In the classic Hong Kong photo above, we see Thai Airways 777-2D7 HS-TJB (27727/32) "Uthai Thani" beginning
it's take-off roll on Rwy 13 at Kai Tak International Airport. (Michael J. Carter Collection)
The concept of the Boeing 777 reaches back to winter of 1986, when Boeing began to look at a new airliner to fit a niche between the 767-300 and the Mighty 747-400. The new aircraft would be used as a replacement for the aging
DC-10 and L-1011 fleets which would be reaching 25 years of age by 1996.
In 1988, Boeing gave this new project a name, the 767-X. From the outset, the program was completely market driven as a number of interested airlines worked with Boeing on the design of the new aircraft.
In late 1989, Boeing was feeling the pressure. Airlines were anxious for the program to take-off, the market was ripe for the new airplane, the timing was perfect. On December 8th 1989, the Boeing Board of Directors authorized the Commercial Airplane Group to issue firm offers to airlines and created the New Airplane Division in Renton, Washington headed by
Phil Condit as vice president and general manager.
In January 1990, Boeing and technical representatives from eight leading international airlines known as the "Gang of Eight" came together in a "Working Together" round table meeting to discuss the new airplane. The airlines included All Nippon Airways (ANA), American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Japan Air lines, Qantas, and United Airlines who were all asked to complete a 23 page questionnaire reguarding each airlines requirements for the new aircraft. The results were startling to say the least, sending Boeing back to the drawing board.
Following major design changes Boeing announced October 14th, 1990 that United Airlines had placed an order for 34 Pratt & Whitney powered 777s with an option for an additional 34 aircraft. October 29th, 1990 saw Boeing offically launched the 777 program creating a new chapter in the Boeing history books.
The 777 is the first 100 percent paperless designed Boeing airliner, due to the computer-based design tool named CATIA. The system was used to ensure a first time fit between parts, eliminating expensive rework. Boeing even constructed a
mock-up of the complex 41 section nose area for verification of the new tool and to its surprise
the new system worked flawlessly.
Boeing introduced the 777 to the world on April 9th, 1994 with much fanfare and special effects that even Hollywood would appreciate. In May the aircraft moved under it's own power for the first time beginning taxi and ground tests leading up to the first flight scheduled for June. Ground and taxi tests went well the only factor not working well was the Seattle weather. Finally though on June 12th, 1994 the weather improved enough and at 11:45am, Boeings latest dream took to the skies on its maiden flight which lasted 3 hours and 48 minutes, a record for an all new Boeing designed airliner. At the controls for this first flight were 777 Chief Pilot John Cashman and Director of Flight Test Ken Higgins who reported that the aircraft handled better than many other new production aircraft he had flown. The crew did perfornm one unusal test for a first flight and that was shutting down the left engine at 15,000 feet 240 knots. Allowing the engine to cool, then restarting it with a windmilling re-light.
Following a gruelling flight test program, the 777 was jointly certified by the FAA and the European Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) on April 19th, 1995. It was the first Boeing airliner to receive both certifications simultaneously.
One month later on May 15th, the first 777 to be delivered was handed over to United Airlines N777UA (26916/7) "Working Together" during ceremonies held at Seattles Museum of Flight which included a spectacular low level fly by of the prototype 777 much to everyones delight.
United operated the first scheduled 777 flight on June 7th, 1995 (UA921) on a flight between London Heathrow and Washington D.C. Arriving in the states 30 minutes early, the 777 flight completed the vision created five years earlier with the round table meeting between the "Gang of Eight" and Boeing.