Sixty years ago today, May 14, 1954, the Boeing Company rolled out the Dash-80 prototype jet from its Renton, Wash., plant, powered by four Pratt & Whitney JT3 turbojets. The Dash-80 had been built to prove to airlines and the U. S. Air Force that jet transports were practical. It led directly to the iconic 707 and the KC-135 tanker.
The airplane was a tremendous risk for Boeing. There were no customers at the time and Boeing had spent $16 million of its own money. Boeing Chairman Bill Allen called it "a representative of free enterprise at its best." The risk was reduced significantly by the JT3, a civil version of the J57. Pratt & Whitney began development in 1948 and by 1954 the engine was flying on B-52 bombers and F-100 Super Saber fighters. At over 10,000 pounds of thrust Allen called them "the most powerful engines in the free world and probably the whole world today."
Mrs. William Boeing, wife of the company's founder, smashed a bottle of champagne across the aircraft's nose and proclaimed it "the airplane of the future." Looking on was Pratt & Whitney's top man General Manager Bill "Red" Gwinn. The Dash-80, in Boeing's brown, silver and canary yellow livery, could fly at least 100 miles an hour faster than any other transport of the day. It weighed in at 190,000 pounds and was 128 feet long.
The Dash-80 would serve as a flying test bed until 1969 when it was shuffled off to desert storage. The plane was brought back to Boeing and restored. In 2003 it made its last flight to Washington and the National Air & Space Museum which has designated it one of the 12 most significant aircraft of all time.