Why are planes named after numbers, like the 747? Is there a 947 or a 658?

After World War II, one of the largest aircraft manufacturers, Boeing, turned its attention from designing military craft to building commercial planes, along with missiles and spaceships. (Unrelated fact: when Boeing was forced to spin off its passenger flight division, the newly-formed company became United Airlines.

Back to the late 1940s: Model numbers were assigned to each division of aircraft (from the Boeing website:) “300s and 400s represented [military] aircraft, 500s would be used on turbine engines, 600s for rockets and missiles and 700s were set aside for jet transport aircraft.

The company’s marketing department felt that the number 700 didn’t have enough pizzazz. So the first commercial passenger airline in the series was assigned the number 707 (pronounced Seven Oh Seven). The Boeing 707 is credited with launching the beginning the “Jet Age.”

It was decided that all model numbers that either began or ended in a “7” would be reserved for commercial jets.

The most well known aircraft in the 7×7 series is the Boeing 747, which also goes by the nickname “jumbo jet.” The 747 made aviation history. It was designed in the 1960s as a response to an increase in air traffic. It was the largest civilian airplane in the world.

To construct the massive 747, Boeing used a 200-million-cubic-foot assembly plant in Everett, Washington. According to the Boeing site, the total wing area of the original 747 was larger than a basketball court. And its gross weight was 735,000 pounds.

There are Boeing 757s 767s, 777s (the “Triple Seven,”) but the 737 and 747 are most ubiquitous in the public imagination. In 2009, the 787, the “Dreamliner,” made its debut flight.

Think you know numbers? Do you know what the “twen-“ and “-ty” of “twenty” literally mean? Find out here.


  1. Beth Milford MD -  March 8, 2016 - 2:53 am

    1. Is it

    “…graduate college (or high school…MED school…etc)…”


    “.. graduate FROM college …” ?

    • Beth Milford MD -  March 8, 2016 - 3:00 am

      Is it

      “…Prozac was prescribed for him…”


      “…he was prescribed Prozac…”

  2. TulRangerFan -  July 11, 2015 - 7:12 am

    I don’t know if it was mentioned but all Boeing aircraft had a 7 in the name OR when adding or subtracting the numbers, equaled 7. (B-17, B-29, B-47, B-52, B-707, etc.

    • RedLeafRenegade -  October 21, 2015 - 12:06 pm

      They claim to be making a jumbo jet that can fly nonstop 24/7/365 that can refuel midflight ;) ;) ;)

  3. Stanley Wtorek -  January 1, 2015 - 4:23 am

    747 is called 747 because 747.9mph is the speed of sound at 5000ft elevation above sea level.. no other reasons

    • tim -  February 1, 2016 - 2:45 pm

      that should be 748 then.

  4. malcmz -  November 11, 2012 - 12:35 am

    B29 not D29 :)

  5. malcmz -  November 11, 2012 - 12:34 am

    BTW. Yes, I know the D29 was pressurized but it wasn’t an airliner with an array of windows; it’s service ceiling was about 33,000 ft whereas the Comet’s ceiling was of the order of 40,000 ft presenting a much greater problem for design.

  6. malcmz -  November 11, 2012 - 12:18 am

    “The Boeing 707 is credited with launching the beginning the “Jet Age.””

    Not so. The DH Comet was first, beginning in 1949, and it’s fatal flaws led to intensive testing in UK resulting in an understanding of pressurized cabin design. This research and testing benefited ALL other airliner manufacturers including Boeing. The 707 prototype flew in 1954.

    Ultimately the Comet continued in service in many forms for many years.

  7. bird -  September 1, 2012 - 1:56 pm

    they name it 747 because it flew for the first time in the morning at 07:47 am.

  8. bird -  September 1, 2012 - 1:54 pm

    they name it 747 because it flew in the morning at 07:47 am.

  9. Cliff Hawkes -  July 21, 2011 - 9:21 am

    Just to throw a spanner in the works … the original designation of the Boeing 717 was for the USAF “Stratotanker” flight refuelling version of the 707. This later became popularised as its military designation KC-135.

    I can also still remember the Boeing 720′s of Monarch Airlines still operational in the late 70′s – early 80′s.

    I believe Airbus started with the A300 series

  10. Jumman Surender -  July 20, 2011 - 4:10 pm

    Another additional, I liked the ubiquitous part !!! :-)

  11. mavdo -  July 18, 2011 - 10:27 am

    @Peter Buchanan – To correct you, as commented correctly by BG earlier, the 727 was a jet with three engines, not four, all mounted on the tail, that was produced between 1963 and 1982. It was designed mainly for short-haul routes and followed on the back of the success of the 707 which was designed for long-haul and so couldn’t land at smaller airports. 727s have been mainly withdrawn from passenger service, partly due to their noise, efficiency and age.

    As BG states, the denominations 707, 720 (aka 707-020), 717 (aka MD-95), 727, 737, 747, 757, 767, 777 and 787 have all been used. The 787 was originally titled 7E7, and there was even a 7J7 proposed in the 1980s, which both show that Boeing may use letters to denominate newer planes in the future.

    As part of the “Yellowstone” project, Boeing will move towards three main plane denominations in the future – Project Y1 will replace the 737, and compete with Airbus NSR (A318/319/320/320E/321) and will be known as the 797. Y2 replaces the 767 and possibly the smaller 777, and compete with the A330, A340 and smaller A350, and is now known as the 787. Y3 will replace the 747 and larger 777, and compete with the A380 and larger A350 and is not yet much past concept, so doesn’t have a name.

  12. John -  July 17, 2011 - 1:45 pm

    after the 797, they will have the 807, 817, 827, 837, 847, 857, 867, 877, 887, and 897. there i’ve saved the boeing the trouble of naming them all. so send me a check for my trouble.

  13. JP-TATA -  July 16, 2011 - 8:15 am

    Jet Age

    The English Comet was the first jet-powered airliner, but it was not successful. It was the Russian Tupolev Tu-104 that really started a successful jet-powered passenger service in the world. But it was during the Cold War, so it just didn’t exist for the West.

    The Boeing 707 was late in the game, although it became the most successful airliner. (In the West outside Russia, of course.)

  14. Steve de Looze -  July 15, 2011 - 7:19 am

    As regards trhe staement “The Boeing 707 is credited with launching the beginning the “Jet Age.””, the author shows the typical American approach to history i.e. the Americans invented everything. Sadly for him, my understanding is that the first commercial jet airliner was the de Havilland Comet – designed and built in Britain. Similarly, the first computer was designed and built in Britain and not in the USA.

  15. Peter Buchanan -  July 15, 2011 - 5:31 am

    the Boeing 727 was a four engined jet used in the 60′s and 70′s before the 747 became so popular

  16. Caleb -  July 14, 2011 - 10:19 pm

    Here is a question. How did the following come about?
    1. Block pronunciation (such as pronouncing four digit numbers as ten-twenty-four, nineteen-fifty, eighteen-ten, etcetera)
    2. considering O and 0 the same character (such as the “seven-’O'-seven mentioned in this article)
    3. Neglecting the comma (such as with display resolutions)
    4. Neglecting currency denomination (such as an item purchased for eight-eighty)
    1. This sounds odd, so I don’t use it except when stating the timr of the day or if it is physically present in some way (duch as a hyphen or colon (although sometimes I do not use it with the colon).
    2. O and 0 are not the same charscter. This can be especially problematic with phone numbers because most phones have a dial pad with the alphabet on it, a physical keyboard, a virtual keyboard, or any combination of those. In such cases I jokingly substitute the “O” (usually actually a 0) with a 6.
    3. This is similar to block pronunciation. It is odd. Let’s face it. The comma makes numbers easier for us to read and interpret, does it not? If thatis the case, then why isit not used? Hmmm
    Another thing about commas is: If we don’t take adherance to them and still use block pronunciation (such as pronouncing 2,654 as twenty-six-fifty-four), then why use them?
    4. This can present a major problem. I will two examples for this. Example 1: the blind buyer: Because it uses coupled with block pronunciation, if one is to say that an item’s sticker price is “twelve-eighty-eight,” how is the buyer going to know whether that means 12.88 or 1,288 (Remember, the buyer is blind.)? Example 2: I don’t know the currency!: If someone goes to a foreign country and a translator states that the item being purchased costs “twelve-eighty-eight,” how is the buyer going to know whether that is twelve dollars and eighty-eight cents (American currency) or twelve [Insert greater denomination here.] and eighty-eight [Insert lesser denomination here.] (foreign curreny)?

  17. Alikanas -  April 15, 2011 - 7:21 am

    I hate to correct you, but I think it was the de Havilland Comet that ushered in the jet age. It carried passengers on scheduled flights across the Atlantic before any Boeing aircraft.

  18. BG -  September 15, 2010 - 9:59 am

    There’s also a 717 and 727. I believe the 717 was designed by McDonnell Douglas but given a Boeing number since it didn’t get released until after the merger. 727 is the one with three engines that is flown mainly for cargo planes these days. 797 is the only available 7×7 left. They’ll probably go with 7A7 or something once all the numbers are used up. Of course they have to release 787 first and they’re having plenty of issues with that.

  19. camcam -  September 7, 2010 - 10:29 am

    anyway, where did they get A320 from?

  20. 947 or a 658 -  August 29, 2010 - 2:59 pm

    Where these 947 or a 658 come from?

  21. paapa -  August 29, 2010 - 10:38 am

    this is a wonderful story

  22. miss travel -  August 28, 2010 - 4:13 pm

    an association of a airplane! I am on tiptoe about crossing the border.

  23. Bill Johnson -  August 28, 2010 - 6:02 am

    The Boeing 707 originally had a 45-degree wing sweep. In trigonometry, the sin of a 45-degree angle is .707 so the engineers thought it would be a good name to show the efficiency of the 45-degree angle (since it covers more than 70% of the horizontal area). Later models kept with the the “7s” theme but used 747, 757, etc. But the original 707 name was actually developed from the angle of the wings.

  24. Manoj -  August 28, 2010 - 3:13 am

    200 million cubic feet may seem like a lot, but a 2,000 sq ft home is more like a 20,000 cubic feet home … so a 10,000 of such homes

    or a building of the size of 2000 ft x 1000 ft (50 acres approx) and 100 ft tall

  25. betty -  August 28, 2010 - 12:12 am


  26. ting -  August 27, 2010 - 7:58 pm

    im not really into aircrafts but this info is indeed a good start

  27. Michael Dadona -  August 27, 2010 - 5:41 pm

    I really had learned new thing today! thank you for providing this article.

  28. Archie L -  August 27, 2010 - 4:48 pm

    Re: Drunk With Power,
    Get A Little Drunk With Power an’ ya lands in jaiail!
    Peace Be Upon You Besides,

    Re: About:hotword
    Excellent Certification system that being
    the #s I prefer 524s to 747s anyday
    a mite of a fine plane that

  29. once a Wsgtn resident -  August 27, 2010 - 3:49 pm

    I have once visited the Everette factory at night for fun and that was a
    quite a experience. Airplane stored there looked totally different when seen at a airport. The first impression was dread, a feeling that gave us the willies. The Boeing has another site at Renton in the Washington state. That state also has the Nintendo headquater in Redmond where Bill Gates resides nearby. You get toll free phone advise for games if you live in the neigbourhood, which I used to take advantages a long time ago.

  30. Conan -  August 27, 2010 - 1:50 pm


  31. Mark V -  August 27, 2010 - 12:48 pm

    For those that find 200,000,000 cubic feet hard to imagine.
    It would be a building 584ft long x 584ft wide x 584ft tall, which a little less than 1/5th a KM each dimension

    naturally, it wouldnt really be THAT tall.

  32. Diane -  August 27, 2010 - 12:20 pm

    The 797 will probably revert back and have an added 7 inserted at the end. i.e. 7077, 7477, 7877 seven being a lucky number and all. Boeing don’t forget to send me the residuals on this new numbering system.

  33. AIRPLANE | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  August 25, 2010 - 5:47 pm

    [...] AIRPLANE. — Somebody oughta make a movie. — Though no longer is it funny — merely confusing the requiem Big Chill. — Fly the Friendly Skies of United” — Ironic is it not? — It could be Post Oingo Boeingo though it’s confusing in our gut. — It is all about the numbers and this is 2010 — No time for reminiscing — and they’re still looking for Bin Laden. — What is it that we should believe — with all that’s spent on magic technology and fighting illegal Wars? — Let’s turn it over to the junkies — it’s already run by the Military Whores.–>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

  34. DrunkWithPower -  August 25, 2010 - 11:41 am

    What happens to the numbering system after they produce the 797?

  35. Blue -  August 25, 2010 - 10:49 am

    so where do the other conventions come from (eg: A320, E190)

  36. ud -  August 25, 2010 - 9:19 am

    Am following you on twitter and just loving it. Like today’s article on plane numbering- learned a lot. Keep it up and maybe increase to 2-r tweets a day.


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