Even a casual reader of Flashback Fridays will know that the Boeing 737 features prominently in many of these posts. I thought we would take a moment to look at a few pages from the 737 history book this week. For instance, how many of you know which airline was the first to operate the “baby Boeing?” United would be a good guess, and some of you probably said Southwest, but the 737 was already an airline veteran, having entered service three years before our first flight. Actually, the German carrier Lufthansa was the first to operate the 737, and the first variant was the short-bodied 737-100. On February 10, 1968, Lufthansa became the first international airline to introduce a Boeing jet, and only 30 737-100s were completed. I was fortunate to fly on a 737-159 being used by Air Cal in 1981. This aircraft, N472GB, was one of the five -100s built for operators other than Lufthansa, and it was flown by Avianca, the Luftwaffe, and Aloha, before arriving at Air Cal.
United was the first to operate the widely used 737-200, and the first -200 went into service on April 28, 1968. Another interesting fact about the early operation of the 737 was that the United aircraft initially operated with three-pilot cockpits, a Captain, First Officer, and Second Officer/Flight Engineer, even though it and the rival DC-9 were designed for two-pilot operation. Southwest’s first 737s were 737-200s. The photo above is from our last 737-200 flight on January 17, 2005. The 737-100 and 737-200 are considered to be the “Original” generation of 737s.
Once Southwest became established as a major 737 operator, we began to take the lead in the the 737s future life. We were the first airline to operate the new 737-300 and 737-500 variants. The photo above shows the first -300 to operate in airline service, N300SW, and yes, that is Chuck Yeager. The 737-300, 737-400 (not operated by Southwest), and the 737-500 comprise the “Classic” generation of 737s.
Boeing continued to upgrade the airframe, and the Next Generation, or NG family, was born in the 1990s. Once again, we were the first to operate a new 737 variant and the first to operate the initial NG family in early 1998 with the introduction of the 737-700. The NG family includes the 737-600, 737-700, 737-800, and 737-900. Boeing’s 737 is well on the way to overtaking the DC-3/C-47 as the most numerous airliner ever built. On February 13, 2006, we were part of a huge milestone for the 737 family when we accepted the delivery of the 5,000th 737 to be constructed (above).
The day after the big gala, N230WN was made ready for its delivery flight. One of the highlights of picking up any new airplane at the factory is the signing ceremony, and above, we see all the folks gathered around for the big event.
N230WN carries a special plaque proclaiming its place in aviation history.
Another time-honored tradition of delivery flights is the salute by the Boeing folks and our own Employees at Boeing Field as the first flight leaves the ramp area.