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A20 Boeing 707

The acquisition of the Boeing 707 as a strategic transport and aerial refueller in the RAAF had long been discussed. The first two aircraft were obtained in 1979 to supplement the Hercules as long-range transports, with the intention to obtain more and acquire a tanker capability.

The 707 family of airliners had begun as the Boeing model 367-80, built as a private venture to demonstrate the potential for jet commercial and military developments. The prototype flew on 15 July 1954, and a developed version, the Boeing 717 or KC-135, was ordered in large numbers as a US Air Force tanker.

The basic civil production version was the Boeing 707-120, which developed into the enlarged long-range 707-320 Intercontinental, which first flew on 31 January 1962. Qantas ordered this airliner as the 707-338C, and received the first of 22, VH-EBN, in February 1965. The 707 was replaced at Qantas by the 747 in the 1970s.

The first two RAAF Boeing 707s were ex-Qantas 707-338C models, VH-EAD and VH-EAG. These were received by the RAAF on 30 March 1979 as A20-624 and A20-627, and were initially operated by No 37 Squadron with C-130E Hercules at RAAF Richmond. On 2 February 1981, No 33 Flight took over 707 duties from No 37 Squadron, and in turn the unit became No 33 Squadron on 20 June 1983.

A further two ex-Qantas 707-338Cs were obtained in 1983, but by a more indirect route. VH-EAC, after a short stint in the UK as G-BDKE, later served in Canada as C-GRYN, and was delivered on 17 June 1983 as A20-623. Similarly, VH-EAI served in the UK as G-BDLM and Canada as C-GGAB. This aircraft was delivered on 17 June 1983 as A20-629.

These four aircraft served with No 33 Squadron in VIP and regular military transport roles. Tankers were seen as essential by the RAAF to support the planned Hornet force, and a request for tender for the conversion of these aircraft was issued in October 1987. Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) won this $15 million contract for the tanker/transport conversion. The modification involved the installation of underwing pods for hose and drogue equipment.

On 17 December 1987, the RAAF ordered two refurbished Boeing 707s from the Boeing Military Airplane Co. These two, from the airline Saudia, were 707-368C models. HZ-ACG became N1987B, and HZ-ACI became N7486B, and both had been withdrawn from use in March 1986 and stored in Italy. They were delivered to the RAAF on 11 March 1988, as A20-103 and A20-261. Additionally, a third Saudia aircraft was obtained as a source of spares. HZ-ACC became N1486B and arrived at Richmond on 16 March 1988. This aircraft was not flown by No 33 Squadron, nor has it worn the serial A20-809, but has purely been 'cannibalised' for spare components.

IAI, with its Australian partner, Hawker de Havilland, converted the original four aircraft to tanker/transport configuration. The first, A20-629, was formally handed over to the RAAF at Tullamarine on 12 February 1990. Only the four 338C aircraft were converted in this program, the ex-Saudia aircraft were to be retained as transports. Tragically, A20-103 was lost with its crew of five off the Gippsland coast on 29 October 1991. A20-261 now remains the sole 707 transport in the No 33 Squadron fleet, serving with the four ex-Qantas tanker/transports.

A further ex-Qantas 707-338C has seen military service. VH-EAF was purchased from Korean Air for the US Air Force/US Army E-8 J-STARS program. The E-8s, rebuilds from old 707 airframes, provide airborne commanders with a real-time display of ground wars, and the two prototypes performed well in the 1991 Gulf War.

In 1991 the last of 1011 707 airframes was completed. This total included 878 commercial versions (of which seven saw RAAF service) and 133 military variants, including the C-137 transport, E-3 AWACS and E-6 TACAMO.

TECHNICAL DATA: Boeing 707-338C

DESCRIPTION:

Long-range jet tanker/transport with a crew of four.

POWER PLANT:

Four 8165 kg (18 000 lb) thrust Pratt & Whitney JT3D-3 turbofans.

DIMENSIONS:

Wingspan 44.42 m (145 ft 8 in); length 46.61 m (152 ft 11 in); height 12.93 m (42 ft 5 in).

WEIGHTS:

Empty 66 406 kg (146 400 lb); Max 151 315 kg (333 600 lb)

PERFORMANCE:

Max cruising speed 965 km/h (521 kt); max rate of climb 1129 m (4000 ft)/min; service ceiling 39,000 ft (11,885 m); range with max payload 6920 km (3736 nm).

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