NBAA Convention News

40 Years On, Pre-BBJ 737 Still Going Strong

 - October 6, 2021, 11:00 AM
Nearly four decades after it was first delivered, one of the first Boeing 737s that rolled off the assembly line destined for completion as a private VIP transport, is now one of the lowest flight hour examples of the type in the world.

An office conversation at King Aerospace (Booth 1627) earlier this year caused company founder and chairman Jerry King’s ears to perk up. Some of his employees were discussing a private 737-200 that was due into his company’s Addison, Texas facility for minor maintenance and to address some service bulletins.

Hearing this caused King’s memory to wander back four decades to his time as president and co-owner of Associated Air Center (AAC) and the completion project that the company performed on a 737-200, one of the first Boeings to be delivered green from the factory.

The aircraft had been purchased from the airframer by a Swiss customer who intended to fly frequently from Europe to Africa, and from the outset it was intended as a custom VIP transport—14 years before the airframer launched its Boeing Business Jets (BBJ) division. “When they started talking a little bit about it, that floor plan as they described it, I said, 'I know that airplane,'” King told AIN. “And sure enough it was the same airplane.”

As outfitted at AAC, S/N 22628 was one of the first aircraft to be equipped with the PATS auxiliary fuel tank system, long-range navigation, and a VIP interior. “Back then, people didn’t go out and buy brand-new Boeings,” said King. “I felt like I was going into the next generation of corporate aircraft because back then we had a brand-new Gulfstream III in the hangar that we were putting an interior in and there were some of the old Boeing 727s. But this was a brand-new airplane and it came from the factory green.”

He likened the experience to what pioneers like Dee Howard must have felt as they were converting the first military surplus aircraft into executive transports three decades earlier. “This was my very first Boeing, and at Associated, which ended up doing a lot of big green airplanes, this was the first we cut our teeth on,” said King. “A lot of nights [were] spent up there at the facility trying to get it completed.”

Since the Boeing Business Jets brand was established in 1996, Boeing has delivered 251 BBJs. And while there are now more than a dozen completion centers worldwide that can handle such large projects, King recalls many instances of having to invent the wheel, such as the decompression analysis, back in the 1980s.

“When you start building bedrooms in these airplanes, that was something that we had to do, and then there were different schools of thought—do you have decompression panes and doors, or do you do it in ceiling panels?” He also recalls that the airplane had a typewriter mounted in its office, representing the then state-of-the-art in in-flight connectivity. Another hurdle was the design and installation of a large buffet unit in the dining area to safely house the airplane’s crystal service.

King oversaw its entry into service, and after being sold by its original owner a few years after delivery the 737 moved to the UAE, where it served in the ruler of Sharjah’s flight department for nearly two decades. It changed hands in 2000 to a Saudi operator, and again in 2006, this time to a private owner in Brazil, when it was fully renovated. It received another upgrade when the 737 was again sold in 2016 to a Caribbean-based operator, and then in January of this year it was acquired by a Texas businessman who told AIN he will use it to transport his large extended family.

Interior of VIP 737-200
While the 737s floor plan, with its bedroom suite located forward, has remained largely unchanged over forty years of service, the airplane's interior has received several refurbishments over that span.

Despite not having seen the airplane for 40 years, King felt at home as he boarded it again. “I could still walk through it with my eyes closed,” he said. “It’s been updated, refurbished over the years, but it’s still a very clean professional airplane, and it looks well maintained.”

The bedroom now contains two beds instead of a single queen-sized one, and the crystal buffet that had been an initial design concern has been removed and its former place in the bulkhead filled in. The typewriter has long since vanished.

When asked if he had ever tried to track down the aircraft over the past four decades, King responded, “It’s like did I ever decide to look up my high school sweetheart? Not really, but I have wondered where she was.”