So, I went on a little road trip last week. San Diego to Phoenix (and back), all in one day. 738.1 miles total, 12 and a half hours in the car all by myself, with nothing but my own thoughts to keep me company.
I did a lot of thinking that day. Things like:
- 2020 being the single weirdest year of my life
- The possibility of my car breaking down in the middle of the desert
- Dying of heatstroke, and…
- Whether or not I had enough clean underwear to last the week if I somehow managed to survive the drive
I also thought a lot about airplane stuff. More specifically, how things have drastically changed this year and what the future holds for the entire air travel industry.
There are so many unknowns at this point, and I’m dedicating this entire article to one of the biggest question marks in the industry right now: the Boeing 797.
Table of Contents
Boeing’s 797 announcement (the one that hasn’t actually happened yet)
For those that don’t know, the 797 has not been formally announced yet. But we all know it’s coming. It literally has to, as Boeing needs to keep pushing the business forward and provide airlines with increasingly efficient airplanes.
I’d also suspect they’re getting slightly annoyed watching Airbus dominate them in nearly every category at the moment. As we all know, nothing drives motivation and innovation more than being laughed at by someone with a French accent.
Boeing’s ultimate plan for the 797
Prior to January 2020, Boeing’s plan for the 797 was for it be a 757/767 sized aircraft situated in their lineup smack dab between the 737 and the 787.
Airlines all over the world had a definite need for a Boeing 757 replacement (as the Airbus A321neo has proved), and it was all going great until, well…pandemic.
Now, at the time of this writing, that need has evaporated and the 797 program has been paused. Not only that, Boeing has stated that they will be starting over (from scratch) once the project is greenlit again.
The question is:
- What purpose is the 797 likely to serve?
- More specifically, what will it actually look like?
Because I can draw better than I can play aerospace CEO, I fired up Adobe Illustrator and created a mock-up of what the new design could look like:
Oh, and if anyone at Boeing is watching (and you like what you see), I totally don’t mind if you steal my design. Just as long as SANspotter Air gets first dibs and 80% off the first batch of 797s of course.
What purpose will the 797 serve?
In my opinion, the 797 needs to be the 737 replacement – and not a medium-sized aircraft that is just slightly smaller than the 787.
After all, the 737 is over 60 years old at this point, and Boeing has done all they can with it. 737-sized aircraft are (and will continue to be) the best selling segment in commercial aviation. Time spent dinking around on anything else is stupid.
Anyway, that’s not to say that the 797 couldn’t be modular in nature to fit a variety of uses.
What if the 797 was designed to fill the role of both the 737 AND the 757? Do we really need two different aircraft types to do this?
Boeing has already started down this path by offering so many variants of the 737, and now there seems to be a variant for nearly any situation.
Of course, being a 60 year old platform, the limits have been hit and they now have the opportunity to learn from those limitations and build a far more capable (and versatile) aircraft from the ground up.
The design of the 797 will be based on the 787 (IMHO)
If I were a betting man – and I must be considering that I chose to drive across the desert in the middle of the summer – I’m willing to bet that the design of the Boeing 797 will be based on the existing 787.
I’d suspect that the fuselage will be taken directly from the 787 platform, from nose to tail, with few modifications other than scale.
And again, to any Boeing executives watching, please feel free to take notes. Together, we can make this happen…
As far as the wings go, I’d also suspect that it’s going to be based on the 787 design as well. However, there will be less of a need for overall surface area and rake, which will give it a slightly different appearance.
This means overall less wing flex while in flight, and…wait. Am I actually attempting to talk intelligently about aerospace aerodynamics?
The little details
If you’ve made it this far, I’d suspect that you’re a bit miffed that what I’m proposing for the 797 is yet another twin-engine design that looks a lot like every other aircraft flying around at the moment.
Trust me. As much as I’d love to see something wildly different, Boeing needs to hit a home run with the 797. That being said, let’s take a look at some of the details which might make the 797 unique:
The vertical stabilizer
The vertical stabilizer will likely be a very different design than what is on the 787, since it won’t need to do as much for the smaller 797. It’ll be shorter, feature a smaller rudder, and…yeah. I’m totally pulling ideas out of my rear end here.
Pretending to sound like you know that you’re talking about when you really don’t is one of the first signs of heat stroke you know…
The landing gear
Continuing on making wild and crazy guesses is the fact that the landing gear will be relatively tall to allow for a variety of engine types.
This is one of the main problems with the 737, and it’s not hard to imagine that Boeing hasn’t learned a thing or two from that mistake.
Speaking of engines, my only prediction here is that they will be relatively simple in design and NOT feature the iconic angular chevrons featured on the 787.
It’s just a hunch, considering the main purpose of those triangular nibs was noise reduction. The smaller 797 engines (whatever they are) will likely be very quiet anyway.
When are we likely to see the first real 797 design?
With the current state of air travel, my guess is that we are 5-7 years away from seeing anything official from Boeing regarding the 797. They’ve currently got their hands full with the 737 MAX and 777X programs, and beyond that, demand for new airplanes is virtually nonexistent.
I can’t imagine that we’ll see the 797 fly before 2030, but (as shocking as it may sound) I’ve been wrong before.
Driving across the desert in August is a perfect example of that, as well as thinking that building a business doing trip reports was a fail-safe venture. What could possibly go wrong?
Anyway, please let me know in the comment section down below if you think I’m totally off-base here. Everything I discussed in this article was just my own thoughts and options, but I’d love to know yours! If you like this sort of thing, I also created a Boeing 727-300 concept that was a bit more aggressive than this.
Oh. And yeah. If you’re curious, I did have enough underwear to last the week…
How about a widebody airframe with a “T” tail and rear mounted engines?
I like that idea! Aircraft design is rather boring these days, and I’d love to see the T-tails return.
I took that same desert drive but gave up pondering the Boeing 797.
A far more interesting mental exercise is imagining a Boeing 808.
Something as revolutionary as the 707 was in 1957.
We’re talking a brand new zero pollution power plant with supersonic speeds.
Ground based Magnetic Catapult runways with electric-jet augmentation to an apogee in the stratosphere, then gliding down on a wing body anywhere in the world in less than 3 hours.
My Crystal Ball reveals no Pan Am, no Boeing … not even NASA.
I see Tesla Aerospace emerging in the mist.
Tesla Aerospace! I’d love to see that.
Great article, Scott. A lot of us have been waiting and waiting for Boeing to get on with the 757 and 767 replacements. I’m curious though that you think that the B797 or next new airplane from Boeing should be the 737’s replacement. I will agree that the 737 needs replacing too, but with the MAXs still fresh on the assembly line Boeing probably won’t touch it for another decade. Also, you probably spot on with your rendition of the b797 exterior, but what about the interior. My thinking is that the new aircraft would have a single aisle and 3-3 seating, but what of the cabin width. Boeing has got to do better than the A320 family cabin width of 146 inches. A wider aisle and seats all around would greatly improve the aircraft’s appeal to the flying masses.
I totally agree Sam! It’s likely to be the 737 replacement with a 3-3 cabin layout, but I’ve been wrong enough times before to know that it’s unwise to make any firm predictions. Ha!
Shortening the 787 fuselage might actually require you to *increase* the size of the 787 vertical stabilizer, due to the reduced moment arm. The A318 is actually the tallest of the A320-series for this reason.
Interesting – I always wondered why the A318 vertical stabilizer was taller than the others. Good suggestion!
This is a good-looking airplane, although if it were basd on the 787, I think the name would be something like 787SR or maybe they’ll bring back the 787-3. A 797 would have to be a clean-sheet design.*
Whatever it looks like, I agree that it would have to be flexible enough to replace the 737 & 757 (With the 757’s performance, of course). It would also be cool if it were a 2-3-2 configured widebody for more comfort. Although maybe the 737 replacement variant would have to be really stubby.
Another option is to do like they did with the 757 & 767: make one a narrowbody, and another one a widebody (I know it’s not apples to apples, but it’s a similar situation).
What needs to happen first though, it’s that the corporate culture and management at Boeing have to change. They need to bring back a focus on making good planes, not on the bottom line. Engineers and the engineering spirit need to run the company, not bean counters. Especially if the 797 should be a more expensive clean-sheet design than a cheaper 787 variant. And this will be a lengthy process. Sorry for the rant, but it’s true.
*But then again, the 707, 727, and 737 had different purposes, and they all had very similar fuselages & technology and of course the same nose & cross-section (and the 757 also had the 707 cross section).
Btw, great job with the livery!
Great insights Peter! Yeah, I mostly agree with you about the 797 needing to be an all new airframe. All I really did here was make a variant of the 787, which likely isn’t the best way forward.
Hi Scott! Great looking plane, But I do think it will turn out to be a Widebody, kind of like the width of the 767,
And I do actually think that it will be based of the 787 like you stated.
And I also think that it will have a double set of gear, instead of one, because the Narrowbody 757 has a double set.
Even as a Widebody I think it could still be foucused as a 737 replacement with a lower end ~220 seat
2-3-2 seating, slightly more than a 737 max 10.
and the largest 797 would have around ~270 seat in a normal config.
Thanks Ryan! Yeah, I’d love to see a smaller version aimed towards being a 737 MAX 10 replacement. Time will tell!