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World’s last operational Boeing 720 retires

Oct. 5, 2010, Vancouver - Once there was two, and then there was one, and now there is none. The operational service life of the Boeing 720 came to an end on Wednesday, September 29, 2010, at 7:14 p.m. East Standard Time when Pratt and Whitney Canada’s Boeing 720-023B engine test-bed C-FETB landed at it’s St.-Hubert, Quebec base after completing its last ever test-flight.


October 5, 2010
By Carey Fredericks

The Pratt and Whitney Canada (PWC) Boeing 720’s last assignment was a small series of test flights during the month of September with a PW150 engine mounted on it’s nose. The PW150 engine powers the Dash 8-400 with a 6 bladed Dowty Rotol propeller.

The 720’s last operational flight on September 29 was from St-Hubert to St-Hubert and lasted 4 hours and 39 minutes. The aircraft reached the end of it’s CPCP calendar life remaining, and can only be flown one last ferry-flight to it’s final resting place, museum or salvage depot. In October, 2009, C-FETB was sent to Premier Aviation at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, for it last ever CPCP heavy maintenance base visit, which provided PWC with one final year of flight operations with the classic aircraft.

Honeywell operated the world’s second to last operational Boeing 720 as an engine and avionics test-bed from their Phoenix, AZ base until it ran out of hours and was scrapped at Phoenix on June 21, 2008. Unfortunately no museum wanted the aircraft, and useful engine parts were donated to the US Air Force. Honeywell’s 720 N720H was replaced with a Boeing 757 test-bed, and Pratt and Whitney Canada has acquired a Boeing 747SP as a test-bed replacement for their 720.

Aviation historian and classic aircraft videographer Henry Tenby of Vancouver-based AirlineHobby.com DVDs has been chasing and video documenting classic jetliners (including the 707 and 720) for the better part of 20 years. According to Tenby “fortunately, Honeywell appreciated the historic significance of their Boeing 720, and they allowed us to spend several days visiting their operation back in 2007, and our crew filmed over 20 hours of HD broadcast video footage on their 720.” The company has since released two DVDs on the Honeywell 720 with future HD Blue Ray DVDs anticipated.

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Tenby explained that he had been in ongoing contact with Pratt and Whitney Canada since 2005, and unfortunately they would never agree to allow his outfit to video document their 720. “Their aircraft was not only the very last operational Boeing 720 on the planet, it was also an important contributor to Canada’s rich aviation heritage, and was certainly worthy of being video documented at work on the job, specially on her last work schedules, and that opportunity has now been missed forever, which I feel was a huge oversight.”

In this day and age of high fuel prices and composite, fly-by-wire airliners, the real pure-bread classic jetliners of yesteryear like JT-3 powered 707s and DC-8s are rapidly being phased out. A number of air forces still operate 707 classics as transports and refuelers, and according to Tenby “we’ve contacted every one of them, their embassies, and their attaches on an ongoing basis over the past several years, and without a doubt the world’s population of 707 operators are completely disinterested in having their operational aircraft video documented for future historic reference. And Pratt and Whitney Canada was no exception.”

Aviation museums worldwide clamber to add World War II aircraft to their collections, and flyable restorations of World War II aircraft are all the rage. Whilst there is no shortage of WWII flyable aircraft, the classic jetliner era is about to vanish forever without any museum in North America making an effort to keep a classic jetliner like a 707 or DC-8 in engine running condition so future generations can at least hear what these great classic marques sounded like.

The fact that PWC’s 720 reached the end of it’s service life without fanfare or anyone taking note is evidence enough that classic jetliners sadly just don’t have the same cache to museums as military aircraft and warbirds. Perhaps now is the time that a museum steps forward with plans to restore or maintain a 707, 720 or DC-8 classic in engine running condition. Otherwise, before we realize it, that opportunity will be gone forever.
As of this writing, PWC has not announced any decision as to the future fate that awaits it’s Boeing 720.