A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Boeing 727, Home - Straight Up
Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It is not always that I know without doubt where I was when something happened so many years ago. But the banner in this picture says April 10, 1980. At the time I had a very nice contract to take PR photographs for Canadian Pacific Limited so I photographed trains, trucks, transports, etc. I also had an equivalent situation with Air Canada for the same sort of thing and PR manager Harry Atterton dispatched me to Boeing in Seattle to photograph the 1600th Boeing 727 which happened to be the last Air Canada purchased. In all Boeing made 1832 of these airplanes but kept the last one for its museum. I remember making a PR boo-boo by asking the pilot to kick the tire. As soon as I said it and he looked at me sternly I realized what I had done.

In 1979, it was during the rainy season and I was in a humid and hot Palenque in the state of Chiapas. I had been chain smoking Veracruzan Flor de la Costa cigars all day to ward off the mosquitos. I felt like a miniature version of Indiana Jones as Palenque in those years was a hard to get to Mayan ruin. I was pretty well alone in the ruins and I could go anywhere and snap pictures to my heart's content. That night spend it in a nearby cheap hotel and asked the man at the front desk to wake me up early as I had to catch a early plane in the Villahermosa airport. This involved first catching a third class bus on the road outside the hotel. The man at the desk told me he had no clock so he could not really wake me up. I realized I was going to have to depend on my alarm wrist watch. I did not sleep.

I almost died with stress as the bus to the airport seemed to stop everywhere for peasants getting on with turkeys and chickens. The bus had many forward gears. Every time it stopped it took forerver for it to reach its very slow cruising speed.

But I managed to get to the airport just in time. On the tarmac there was this all-white Mexicana Boeing 727. I was sweaty and tired but the pristine appearance of the airplane invigorated me. That plane felt like civilization. It felt like home.

Anybody who has ever flown in a 727 will know the thrill of taking off and landing in an airplane that has three engines in its tail-end. The 727 needs a high angle of attack. This means that for a neophyte like me it feels like the airplane is taking off almost in a vertical position. There is nothing like taking off in a 727. Even though the 727 was the first jet airplane considered quiet enough to use LaGuardia Airport in New York City, June 1, 1964 the take off noise and the almost vertical position combined to making it for me the most exciting airplane I have ever flown in.

Harry Atterton had told me that the 727 was the first ever airplane to have been awarded a gold medal for valour. I checked on this and sure enough in 1972 Morocco's King Hassan II awarded the 727 a medal of honour for surviving a fighter strafing attack. And for more info on the 727 look here. I can understand why the 727 is considered the most successful commercial airliner of all time.

When I spot a 727 in some airport (usually a FedEx cargo version) I look at it longingly as I sit comfortably in what really is a flying bus. The thrill of flying has faded away for me. I can only feel glad that I have the memory of those vertical takeoffs - thrilling yet comforting. I was home.

And More
Flying without flying
Death by Powerpoint and Constellations

Addendum: My Texan friend Howard Houston flew a Boeing KC-135 tanker over Vietnam and he had this to say of the 727's steep climb.


I am sure that I flew in a 727 once or twice, commercially, a long time ago. I don't think that the USAF had any in their inventory when I flew for them. I do seem to recall the steep climbout, although I think that was a capability rather than a requirement.



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