Cockpit Chronicles: Know your Boeings

One of the first things any aviation enthusiast or pilot learns is how to tell one airplane from another. Usually, those of us aviation obsessed types pick this up as kids.

But a few frequent fliers, airline employees and maybe even some pilots may not be able to catch all the nuances that separate the various types of jets. We’ve broken down the differences between the various Boeings to make you a better spotter. So the next time you fly, see if you can spot the differences.

707: Let’s face it. If you see the 4-engine narrow body Boeing 707 flying around, it’s probably painted in Qantas colors and it’s owned by John Travolta. There aren’t many 707s still flying. There are, however, a number of military KC-135 tankers flying that supply fighters and transport aircraft with fuel. This airplane is a re-engined 707 that has been in use for decades.

Boeing 707

The 707 is somewhat easy to confuse with the Douglas DC-8 that’s still widely in use by freight operators. But the DC-8 has two scoops on the nose that drive a turbo compressor which pressurizes the airplane. The 707 also had a long pitot tube HF radio antenna mounted to the top of the vertical stabilizer.717: This is the oddball of the Boeing fleet. Inherited when Boeing purchased McDonnell Douglas, the 717 is essentially a re-engined MD-80. Unlike the MD-80, however, the 717 features a larger engine made by Rolls-Royce and the vertical stabilizer is squared off at the top, and especial toward back. Airtran (soon absorbed by Southwest) and Midwest are the two main operators of the 717 in the U.S. These are the only Boeings with two engines mounted at the rear.

Boeing 717

727: This is an easy one. The T-tail and three engines mounted at the rear of the airplane give it away. The only other non-Russian tri-engined airplanes are widebodies that don’t have the horizontal stabilizer mounted on the top.

FedEx and other cargo operators such as Amerijet still operate the 727. There were two types of 727s made, the -100 and the -200, with the more rare and shorter -100 featuring a slightly oval shaped number two engine inlet.

Boeing 727-200

737: Offered in the late ’60s as a more fuel efficient airplane than the 727 it is by far the most popular Boeing. This type has so many variants that we’ll use the engines, tail skids (or lack thereof) and over-wing exits to tell them all apart, starting with the…

737-100: Since only 30 -100s were built, and none are actually flying since 2005, we’ll go ahead and skip the slightly shorter 737 that was initially delivered to Lufthansa.

737-200: The easiest way to spot a 737-200 is to look at the engines. If they look like long and narrow tubes below the wing, then you know they’re the late ’60s to early ’80s 737 that many of us grew up with. They were also much louder on takeoff. Today a number of Central and South American countries still fly the 737-200. The airport in Caracas is filled with them, in fact.

Boeing 737-200

737-300, -400 and -500: These 737s, now called the ‘classic’ at Boeing, were easy to spot from the -200. The engines are much larger, and in many ways similar to the ‘New Generation’ engines on the most recent 737s. The easiest way to tell them apart, however, is the flatter lower cowling on the classic 737s. The -500 is the shortest, followed by the -300 and then the -400, which seats enough passengers to require two over-wing exits like the -800 and -900 below.

Boeing 737-400

737-600, -700, -800 and -900: The ‘next generation’ 737 as Boeing calls them, are the most popular 737s in the sky today. They’re much more fuel efficient than their predecessors, and most are now fitted with winglets that increase their efficiency a further 5%. Some of the classic 737s have also been retrofitted with winglets just to throw you off. In fact, the 737-500 can be fitted with winglets, but so far, the newer 737-600 which is the same length, can not.

Boeing 737-800

737 Max: Boeing has recently announced the 737 “Max” which will follow the same shape as the -700 through the -900, with the name 737-9 “Max” used to differentiate these updated narrow-body Boeings. So far the only way I can tell them apart is with the engines which are differently shaped and include v-shaped cutouts at the trailing edge of the cowling called chevrons. But truthfully, we don’t know what the final look of the 737 Max will be. It’s scheduled to go into service in 2017.

747: With it’s bulging upper deck, the 747 is by far the easiest Boeing to spot. The -100 to -300s didn’t have winglets, while the newer two-pilot cockpit -400 has abrupt winglets at its tips. The new 747-8 has a completely new wing design that doesn’t need winglets to eek out maximum efficiency. It has the chevrons that are featured on the 737 max and the 787.

Boeing 747-400

757: Some say it’s the prettiest Boeing, with it’s long legs and tall stance. The nose on the 757 was completely redesigned when compared to the more traditional 707, 727 and 737 front ends to reduce the drag and noise inside. In Boeing airliners, the pointier the nose, the noisier the cockpit. The blunt nose 767 is one of the quietest.

It’s sometimes easy to confuse the 757 for the 767, but if you look closely at the bottom of the aft fuselage, the 767-300 has a tail skid. The 757 and the short and stubby looking 767-200 don’t have this tail skid as they’re less prone to tail strikes on takeoff and landing.

767: The 767 is a widebody airplane that shares the same cockpit features and layout as the 757, which means that pilots can fly both airplanes, even switching between the two in the same day or same trip. On landing, the 767 wheel ‘trucks’ hang down, while the 757 trucks hang at an upward angle.

777: The quickest way to tell the 777 from the 767 or any other Boeing is to look at the tail ‘cone’ at the end of the fuselage. It’s flattened into a wedge which gives it a unique look. Taking a hint from some Russian airplanes, the main landing gear features three trucks of wheels compared to the two sets on the 757 and 767.

787: One look at the upward bending wing and swooping rudder on the 787 and you know it’s not like any other Boeing. The cockpit has gone from six to four large windows. And as mentioned before, the back side of the engine cowlings feature ‘chevrons.’

While this post wasn’t meant for the super spotter or seasoned pilot, it just might help people who are casual flyers pay attention to what model or type of Boeing they prefer to fly aboard.

Next week I’ll talk a little about how pilots of each of these Boeings have discovered their different personalities, both good and bad.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Cracks on American Airlines Boeing 767 planes “cause for concern”

Experts from American Airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing are working overtime to inspect all Boeing 767 aircraft in the AA fleet.

The inspections were ordered after cracks were detected on a 767 which regulators say could have resulted in the loss of an engine.

During the past two weeks, inspectors found problems on three of the planes, promoting calls for “additional action.”

The cracks were found in engine pylons, which are the structural members that hold the engines on the wings, though none of the parties involved are going as far as to claim there is any danger.

This is not the first time Boeing planes have had issues with engine pylon structures – cracks in engine fuse pins were to blame for the 1992 El Al Boeing 747 crash in Amsterdam, killing 43 people.

According to FAA records, one of the planes found to have serious safety issues had only flown 500 trips since its last major inspection – which is prompting Boeing to recommend more regular safety inspections. At the moment, the pylons are only inspected after 1500 flights.

Of course, everyone involved is quick to point out that the safety concerns are not the result of missed or botched inspections. American Airlines says it expects to finish all inspections of its 56 Boeing 767s today.

If the FAA does alter current safety inspection rules, about 360 Boeing 767s will have to be inspected in the United States, along with hundreds more in use abroad.

[Image from: Flickr/Deanster 1983]

Photo of the Day (6/18/09)

Gadling’s photo of the day today was taken by Sean Roskey, who managed to capture this shot of Gadling’s editor, Grant Martin enjoying a tour of the 767 cockpit given by yours truly before heading off to the Paris Air Show.

Given Grant’s near destruction of Virgin Australia’s 777 simulator, we made sure he didn’t touch anything.

Are you a Flickr user who’d like to share a travel related picture or two for our consideration? Submit it to Gadling’s Flickr group right now! We just might use it for our Photo of the Day!

Jumbo Jets Disappearing from the Sky

Jumbo jets, like Boeing’s classic 747, are a bit like that Buick your grandpa used to drive. They are sizable enough that you don’t have to concern yourself too much with what is going on outside. What’s a little turbulence to such a massive beast? What’s a six hour flight when you can stand up and actually walk around? (I was a little kid last time I rode in “the boat,” but you get the analogy).

High fuel prices have been grounding more and more of these large aircraft. And those who fly frequently are none to happy about it. Aside from a smoother ride, larger aircraft offer more seating options, more lavatories and more overhead space. If you are flying from New York to L.A. or Atlanta to Seattle, a little extra room can make a big difference.

Among major carriers, American and Delta still offer the most jumbo jet flights at more than 50 per day. However, wide-bodied planes are nowhere to be found on Northwest‘s and Continental‘s domestic routes. According to the industry, large aircraft will account for less that 1% of air traffic by the end of this year.

Related story

Plane Answers: Radio altimeters, 737 rudder safety and 757/767 flying differences

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Martin asks:

Upon landing a bigger plane…

Is there a sensor or gauge/indicator that shows the pilot the distance between the airplane’s wheels and the runway?
Yes, Martin, there is. As I’m sure you know, we have an altimeter that displays our height above sea level. But we also have a radio altimeter that shows our height above the ground from 2500 feet all the way down to zero feet. It’s actually very accurate, and we often judge our flare based on the automated call outs of “100, 50, 40, 30, 20, and 10.

It also displays our altitude in feet on our primary flight display. Occasionally the other pilot (who’s not flying) might add a call out of 6, or 2, if you’ve flared and you’re no longer descending, which can be helpful.

Long wonders:

Hi Kent, The only hassle I hate while traveling is the paperwork for the visa. I was wondering whether pilots require a visa to fly to certain countries? Does the airline take care of it, or do you guys have some sort of special permit/passport?

I can only speak for those of us flying from the U.S., and since I don’t fly to every country, I don’t know all the specifics, but the most common country we fly to that requires a VISA in our passports is France. This allows us to ‘work’ in their country.

Every five years we have to go into a major city that has a French Consulate and fill out the paperwork and turn over our passports to have a VISA stamp inserted.

I’m sure there are other countries that require this, but France is the only one I’m aware of at this point.

Tev asks:

Does the 737 still have rudder issues?

Tev is referring to the full deflection rudder issues that United and USAir experienced years ago with 737-200 and 737-300. Boeing came up with a fix for the problem and they claim that the new generation 737s, which are the most common 737s flying today, do not have the same issues. Given the number of hours that these new generation 737s have flown, it appears they have the problem solved.

Finally, Vic asks:

Kent, you wrote earlier about preferring to fly the 767 over the 757. One reason was greater familiarity with the 767. What are the other reasons?

Actually Vic, I fly the 757 probably 90 percent of the time. So I’m really more familiar with the 757. Perhaps it’s because I only get a chance to see a 767 infrequently, that I enjoy that airplane.

As you’re probably aware, the 757 and 767 are unique in that pilots can be trained to fly both airplanes interchangeably. We occasionally have a trip that will have a leg with a 757, followed by a wide-body 767 flight right afterwards.

SInce the cockpits of the two airplanes are nearly identical, and the systems (the hydraulics, the fuel system, engines, air conditioning and pressurization) are very similar, the FAA determined in the 80’s when both airplanes were certified that they would share a common type rating.

But they don’t fly exactly the same. The 767 is more light and sensitive on the controls, and it tends to feel larger, but more sporty. The 757 has great climb performance, but it’s controls are heavier and you sit lower to the ground, which makes for a different ‘feel’ during the landing flare.

It’s probably easier to make a smoother landing in the 767, even though we don’t fly them as often. They seem to settle to the ground after touching down with less momentum. It’s a beautiful airplane to fly, and it is closer in feel to a 777 than it is to a 757.

But as I’ve explained in a recent Cockpit Chronicles, the winglets that are being installed on the 757 have somehow softened the landings.

Have a question of your own that you’d like answered on Friday’s Plane Answers? Ask Kent!