Boeing celebrated Tuesday the production of its 10,000th single-aisle 737, putting what is already the best-selling jet of all time on track to become the best-selling large transport airplane in history.
Yet when the plane first flew more than 50 years ago, no one could have guessed its destiny.
The pilot in command on that first flight, now 93, recalled hopping around the globe in 737s in the years after the plane’s 1967 debut to goose flagging sales.
“At the time of its birth, we were struggling to attract airlines at all,” said pilot Brien Wygle in a phone interview. “I don’t think anybody could have foreseen the extreme success of the airplane in the long run.”
Today, Southwest is the jet’s leading customer, with an all-737 fleet of more than 700 airplanes and more than 400 others on order.
The proliferation of low-cost flights pioneered by Southwest on the 737 has made flying mundane, if often stressful. But it has also brought a huge expansion of air travel as middle-class people all over the globe embrace flying.
Today, Boeing estimates that more than three million passengers fly on 737s around the world every day. To mark the occasion, top 737 customer Southwest Airlines donated to the Boeing employee community fund a check for $10,000 earmarked for disaster relief.