LONDON – Since its unveiling in 1964 and the first ever Boeing 737 flight in 1967, the Boeing 737 line is a success story which has, since its launch, gone from analog to digital and from the 737-100 all the way to the 737 MAX series.
Since the “original” Boeing 737 took flight, it has also gone on to become one of the best-selling commercial airliners in the world and is to date also a greatly selling aircraft in cargo conversions and Business Jet versions, otherwise known as the BBJ (Boeing Business Jet).
Without further ado, here is the history of the Boeing 737 family:
Envisioned years ago in 1964, first airborne in 1967, and first entered service commercially in 1968, the Boeing 737-100 marks itself as the start of the Boeing 737 Classic series.
The narrow-body twin-jet aircraft was originally built with the purpose of supporting the Boeing 727 on smaller routes. The aircraft featured six across seating with great passenger capacity, ranging from 85 to 130 on the 737-100 and -200 variants.
The powerplant? The state-of-the-art Pratt & Whitney JT8D in its time.
In total, the Boeing 737-100 and 737-200 have completed 1144 deliveries, and some can to this day be seen operative, such as in more remote cities in Northern Canada. Examples of airlines in the region are Air Inuit (3H) and Nolinor (N5).
According to data from Planespotters.net, Nolinor (N5) currently has a fleet of 9 Boeing 737-200’s, averaging a fleet age of 38.5 years old, with the oldest airframe closing in on 50 years of age.
However, flights on this airplane are not exclusive to the remote villages’ citizens and can be booked by anyone.
The Boeing 737 got itself quite an upgrade over a decade later when the Boeing 737 Classic series was launched in 1980.
The airplanes launched were the Boeing 737-300/400 and -500 series, offering an enhanced seat capacity with 110 to 168 seats, a glass cockpit, and brand new CFM 56-3 turbofan engines.
The Boeing 737 Classic series became a hit among the airlines, with a total of 1,988 airframes produced since its 1980 launch and 1984 first flight.
Although it’s not been produced for more than two decades, the Boeing 737 Classic series still serves its purpose in 2022 and can be seen with some carriers and charter airlines, despite their age and history.
The 737 Classic series did have one major difference in common, being the aircraft length. The original, midsized Boeing 737-300 aircraft did become the most common variant of the three, despite its length.
The 737-400 seated more passengers and was significantly longer, but it did however not turn out as successful as the -300 variant.
The Boeing 737-500 is the shortest aircraft of them all, with a similar length to the Boeing 737-200, and entered service commercially in 1990.
Compared to the 737-400, the Boeing 737-300 and -500 could be configured with winglets, which helped reduce fuel usage to some extent.
The Next Generation
Launched just years after the 737-500 embarked on commercial operations in 1990, Boeing launched the Boeing 737 NG (Next Generation) line of aircraft, which would later turn out to be a major hit for Boeing and major competition for Airbus’s A320 program.
The Boeing 737 NG series consists of the Boeing 737-600/-700/-800 and -900 aircraft, with the Boeing 737-800 being the best-selling model of them all.
The series entered the market as the third generation of Boeing 737 aircraft, with enhanced features overall.
The most notable of it all was its upgraded engines and enhanced glass cockpit featuring six large information and flight displays, including upgraded interior configurations. The seat capacities ranged from 108 to 215 across the types.
Since its introduction back in the early 1990s, 7,096 Boeing 737 NGs have been delivered as of September 2022.
However, passenger jet production for the Boeing 737 NG ended in 2019, with Military variants being the latest ones to be delivered and ordered.
As mentioned, the Boeing 737-800 became the favorite of them all, and its introduction with Delta Air Lines (DL) in 1997 was far from the beginning of the end for Boeing’s 737 families.
As the time came, Boeing delivered Boeing 737-800’s at a great pace, and it quickly became the favorite commercial aircraft amongst the airlines. On top of this, the Boeing 737 family, in general, reached its peak after becoming the most ordered airliner years prior, in 1987.
The 737-800’s success left Boeing with a total of 4,989 Boeing 737-800NG deliveries, according to delivery data from Boeing themselves.
The successor of the Next Generation program, the Boeing 737 MAX series, is not a very positive story compared to all three previous generations.
When Boeing’s head competitor, Airbus, launched their new Airbus A320neo (New Engine Option), Boeing knew they had to create competition for the aircraft as the newest Airbus reduced emissions both in fuel and noise drastically.
The Airbus A320neo featured aerodynamically advanced Sharklets instead of wingtip fences and larger, more economical engines.
As a result of the competition Boeing now faced, they enhanced the Boeing 737 NG fuselage, introducing an all-new cockpit layout featuring four massive screens, new, aerodynamically advanced winglets, and brand new LEAP-1B engines, which would further help the aircraft reduce fuel consumption and emissions, as well as providing greater passenger comfort with it’s lowered noise levels.
Upon designing, Boeing faced one major issue.
The aircraft was too low to compliment the noticeably larger and new engines, which made Boeing lightly adjust the height of the 737 MAX, as well as put the engines lightly above wing level, which is where the issues with this aircraft begin.
Due to the engine’s placement, wind tunnel tests during development proved that the aircraft would get the tendency to pitch up, leading Boeing to design a new sensor system nicknamed the “MCAS” (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System), which would depict information given from AoA (Angle of Attack) sensors, to help the plane stay leveled.
However, things turned disastrous in late 2018 and 2019, when two Boeing 737 MAX aircraft fatally crashed in just months separating the deadly accidents, which cost the lives of more than 300 passengers across both flights.
Following the two accidents, it became clear that the two accidents were of similar origins, leading aviation regulators, such as the FAA and EASA, to impose nationwide groundings and airspace closures for the 737 MAX aircraft until its safety was reevaluated and marked as safe.
The failure of the MCAS sensor system was later figured out to be the cause of the accidents after faulty readings sent the aircraft into a nosedive, causing the impacts.
However, information emerged that Boeing did not provide the FAA with proper documentation about the MCAS system either.
Following a more than 1.5-year grounding, with multiple flight hours and tests done, the FAA gave the Boeing 737 MAX the green light, which other aviation authorities later followed up on.
However, these two accidents severely damaged passengers’ relationships with Boeing, as the re-introduction of the aircraft type saw airline passengers being scared of flying the aircraft type, given its history.
Today, the Boeing 737 MAX has now stayed airborne since its re-certification, without crashes, and is becoming more and more of a common sight in the air. Of course, the aircraft is a great alternative and competitor to the A320neo program, given its more environmentally friendly features.
In August of 2022, the Boeing 737 MAX family had 890 deliveries and is widely operated in the United States by carriers such as American, United, and Southwest, as well as European Low-Cost Carrier Ryanair, including its subsidiaries.
The 737 MAX family currently consists of the Boeing 737 MAX 7, MAX 8, MAX 9, and MAX 10, however, the 737 MAX 7 and MAX 10 are currently not in commercial operations due to certifications.
The family concluded
The Boeing 737 family goes a very long time back, but it is also one of Boeing’s greatest success stories, with thousands of deliveries and numerous happy customers.
The family now has four generations, with all of them still flying, and the first generation especially, in some places, to this date.
Despite the Boeing 737 MAX issues Boeing faced, orders are rolling in, and deliveries are rolling out; however, it will be hard to tell if it will become as successful as the Boeing 737-800NG became.
Regardless, the Boeing 737 is an iconic aircraft in aviation history, with quite the family tree behind it.