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Published on Jan 23, 2007
On August 7, 1955, Alvin M. "Tex" Johnston stuns the crowd at the Seafair Gold Cup hydroplane race on Lake Washington by barrel (or aileron) rolling the prototype Dash-80, the precursor to the Boeing 707, thus launching the era of the modern commercial jet. Johnston's co-pilot was Boeing test pilot James R. Gannett (1923-2006). (What Johnston did with the airplane was called a barrel-roll but some consider it an aileron roll in which a plane rotates on its long axis, rather than describing a "barrel" loop. However, unlike a conventional aileron, or snap, roll, Johnston maintained positive gravity through the maneuver.) Even Boeing President William Allen is taken by surprise as he escorts potential customers who are seeing the jet for the first time.
Flying at more than 400 miles per hour just 400 feet above the water, Johnston commenced a sudden ascent. The jet's swept-back wings spiraled as the 128-foot-long, 160,000 pound plane rolled, flying for a short time upside down. Then, for extra measure, Johnston performed a second barrel-roll. Boeing President Allen asked a guest with a heart problem if he could borrow his pills. The potential jet buyers were duly impressed.
By the time Johnston broke the transcontinental speed record in 1957 by flying from Seattle to Baltimore in three hours, 48 minutes, orders for the new 707 were pouring in.