The Boeing 757 was the highest-capacity and latest-designed narrowbody Boeing ever produced (and, in the case of the 757-300, the highest-capacity narrowbody anyone ever produced); it was also the only Boeing narrowbody lacking any form of manual-reversion capability for its flight controls in the event of a total hydraulic failure.

Now, I can sort of see why Boeing didn’t bother to give their widebodies manual-reversion capability (even if I don’t agree with their reasoning on that point), but the 757 is just a large narrowbody, and not even Boeing's largest; the 707 was even heavier (123,830 kg MTOW for the 757-300, versus 151,500 kg for the 707-320B/C), and it had full manual backups for its flight controls. Also, in the time since they decided to leave manual reversion out of the 757, they’ve grown the 737 to near-757 size, and yet haven’t had any trouble at all keeping its manual-reversion system working!

Besides, if our friends beyond the Iron Curtain could do it all the way back in the 1960s (MTOW 165,000 kg)...

The only reason I can see that would sort of make even a bit of sense (if you scrunch up your eyes and look at it in a certain very-specific sort of way) would be if they left it out in order to avoid introducing excessive differences between the piloting skills required for the 757 and those required for the (widebody, and, thus, reversion-free) 767, and thereby possibly jeopardising the common type rating pilots can obtain for the two - but how can operational convenience possibly justify skimping on safety?

Why did Boeing leave manual-reversion capability out of the 757?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm no expert, so I'll only post this as a comment, but two possible reasons I can imagine: (1) the 737 (introduced in 1967) was the last design from Boeing to have manual reversion, for later aircraft (such as the 757, which came 15 years later) they probably considered hydraulics reliable enough to allow removing this feature. (2) the desire to have a common type certificate with the 767 may have also played a part $\endgroup$
    – rob74
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 13:41

1 Answer 1


When you have controls designed to be operated manually, in an airplane that heavy and that fast, you have to include things to provide aerodynamic force compensation like servo tabs and offset hinge lines (look at the IL-82's rudder hinges; like a B-29's...the most obvious tell-tail of manual controls on a large aircraft) to make the control forces reasonably manageable, and even there, I can say with pretty much total certainty the IL-82 required muscles the size of fence posts to operate comfortably. A jet like that with B-29 flight controls is hardly a leap forward. You also have to mass balance the surfaces because there are is no flutter damping capability afforded by the mechanical control linkages. All rather heavy.

When you have hydraulic controls, you can get away without mass balancing the surfaces, without servo tabs, and without offset hinges, because the hydraulic actuators (plus flutter dampers in some cases) provide all the required force, AND the required flutter resistance.

So, if you are going to design a hydraulically boosted system with manual reversion, you have to incorporate some of those aerodynamic force aids to be able to operate the controls manually. But once you have a design that is sufficiently robust from a design/risk/failure tolerance perspective to operate with hydraulics only, there is no point in including manual reversion. It's a step backwards, adding all kinds of complexity and weight for no benefit.


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