Jets carry passengers

How the jet age began for Hamburg

Status: October 12, 2019 10:49 p.m. | archive
This is what the early age of jet planes looks like in Hamburg: The first Lufthansa jet is ready for the passengers.

Hamburg Airport had never seen such a crowd before then. On the evening of October 13, 1959, more than 25,000 curious people set out for the Fuhlsbüttel site to watch the first landing of a passenger jet aircraft in the city - a Boeing 707 operated by the US airline PanAm. "It was as if the runway had become a super stadium in which the international football match of the year would run over the lawn," writes the "Hamburger Abendblatt" about the spectacle. A huge number of police officers ensure that there are barriers. Drivers do their laps around the airport in vain to find a parking space. Long queues form in front of the best viewpoints.

Boeing 707 only stays in Fuhlsbüttel for eight minutes

The anticipation among the onlookers is great - so is the disappointment. Because in the midst of the crowd, a voice from the loudspeakers announces that the jet is already gone. What happened? The Boeing 707 arrived 20 minutes earlier than announced. It does not stay on the tarmac in Fuhlsbüttel for 50 minutes as planned, but starts again in the direction of London after eight minutes.

Landing missed: "Adolescents played crazy"

So only very few get to see the new jet aircraft. "Out of disappointment, some teenagers went crazy, started a whistle concert and threw in the windows of a building shack", can be read later in the "Abendblatt".

The schedule is mixed up because the pilot of the jet plane is short of time. The return flight to New York is on the plan for the same evening. That is why the flying visit to the Hanseatic city is much shorter than expected. And yet the evening ushers in a new era: the age of jet planes for passenger traffic in northern Germany.

Is the runway enough for the jet planes?

A look into the cockpit of a Boeing 707 around 1960: Much fewer instruments were required than in propeller-driven aircraft.

On the premiere flight, only one person gets out of the Boeing 707 at Hamburg Airport: Chief Pilot Thomas Flanaghan. He reports that, from the pilots' point of view, the landing went absolutely smoothly. Despite the mist from the ground, the Fuhlsbüttel lights were already in sight over the Elbe. The flight was considered a test flight. Because the US airline PanAm wants to add Hamburg to its route network soon. The problem: The longest runway in Fuhlsbüttel, at 2,259 meters, is not long enough for the new type of jets - at least not for a fully fueled Boeing 707. The solution: The jet aircraft takes off in the Hanseatic city with only around 70 percent of its maximum weight. For the planned Atlantic flights from Hamburg, the machine will only be fully refueled in London. "The length of the runway in Hamburg is completely sufficient for a half-fueled aircraft," said Chief Pilot Flanaghan after the first landing.

Jet planes: higher and faster

Even the first passenger jets could fly at altitudes of 10,000 to 12,000 meters, while propeller planes only reached 3,000 to 3,500 meters. The low air resistance at high altitudes made it possible for the first jet planes to fly very quickly. While they had a cruising speed of 800 to 900 km / h, most fan guns were only half as fast.

The fastest connection ever

And so nothing stands in the way of regular take-offs and landings of jets in Hamburg. Almost two weeks after visiting the premiere, PanAm starts its trans-Atlantic flights. From October 26, 1959, the Boeing 707 will fly three times a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) on the Copenhagen-Hamburg-London-New York route. "It is the fastest connection from the Old to the New World that has ever existed," writes the "Abendblatt". The actual flight time to New York is now only nine and a half hours, almost half of the previous flight time.

"No shaking, quiet hum"

Initially an expensive affair, travelers also appreciate the jet plane because of the increased comfort.

For travelers, flying in a jet is a completely new experience. "At the start, it only takes three minutes for all four turbines to run," wonders an "Abendblatt" reporter. "No shaking and bumping as with the piston engines of the fan guns. Quiet hum. Volume in the cabin like in the S-Bahn." There are 113 seats on board the Boeing 707, including 36 1st class seats. In addition, there is a crew of eleven on board. A ticket for the Hamburg-New York route cost 2,324 DM in tourist class and 4,266 DM in 1st class. Smoking is still allowed on board. A cocktail is served shortly after the start in Hamburg, followed by a warm breakfast.

The US airline not only offers trips to London and New York - from now on, jet planes will also fly to Frankfurt (daily) and Düsseldorf (four times a week). A total of 28 flights to and from Hamburg are on the schedule every week.

"Jets have made flying safer"

At the beginning of the jet aircraft age, the Boeing 707 is considered a "giant of the air".

With the jets, the airplane is becoming a means of mass transport. "The jet planes were able to transport more than twice as many passengers as most propeller planes," says Robert Kluge, curator for modern aviation at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. As a result, the tickets have also become significantly cheaper. The travel time was shortened enormously as the jets flew at a much higher speed. "In addition, the jet planes brought you to the USA for the first time without a stopover from Europe," said Kluge in an interview with "And don't forget: the jet planes have made flying safer."

Runways are being extended for the jets

In order to make the airport fit for the future, the Hamburg Senate decided in August 1959 to convert Fuhlsbüttel into a jet airfield. Initially, runway I is to be extended by almost 1,000 meters to 3,250 meters, later the shorter runway II is to be expanded from 1,466 meters to 3,620 meters. In addition, the terminal building is being "generously expanded". The Senate rejects the proposal from Schleswig-Holstein to move the airport to Kaltenkirchen, around 40 kilometers away.

How loud are the jets?

But in the fall of 1959, the new types of aircraft initially aroused concerns among residents: Are the new jet planes like the Boeing 707 louder than the previous fan guns? A few months earlier, a French Caravelle jet plane had landed in the Hanseatic city and had caused "hellish noise". Many residents ask themselves how loud the much larger Boeing 707 would have to be. But aircraft experts appease that the Boeing is more modern and quiet. Measurements then also show that the engines of the 707 are not much louder than a moped that rattles through the streets.

Another good news follows for the residents who fear for their sleep: The jets to New York take off in broad daylight and not, as initially feared, at night. Also because Hamburg Airport had previously made it clear that they would not agree to a start between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. "Under all circumstances," the residents of the airport should be sure of a good night's sleep.

Lufthansa will follow suit soon

Starting in 1960, Lufthansa crossed the Atlantic with its Boeing 707 in eight and a half hours.

Lufthansa is also switching to the new jets. And so Hamburg Airport experienced another premiere in the spring of 1960: Lufthansa pilots Rudolf Mayr and Werner Utter landed a Boeing 707 freshly delivered in Seattle on March 2, 1960 in the Hanseatic city. It is the first Lufthansa jet aircraft. The first passengers board the plane in Fuhlsbüttel on March 17, 1960. With 14 press representatives on board, the Boeing 707-430 makes an introductory flight from Hamburg via Frankfurt am Main to New York. With this flight, Lufthansa takes up commercial jet traffic. Back then, the machine took 40 minutes to reach Frankfurt and from there it would cross the Atlantic in eight and a half hours.

And then comes the jumbo

In October 1960, the extended runway I went into operation. And for the first time in 1961, Hamburg Airport had more than one million passengers. From 1970 onwards, even more passengers can take off on intercontinental flights with the Boeing 747, also known as Jumbo. The apron at Hamburg Airport will be reinforced for the 350-ton aircraft, while the airport terminal will have a new handling position especially for the Jumbo, including the first two passenger boarding bridges.

The number of passengers at Hamburg Airport has continued to rise rapidly since then: from a good three million passengers in 1970 to more than 17 million in the end. And it all started on that one evening in October 1959.

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NDR 90.3 | NDR 90.3 Current | 01.10.2019 | 6:00 p.m.