I'd put the 757 in that "all around" category. I can't think of one area where it really stands out. It just very competently does whatever you ask of it. I know that's kind of boring, but in my profession I like boring. Boring is good.
So read on if you want to know more about this great airplane. I think Boeing really hit it out of the park with this one (that's enough sports for one day).
The 757 almost didn't come to be. Boeing originally wanted to go for the easy buck and build an improved version of the 727. The airlines were lukewarm to that idea. Fuel prices were on the way up and twin engine aircraft are inherently more efficient than tri-jets. Boeing did the smart thing and came up with a totally new design that took advantage of new (at the time) advancements in engines, materials, aerodynamics and avionics.
The end result was a twin engine narrow-body airliner with the engines pod mounted under the wing. The 727's T-tail was dropped in favor of a conventional tail. Flight controls were pure hydraulic. The two person cockpit (no flight engineer) used a mix of round dials and then-new CRT displays. In some ways we'd gone full circle back to the DC-3 days with two engines and two pilots.
They did one other smart thing. They developed the wide-body 767 at the same time, sharing as much of the design between the two planes as possible. The two share a common type-rating, so that if you're trained to fly one you can fly the other with some minor differences training. The airlines love that because training costs money and the less time you spend in training the more time you can be out making money for them.
First flight was in 1982 and Eastern Airlines (remember them?) started operating them later that year. Sales were never really what Boeing had hoped for. They sold just over 1000 of them over a production run that ended in 2004. That's enough to be profitable but less than the number of 727s produced (1800) and nowhere close to the 737 with 7,600 built (and still in production).
Some of it was just bad timing. By the 1980s fuel prices were coming down and most airlines didn't think they needed a 200-seat narrow body airliner. American for example preferred the 150-seat MD-80 which could be had for less money.
There are two major versions, the 757-200 and the -300. The '300s are stretched and mostly used on oceanic routes. A smaller -100 version was planned but never built due to lack of interest from the airlines. I've crossed "the pond" as a passenger on a 757-300 but I'd generally prefer something larger for an ocean crossing.
So what's it like to fly? Overall it's great. It has a lot of strengths and very few quirks.
The systems are well thought out and are largely "set 'em and forget 'em". Unlike the A300 I don't get a lot of feedback on what the systems are doing. They either work or they don't. Fortunately they work pretty reliably. If something malfunctions, turning it off and back on seems to fix the problem 90% of the time. For the most part they just quietly do their thing and let me get on with my business of flying the plane. In typical fashion there's two or three backups for everything that's important.
The flight controls are a touch on the heavy side but not excessively so. I actually prefer it that way. The A300 flight controls were so light it was easy to over-control it.
I'm told that the 767, despite being much larger, is actually more responsive. Probably due to it having an extra set of ailerons and spoilers for roll control.
Takeoffs are uneventful. The rudder is very effective, so much so that I almost have to lock my feet in place to keep from wiggling the nose back and forth. You don't want to yank it off the runway because it's a long airplane and a tail-strike is possible. Make a smooth rotation and it's not an issue.
Cruise speed is right around .80 mach. You can get .84 mach out of it but that's it. The wing is designed for efficiency, not speed.
It does like to go high, which is a plus when there's weather. Unless you're really heavy it will happily go up to FL400 and FL420 is possible. It gives you plenty of airspeed margin to work with even up high.
The ride is pretty decent for a narrow-body airliner. I think the 727 rode better due to its higher wing loading. Get the 757 into turbulence and that long, skinny fuselage will shimmy from side to side. For a long flight I'd rather be in a wide-body but the 757 isn't too bad.
Fuel economy is where it really shines. At cruise it burns between 6,000 to 8,000 pounds per hour. It's roughly 40% more efficient than its predecessor. If you let the FMS (Flight Management System) do its thing it will figure out the most fuel efficient climb and descent profiles to use.
You may be wondering why some of the planes pictured are sporting winglets and some aren't. It depends on the type of trips you're going to operate. If you're going to use them on long distance flights the aerodynamic efficiency of the winglets will save you gas (and money). However, on a short flight you won't be at cruise altitude long enough for the winglets to pay off, plus you'll pay a fuel penalty for the extra weight of the winglets.
Of everything I've flown it's the easiest to land consistently well. It's rare that I have a rough landing in one of these. Approach speeds are very slow, I've seen 110 knots with a very light aircraft. The rudder is very effective so crosswinds are no problem. It's practically in a landing attitude already as it comes down final so very little flare is required. The only thing you have to watch for is the nose wants to slam down on its own after the mains touch.
Note the nose-high approach attitude
I only have a couple of nitpicks. The FMS is a generation or so behind what newer airliners have. It works well enough but the processor is pretty slow. If you throw too many changes in it can "go stupid" for a while as it churns through the calculations.
The big one is - this plane simply will not go down and slow down at the same time. You can have one or the other, you pick. It has a skinny fuselage, a very efficient wing and engines that produce a fair bit of thrust even in idle.
Fortunately, unlike some older Boeing products, the speed brakes can be used with the flaps extended. If Approach Control gives you a clearance like "maintain 180 knots to the marker" it can be a real struggle to get slowed down to approach speed in time to meet our "stable approach" criteria.
Safety wise it has a very good record. Pretty much all the hull losses have been due to human factors. I don't know of any that have been lost due to a flaw in the design.
Otherwise I can't praise it enough. It's got all the glass cockpit bells and whistles but you can still shut all the automation off and fly it the old fashioned way. It's not as much fun as the 727 was but as a tool for doing my job it's tough to beat.
So if it's that good, why don't you see more of them? It's simple. Pilots love the 757 but management and accounting types like the 737. Guess who usually wins.
1:53 PM PT: Updated to fix typos.