Only on final approach was the 707 so configured – landing gear and flaps extended – to allow for relative speed parity with a cruising DC-3.31 While landing configuration is appropriate for terminal operations, climbing and descending in this configuration is unsustainably inefficient.
Increased altitude also brought increased challenge. While operating in three dimensions, the piston airliners’ third dimension was relatively pinched, with piston aircraft topping out well below 20,000 feet MSL. Higher altitude also brought pressurization, and opened a new chapter in the regulations: pressurization and oxygen requirements for passengers and crew. This new level of air traffic required more vertical thinking on the part of administrators. Unfortunately, the regulatory landscape had not been evolving alongside aircraft propulsion, and regulators had to find new ways to bridge the gap and keep pace with the rapidly spiraling technology. The mounting loss of U.S. air passengers eventually provided the necessary lift to change the game.
Pilots sometimes say that aviation regulations are written in blood.32 As evidence, they point to the impetus for the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, and the next major change in federal aviation regulation that followed two decades later. Air traffic had nearly doubled since the end of World War II through the early fifties, but development in air traffic management and regulation had stalled at the outset of the war. While Congress had started to address aviation regulation reform at the behest of President Eisenhower in 1955, the wheels of Congress turned more slowly than the cogs of aeronautical engineering. In May of 1955, the director of the Bureau of Budget appointed a group to study the air traffic control problem. The committee reported that the air traffic control system of the time was “lagging behind rapid advances of the jet age.”33 Failure to bridge that gap quickly had fatal results.
31 707 Performance Manual – Airplane Performance, The Boeing Company, (Section 3, page 42 et seq.) (Only in landing configuration could the 707 achieve approximate speed parity with the cruising DC-3.) .
32 Inspectors for F.A.A. Say Violations Were Ignored, Matthew Wald, The New York Times, April 3, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03/washington/03cnd-plane.html, cited January 1, 2013.
33 Aviation House Report, H.R. Rep. 85-2360 at 4.