Boeing Dash 80 barrel roll above Seattle Seafair, August, 1955. Photo from Boeing.

Boeing Dash 80 barrel roll above Seattle Seafair, August, 1955. Photo from Boeing. Click for larger.

If you haven’t seen the video of the first Boeing 707 (called the Dash 80 at the time) completing a barrel rolled by legend Tex Johnston, you might not fully appreciate this photo to the fullest. From Boeing’s Flickr page:

“In August, 1955, Boeing test pilot Tex Johnston performed a now legendary barrel roll of the Model 367-80 as part of that year’s Seafair festival on Lake Washington. This photo was taken by co-pilot Jim Gannett.

Known as the Dash 80, this airplane was the prototype for the 707 commercial plane and KC-135 military refueling jet.

The 707 helped move commercial aviation into the jet age and was the first to carry the now iconic “7 series” Boeing model designation.

The Dash 80 today is displayed at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington, D.C.”

This is the first Boeing 367-80 (Dash 80) was the prototype for what became the KC-135 and the Boeing 707. Photo by Boeing.

This is the first Boeing 367-80 (Dash 80) was the prototype for what became the KC-135 and the Boeing 707. Photo by Boeing.

The punch-line is that Boeing did not know that Tex was going to do the barrel roll. The idea was to show the public and potential airline customers that the 707 was safe. From a previous interview with Boeing Historian Michael Lombardi, he explained, “Then you have Tex Johnson who did the barrel roll, doing his part to get people feeling that jets were safe’¦ that was the whole idea. Before that the British had come out with the Comet and it had a few problems. Because of the comets problems, coming apart at altitude, the public view of jets was that they were just not safe.”

Seattle’s Seafair is going on once again this weekend and the Boeing 747-8 is scheduled to fly on Sunday, August 7th at 3:50pm over the crowds, much like the Boeing 707 did 56 years ago. Currently, it has not known if it will be the 747-8 Freighter or the 747-8 Intercontinental, but I am hoping for the glowing orange 747-8I. Just don’t expect any barrel rolls!

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: david@airlinereporter.com

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Personally, I think that a 747-8 barrel roll might be just what they need to really show Airbus and the airlines what Boeing can still do, quality-wise.

Mark C. (OKC)

I highly recommend the SeaFair folks. My son and I were there last year and had a great time. There’s nothing like watching hydroplane racing and airplanes flying over water. Great stuff. Looks like great weather for the weekend. Enjoy all!

I find it amazing to see how hugg the wings, ailerons and vertical stabilizer are on the 367-80.

Seafair received the 747-8F, N50217. I guess the 747-8I is too busy compared to the F. First, it approached in an agile series of S-turns from the I-90 Bridge all the way over the crowds. Then it came back from the south for a fast pass in clean configuration followed by a steep climbout from the lake. However, there was no roll in the routine 😛 There should be some nice photos out on Flickr.

Thanks! I figured it must have been the F, since she flew over my house going back to KPAE at about 4pm. I was sorry I wasn’t able to make it out.


Hey, David! Just one thing: That maneuver is an aileron roll, not a barrel roll. I wonder what would happen if a test pilot tried EITHER maneuver with a 787 – especially Tex-style, spur of the moment! The news coverage, the blog posts, the investigations …

Not true Justin. A proper aileron roll has the aircraft longitudinal axis continuing in a straight line across the ground. That maneuver in a large airplane would have the airplane executing negative Gs when it is inverted. Tex told me that it was indeed a barrel roll which is a big wallowed out roll that requires constant positive Gs applied throughout the maneuver.

frank poplawski

I worked for Boeing at the time . It was at one of the Hyroplane races on Lake Washington. I could not beleive my eyes when it happened. This was really a C-97, converted to a passenger airplane and was the first venture for Boeing to go commercial building airplanes after over 50 years in the Bomber type for the air force.Just a peace of history that you may not know.It really helped propel Boeing into the Commercial business.

Robert Gardner

I liked your article. Just a few things I’d like to say, yes it was a barrel roll,
one thing that was never mentioned was that a cup of coffee was put on to the
Instrument panel, and when the roll was performed, the coffee remained
in the cup. This indicates positive Gs.
As far as management, they were aware of the possibility of the maneuver
taking place on that day, but could not commit to it.
Tex and my Father worked together. When asked by Tex,that he
thought that the Dash-80 would roll, my Father said “let’s find out.” He worked
out the math and derived that the Dash-80 would in fact roll, after which, he explained
his findings to Tex. Shortly thereafter, and jokingly, my Father explained to Tex by
saying “I just have to let you know, that the mathematics that say the Dash-80 will
roll, are also the same mathematics that say a bumble bee can’t fly…so what do you
want to do……?”

R Gardner

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Don Borden

What the Hell, he survived the maneuver. Pilots are young even if old.

S. S. Hodapp

Thanks for the refresher story. I was living in Seattle in the mid-60’s, working for United and was captivated by the city, Seafair Days, and especially the hydroplane race. What a treat!! So envious of a niece living there now!!

The main source of our wealth is goodness. The affections and the generous qualities that God admires in a world full of greed.

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