No matter how you gauge the success of Boeing’s 777, whether in terms of sales, profitability, safety, versatility, longevity or derivatives, few can argue the remarkable impact the twinjet has made on the industry since entering service almost 20 years ago.

Earlier last week, 24 years and 3 months after launching the 777, United Airlines revealed it is considering taking 10 777-300ER variants in place of 787s. What better excuse then to show how, in its October 22, 1990 edition, Aviation Week & Space Technology covered the birth of Boeing’s new giant after United’s original order?

The coverage included an extensive overview of the 777 program and its proposed ‘A, B and C’ market growth steps, all of which were ultimately fulfilled and more.  Although there is mention of a possible stretch (which became the baseline 777-300), there is naturally no hint of the 777-300ER to come. The long range stretch would galvanize the fortunes of the aircraft family, propelling it into the 21st century on the back of General Electric’s giant GE90-115B engine which was selected in 1999.

The package includes fascinating detail of the proposed wingfold option, developed at the request of American Airlines to enable the new twinjet to use the same gates as the DC-10. Although never selected by any operator, a new version of the wingfold developed for completely different reasons will be a standard feature of the 777X, the first version of which is set to enter service in 2019 –- 29 years after the launch of the baseline program!

The report also includes an illuminating vignette about why the ailing McDonnell Douglas was unable to win the United order with a proposed MD-11 stretch dubbed the MD-12X (which would later morph into a four-engined double decker concept aimed at the 747 ‘Classic’ market).  In a damagingly honest statement that surely sent deeper tremors of doubt through an already nervous airline market, Douglas Aircraft president Bob Hood is quoted saying the bid to United failed for at least two reasons: No. 1 “We’re not in a financial condition to really give great financial assistance.” No.2 because “I don’t think we could give them enough confidence that we were going to build the MD-12X.”

Talking of competition, Airbus also fought for the United order with the A330 which itself became a best-selling twinjet.  In 1990, when United announced $22 billion worth of orders and options for up to 128 Boeing 777s and 747-400s, Aviation Week proclaimed this effectively set it up as “an all Boeing airline capable of competing around the globe.”  Airbus would eventually breakdown the all-Boeing monopoly and today more than 150 of United’s 690-plus strong fleet is made up of A319s and A320s.

 

aviationweek.com