- The final 747 freighter will be delivered to Atlas Airlines
- More than five decades of commercial production ends
- Boeing nearly went bankrupt, before becoming a cash cow
- It’s easy to fly, says rock star pilot Bruce Dickinson
SEATTLE/PARIS, Jan. 29 (Reuters) – The Boeing Company (prevention) The 747, the original and most aesthetically pleasing “Jumbo Jet,” revolutionized air travel only to see its more than five-decade reign as “Queen of the Skies” end with more efficient twin-jets.
The last commercial Boeing jumbo will be delivered to Atlas Air (AAWW.O) In the surviving cargo copy Tuesday, 53 years after the 747’s instantly recognizable hump silhouette captured global attention as a Pan Am passenger jet.
“On the ground, it’s luxurious and stately,” said Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden, who piloted a custom-built 747 dubbed the “Aid Force One” during the British heavy metal band’s tour in 2016.
“And in the air, it’s surprisingly agile. For such a massive aircraft, you can really yank it out if you have to.”
Designed in the late 1960s to meet the demand for group travel, the world’s first twin-aisle wide-body jet became the world’s most luxurious club above the clouds.
But in the seemingly endless rows in the back of the new 747 jumbo changed travel.
“This was the plane that introduced aviation to the middle class in the United States,” said Ben Smith, CEO of Air France-KLM.
“Before the 747, your average family couldn’t afford to fly from the United States to Europe at a reasonable cost,” Smith told Reuters.
The jumbo jet has also left its mark on world affairs, symbolizing war and peace, from the US nuclear command center “doomsday plane” to papal visits on the chartered 747 aka Shepherd One.
Now, two previously delivered 747s are being installed to replace the US presidential aircraft known worldwide as Air Force One.
As a Pan Am flight attendant, Linda Freer has served passengers ranging from Michael Jackson to Mother Teresa.
“It was an amazing diversity of passengers. People who dress nicely and people who have very little and spend everything they have on that ticket,” Fryer said.
When the first 747 took off from New York on January 22, 1970, after a delay due to an engine malfunction, the plane’s capacity more than doubled to 350-400 seats, which in turn led to a reshaping of the airport’s layout.
“It was the plane for the people, the one that really provided the potential to be a mass market,” said aviation historian Max Kingsley-Jones.
“It has been transformative in all aspects of the industry,” added Senior Consultant at Ascend by Cirium.
Her birth has become the stuff of aviation legend.
Pan Am founder Juan Tripp sought to cut costs by increasing the number of seats. On a hunting trip, he challenged Boeing Chairman William Allen to make something that dwarfed the 707.
Allen put legendary engineer Joe Sutter in charge. It took just 28 months for Sutter’s team known as “The Incredibles” to develop the 747 before maiden flight on February 9, 1969.
Although it eventually became a cash cow, the early years of the 747 were riddled with problems and billion-dollar development costs nearly snuffed out Boeing, who believed the future of air travel lay in supersonic aircraft.
After a slump during the 1970s oil crisis, the airliner’s heyday arrived in 1989 when Boeing introduced the 747-400 with new engines and lighter materials, making it well-suited to meet the growing demand for flights across the Pacific.
“The 747 is the nicest and easiest plane to land… It’s like landing in an armchair,” said Dickinson, who also heads up aviation maintenance company Caerdav.
The era of economics
The same wave of innovation that brought the 747 off the ground has finally come to an end, as advances have made it possible for twin-engine planes to replicate their range and capacity at a lower cost.
However, the 777X, which is set to take the 747’s place at the top of the jet market, won’t be ready until at least 2025 after the delay.
“In terms of impressive technology, great capability, and great economy… (the 777X) makes it sad that the 747 looks obsolete,” said Richard Aboulafia, managing director of consultancy AeroDynamic.
However, the newer 747-8 is destined to grace the skies for years, mainly as a freighter, having outsold European Airbus aircraft. (AIR.PA) Double-decker A380 airliner in production.
The latest delivery of the 747 this week leaves questions about the future of the mammoth but now disused Everett widebody production plant outside Seattle, while Boeing is also struggling after the COVID pandemic and the 737 MAX safety crisis.
CEO Dave Calhoun said Boeing may not design a new airliner for at least a decade.
Abu Alafia said, “It was one of the wonders of the modern industrial age, but this is not the age of wonders, it is the age of economics.”
(Reporting by Valerie Encina and Tim Heffer) Editing by Alexander Smith
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