Celebration planned for the 50th anniversary of 737’s first flight on April 9, 1967. Also, Amazon exec addresses the good and bad effects of its tremendous growth.

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The first flight of Boeing’s original 737 took place 50 years ago on Sunday, and Seattle’s Museum of Flight will mark the anniversary with a celebration that’s open to the public for the price of admission.

The occasion comes just weeks before the first delivery of the newest version of that jet, the Boeing 737 MAX.

Brien Wygle, the pilot who commanded that first flight on April 9, 1967, will participate in a panel discussion at noon in the museum theater.

“Fifty years ago we had no idea,” Wygle, 92, said in an interview this week. “We were hoping to eventually sell enough to break even.”

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As it turned out, the longevity and success of the 737 proved astounding. Boeing as of last month had delivered 9,448 of the single-aisle twinjets, with 4,506 more still on order.

And with the delivery of the first MAX coming soon, Boeing plans to ramp up production in Renton later this year to 47 jets per month and up to 52 per month next year.

“The 737 took the aviation world by storm and has been improved steadily since,” Wygle said. “It obviously filled an incredible need.”

A new 737 MAX will be on display in the museum parking lot Sunday, with a demonstration flight tentatively scheduled for 1:15 p.m. — the exact time the prototype 737 first took off.

And the original from 50 years ago will also be there for its birthday bash.

That plane was used as a Boeing test aircraft until 1973, then sold to NASA for use as a flying research laboratory.

NASA donated the plane to the Museum of Flight in 1997, and during six years in storage at Moses Lake it was lovingly restored by a team led by former 737 engineer Bob Bogash.

Bogash likes to say he’s been involved with the 737 “from womb to tomb.”

He worked as an engineer building the first airplane, then on the flight tests and later as a field rep for 10 years, traveling the world and helping airlines introduce the airplane.

And he was on board its final flight in September 2003 for the hop to Boeing Field and its final resting place at the museum.

He said the 737 changed aviation, bringing jet transport to tiny airports all over the world.

“Small airlines flew it to remote places,” said Bogash. “We flew off unpaved runways in the Canadian North. Many of those airlines had never had a new airplane before and never had a jet airplane.”

The 737 also transformed the economics of domestic flying in the U.S.

Its swift turnaround times, fuel efficiency and ability to operate from small airports produced the concept of low-fare carriers and brought air travel to the masses.

Today, Southwest Airlines flies a fleet of more than 700 of the jets.

On Sunday, a reception from 2-4 p.m. will be in the museum’s Aviation Pavilion, next to the restored 737 No. 1, which still sports its NASA livery.

— Dominic Gates: dgates@seattletimes.com

Amazon disowns Mercer Mess

Amazon.com gets a lot of credit for Seattle’s crane-filled economic upswing.

That means it also gets blamed for the pain that comes with urban growth, from soaring rents to the traffic mess on Mercer Street, which borders the northern part of Amazon’s South Lake Union turf.

But according to John Schoettler, the head of Amazon’s real-estate operation, there’s only so much that the e-commerce giant can do.

Brandi Kruse, a reporter with Q13 Fox News, asked Schoettler during Civic Cocktail — a gathering hosted last Wednesday by the Seattle Channel and the Seattle City Club — about Amazon’s “culpability or responsibility” over “how bad Mercer Street has become.”

“What can you do to fix it?” Kruse asked.

After explaining that Amazon works with the city on such things as signalization projects, Schoettler’s bottom-line response was that it’s really the city’s job to make sure Mercer flows properly.

“We really do leave that up to the city officials to be able to take care of a lot of these problems,” he said.

Amazon, after all, is “the largest taxpayer in the city of Seattle, so we’re paying our fair share.”

The discussion underscores the tension felt by many Seattleites that’s been created by Amazon’s incredible growth. The company has generated an unprecedented level of prosperity, but along with that, traffic and rising costs of living.

Many complain about soaring rents, which Schoettler said was the result of the typical relationship between supply and demand.

“It’s the marketplace,” he said, adding that rents might stabilize as more apartments come online. (He pointed to “over 10,000 doors” opening this year within a six-block radius of Amazon’s campus.)

Its newfound role in civic discussions has been an interesting challenge for Amazon, a company with a tradition of being secretive and ferociously competitive.

Schoettler, who grew up in Tacoma and is a Washington State University graduate, said that when the company began colonizing South Lake Union it realized how big it had become.

It’s now the largest private employer in the city of Seattle, and the largest landowner — and “there are responsibilities that come with that.”

That has included being more active in the local struggle against homelessness; last year it set up a temporary shelter in one of its buildings in collaboration with Mary’s Place.

This year it donated space and equipment for five new FareStart eateries, part of a program to train people who have faced barriers to employment.

— Ángel González: agonzalez@seattletimes.com