An insightful essay about the long-running career of a mildly oddball passenger jet, by Courtney Miller for Visual Approach:
The market opportunities of new aircraft programs are often constrained by the limitations of the past. These new designs tend to be evaluated on current networks, drawn to circumvent the now outdated limitations of the older fleets. It can take years for operators to realize the full potential of an aircraft as they slowly discover how their networks can be adjusted to take advantage of new capabilities. Only then does the aircraft rise to its true potential, re-drawing route maps and creating a new market for future aircraft to emulate. That, in a nutshell, is the story of the 757.
It was a long while ago that I first saw the 757’s distinctive silhouette in the distance, flying a short final into Long Island MacArthur airport. Ungainly-looking, flying low and slow with the gear down, it still drew a double-take in my rear-view mirror. That image has stayed with me for thirty-three years.
I recall the early years of the 757’s deployment while working as an enroute air traffic controller. It stood out with a whopping 42,000-foot service ceiling in an age of passenger jets that topped out at mid-thirty-thousand-foot cruise altitudes. Airlines employing it on trans-continental routes would routinely reach that altitude eastbound where I worked traffic, after hours of fuel burn. Because of its new-design, high-lift wing we’d often get requests from pilots to begin their arrival decent further out than with older jets, as they occasionally struggled to meet crossing restrictions on their way into Boston, New York, and other congested airspaces. In the words of one pilot I flew with on a familiarization flight, “it hangs up here like a kite.”
The Earth shows a distinct curve when seen from that very tall perspective; passengers flying aboard such a flight enjoy the first glimpse of our planet as seen by astronauts and high-altitude military pilots. The sky takes on a significantly darker shade despite full sunlight.
Departing Washington–Dulles airport from its shortest runway this past year, I was reminded of the 757’s short-field capability when the flying pilot throttled up while holding us motionless on the brakes. The 757’s engines don’t just roar, they growl. Their distinctive buzz as they approached take-off thrust reminded me how much power two high-bypass engines can produce, and how unusual it is to experience that aboard a narrow-body aircraft.
The 757 is, in some interesting regards, unique.