New Vs Old: Boeing 707 vs 787 Dreamliner

Boeing’s four-engine 707 was the US manufacturer’s first-ever jetliner, entering service with Pan Am in October 1958.

In the more than 62 years that have followed this introduction, Boeing has become a key player in commercial aviation. Today, Boeing represents one half of the industry.

Lufthansa were also a large operator of the B707.(Getty Images)

One of its more high-profile launches since the turn of the century has been the 787. The ‘Dreamliner’ entered service with ANA in 2011, exactly 53 years after the 707’s first commercial flight. Both of these aircraft defined their generations, but how do they compare?

Technical specifications

Boeing designed both the 707 and 787 families with the airline industry of the time in mind. With air travel today being more accessible than ever, the Dreamliner is considerably larger than its late-1950s counterpart.

Both their specifications make for an interesting comparison, and depict the changing demands of commercial aviation. In each instance, we will list the value for the 707-320B first, followed by the 787-8. These are the two variants that are closest in size and function.

Length – 46.61 meters vs 56.72 meters.

Wingspan – 44.42 meters vs 60.12 meters.

Wing area – 283 mvs 377 m2

Height – 12.83 meters vs 16.92 meters.

Typical two-class capacity – 141 passengers vs 242 passengers.

One class capacity – 189 passengers vs 359 passengers.

Exit limit – 189 passengers vs 381 passengers.

Range (two-class configuration) – 9,300 km (5,000 NM) vs 13,620 km (7,355 NM).

Maximum takeoff weight – 151.5 tonnes vs 227.9 tonnes.

It is obvious that the Boeing 787 outranks the 707 across the board. This reflects both advancements in technology and changes to the industry’s demands over the years. Another contrast is the number of cockpit crew each aircraft requires.

However, interestingly, the older 707 has the edge in terms of cruising speed. The 707-320B could cruise at speeds of up to 974 km/h (525 knots), whereas a Dreamliner will typically cruise at around 903 km/h (488 knots), with a maximum of 956 km/h (516 knots). Once again, this reflects the changing demands of commercial aviation. While speed was key in the early years of the Jet Age, airlines today tend to favour greater efficiency.

Today, almost all airliners, including the 787, have a two-person flight deck crew. However, older airliners, such as the 707, required a third crew member to be present in the cockpit. This person assumed the role of the flight engineer. However, the advent of glass cockpits eliminated the need for flight engineers as the twentieth century drew to a close.

Saha Airlines operated the world’s last scheduled commercial 707 flight in Iran in 2013. After this, it continued to operate the aircraft for the Iranian Air Force. Photo: Daqniel Haghgoo

Operational history of the 707

In October 1958 saw US carrier Pan Am introduce the 707 commercially. Its maiden revenue-earning voyage was a transatlantic New York-Paris service, via a fuel stop in Gandar, Canada. Before the year had come to an end, National Airlines had begun operating 707s leased from Pan Am on its New York-Miami route.

January 1959 then saw American Airlines begin flying its own 707s domestically. TWA followed suit in March, as did Continental in June.

That year also marked the first example of a non-US airline flying the 707, in the form of Australian flag carrier Quantas. 

By the late 1960s, the 707 had begun to become a victim of its own success, as it was too small for the demand it had created. As such, US 707 operations would come to an end in 1983, with TWA flying the last service on October 30th.

However, the aircraft enjoyed a much longer career elsewhere in the world. Indeed, it was not until three decades later that Iran’s Saha Airlines flew the very last scheduled 707 flight in April 2013.

Interestingly this meant that there was an 18-month overlap period in which both 707s and 787s flew.

Media take pictures of Singapore Airlines (SIA) first Boeing 787-10 aircraft with a water cannon salute upon its arrival from Boeing’s production facility in North Charleston, South Carolina at Singapore Changi Airport on March 28, 2018. – The 787-10 is the latest variant of Boeing’s Dreamliner family of aircraft. SIA is the largest customer for the 787-10, with firm orders for 49 of the type. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Operational history of the 787

The first 787 variant to be launched commercially was the short-fuselage 787-8. This aircraft first flew a revenue-earning flight in October 2011, exactly 53 years after the 707’s maiden commercial voyage with ANA. The popular, mid-size 787-9’s launch customer was Air New Zealand, who first flew the type commercially in 2014.

The latest and largest Dreamliner variant to be launched is the stretched-fuselage 787-10. Singapore Airlines launched this version commercially less than three years ago, in April 2018. As such, the Dreamliner has a lot of life left in it yet, and will likely enjoy a similarly long and successful operational history as the 707.

The 787 has a typical lifespan of thirty years. This suggests that the first retirements will occur in the early 2040s. Boeing is set to continue producing the 787 for the foreseeable future, given the number of unfulfilled orders on its books. So, we may well see the Dreamliner gracing our skies well into the middle part of the 21st century.

Commercial success

Both the 707 and 787 have proven to be immensely commercially successful enterprises for Boeing. Across all variants, Boeing delivered 1,010 707s to customers worldwide.

This figure includes 154 examples of the short-fuselage 720.  To date, this version remains the only Boeing jetliner not to follow its trademark ‘7×7’ naming system.

With deliveries having reached four figures, the 707 sold nearly twice as many aircraft as the similar DOUGLAS dc-8, with only 556 deliveries.

Meanwhile, the Boeing 787 is also closing in on 1,000 aircraft deliveries. It announced last April that  Singapore Airlines would receive the 1,000th Dreamliner.

To date Boeing has still managed to deliver 992 Dreamliners since 2011.

The most popular variant has proven to be the mid-sized 787-9, which represents 556 of these deliveries. 512 787 orders currently remain unfulfilled, giving a total order book of 1,504 aircraft. This is within the window for Boeing to break even on the project, which it estimates is between 1,300 and 2,000 aircraft.


Looking at the two aircraft today makes for a fascinating comparison. Technologically speaking, such an analysis highlights enormous contrasts between the Boeing 707 and 787 Dreamliner. These differences depict just how far aerospace technology has come in the six decades since the 707’s first flight kicked off the ‘Jet Age.’

While they are technologically contrasting aircraft, they share an end result in having both fundamentally altered commercial aviation in their respective generations.

The 707 had a democratizing effect on the industry, and helped change its social structure by bringing air travel to the masses.

The 787 has been a key player in the drive towards more efficient twin-engine long-haul aircraft.

The technological advancements that have increased its range and comfort have led to a widespread drive away from hub-to-hub traffic. This has rendered larger and less efficient four-engine aircraft such as the Airbus A340, A380, and Boeing 747 increasingly obsolete.

The coronavirus pandemic only strengthened this trend as passenger numbers fell.

The respective commercial successes of the 707 and 787 families speak for themselves. In these aircraft, Boeing has produced two generation-defining airliners with industry-changing legacies.

The question now is, what will its next one be?


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