Wichitans made parts for, flew on Boeing 727

Two Braniff International 727s are parked at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.
Two Braniff International 727s are parked at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. Courtesy of Wichita Airport Authority

Twenty-nine years ago, Boeing’s 727 was its best-selling jetliner.

On Wednesday, the company’s first 727 made its final flight.

Officials at the Museum of Flight in Seattle worked to restore the 727 prototype for more than 25 years in order to eventually put it on permanent display at its Aviation Pavilion.

The 727-100 lifted off at 12:50 p.m. CST Wednesday for the roughly 15-minute flight from Paine Field in Everett, Wash., to Boeing Field in Seattle. The aircraft was a prototype and was later sold to United Airlines, which donated it to the museum in 1991.

The 727, with its unique three-engine configuration on the rear of the jet, was for a time Boeing’s top-selling airplane.

That was until June 1987, when Boeing took 31 orders for its smaller 737 — 70 percent of which is built by Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita — which made the 727 its second-best selling airplane.

According to Boeing, the 727 remains in second-place, with 1,831 deliveries of the narrowbody, three-engine jet between 1963 and 1984.

The former Boeing Wichita also built a number of parts for the 727: doors, engine cowling/nacelle, center fuselage tank, aileron and its S-shaped inlet duct for the center engine, a Boeing spokesman in Seattle said.

The 727 also was a fairly common sight at the former Wichita Mid-Continent Airport for several decades, used by airlines such as American and United, and former carriers Braniff International, TWA and Eastern.

Ron Ryan, retired owner and president of Ryan International Airlines, said at one time his former Wichita-based company owned 60 airplanes, 40 of which were 727s. He called the airplane “revolutionary.”

“It would still be flying if it weren’t for the cost of fuel going through the roof,” said Ryan, a pilot who also was type rated as a 727 captain.

He said his company had 550 pilots, and the majority of them preferred to fly the 727.

“It was so reliable, so safe and so easy to operate,” Ryan said.

For a number of decades the 727 found a second life as a cargo airplane and was used extensively by large freight haulers such as UPS and FedEx.

In 2004 FedEx donated one of its nearly 200 727s to the Kansas Aviation Museum.

Jerry Siebenmark: 316-268-6576, @jsiebenmark