely converted bombers like the Avro Lancastrian, no match even for the unpressurised C-54/DC-4.
The Douglas DC-4 originated from the unrelated first DC-4 (which was renamed the DC-4E) that had proved too complicated and lacking in performance prior to World War Two. The advent of the war interrupted the new DC-4s use as a commercial airliner and after the first prototype was constructed nearly 1,170 came off the production lines for the military in a large number of variants. The basic types were named the C-54 Skymaster (for the USAAF) and the R5D (for the US Navy).
United was the joint launch customer for McDonnell Douglas’s new trijet widebody in 1968 along with American Airlines. The arrival of a large fleet of 747s helped United to lose $46 million in 1970 however that didn’t stop them ordering an impressive fleet of DC-10s. They ordered 30 with 30 options and the type entered service on 16th August 1971 seating 222 passengers. Forty six were delivered up to 1981 including five which were initially leased to Delta while they awaited their Tristars.
Pan Am had been on a long downward slide since the early 70s and by 1985 it was in a right mess. It had managed to lose $762 million between 1980 and 1985, including a whopping $206.8 million in 1984 alone. Huge debt from overspending on 747s, inefficient operations, an aging fleet , the disastrous National takeover and industrial action had all contributed.
United Airlines on the other hand was on the up having recorded sizeable profits in both 1983 and 1984. It had long desired an expanded international network and was in a good position to take advantage of Pan Am's weakness.
United took delivery of 28 stretch 727s from May 1968 through till June 1969. It was to be an 8 year wait until they took delivery of further -200s in the form of over 60 Advanced models, which became the mainstay of their medium haul fleet in the 1980s.
Aeroclassics just released their Stars & Bars liveried version of the 727-200 a few months ago. To be honest I wasn't going to get it because I already had the Aurora version from years before, which actually uses the same mould as the new Aeroclassics version. An order mixup however has given me the chance to be able to compare the two releases which depict the same colour scheme on different frames.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: