A barrel roll in a Boeing 707 – what was he thinking!
Alvin “Tex” Johnston was born in Admire, Kansas in August of 1914, to a farming family. He took his first flight in 1925, at the age of eleven, when a barnstormer landed near his home. On that day, he decided that he would become a pilot. After flight training, he did his first solo flight at the age of 15.
In his adult years, he dropped out of college before completing his engineering courses. Then Tex Johnston worked for Bell Aircraft and Boeing as a test pilot. He is famous for his Boeing 707 and B-52 test flights. He was also a flight instructor in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, and the U.S. Army Air Corps Ferry Command.
An impressive pilot who was larger than life
Johnston was known for his larger than life personality. He received the nickname “Tex” because of the stetson hat and cowboy boots he liked to wear. But Johnston is even better known for executing a barrel roll maneuver with a Boeing 367-80–the Boeing 707 prototype…a giant airliner!
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 -Barrel Roll in 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.”
The Footage of Tex Johnston Rolling The Jet Is A Sight To Behold
This video footage shows scenes from the 1955 Seafair and Gold Cup in Seattle. Bill Allen had invited representatives of the Aircraft Industries Association to the event and Tex delivered with that famous barrel roll.
The whole stunt was filmed, and Tex was called into the office of his supervisor. When his boss asked him what he thought he was doing rolling his plane in the air, Tex replied, “I’m selling airplanes.” With a witty reply, his job was saved. The Boeing 707 went on to be a very successful airliner and derivatives were selected to be air refueling tankers for US and allied forces.
Tex Johnston died in 1998, at the age of 84.