The end of an era: Boeing’s 747, the original jumbo jet, prepares for its farewell
The Boeing 747the original “Jumbo Jet” and undoubtedly the most aesthetic, revolutionized air transport just to see how your reign of more than five decades as “Queen of the Skies” ended up in the hands of more efficient twin-engine aircraft.
On Tuesday, Atlas Air will be delivered the last commercial Boeing jumbo jet in the surviving cargo version, 53 years later that the instantly recognizable hunchbacked silhouette of the 747 captured worldwide attention as a Pan Am airliner.
“On the ground it’s majestic, it’s imposing,” said Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson, who piloted a specially liveried 747 dubbed “Ed Force One” during the British heavy metal band’s 2016 tour. “And in the air it’s surprisingly agile. For such a big plane, you can really push it if you have to.”
Designed in the late 1960s to meet the demand for mass travelthe nose and upper deck of the world’s first twin-aisle airliner became the world’s most luxurious club above the clouds.
But it was in the endless rows at the back of the new jumbo jet where the 747 transformed travel.
“This was the airplane that introduced flying for the middle class in America”, said Ben Smith, CEO of Air France-KLM. “Before the 747, the average family couldn’t affordably fly from the US to Europe.”, Smith declared to Reuters.
The jumbo jet also made its mark on world affairs, symbolizing war and peace, from the US nuclear command post “Doomsday Plane” to papal visits in chartered 747s nicknamed Shepherd One.
Now two previously delivered 747s are being outfitted to replace the US presidential jets known worldwide as Air Force One.
As a Pan Am flight attendant, Linda Freier served passengers ranging from Michael Jackson to Mother Teresa. “There was a incredible diversity of passengers. People who were well dressed and people who had very little and spent everything they had on that ticket,” Freier said.
When the first 747 took off from New York on January 22, 1970, after a delay due to engine failure, it more than doubled the plane’s capacity to 350-400 seats, which in turn reconfigured airport layouts.
“It was the plane for the people, the one that really brought the ability to be a mass market”said aviation historian Max Kingsley-Jones.
“It was transformative in all aspects of the industry,” added the Ascend by Cirium senior consultant.
His birth became an aviation myth.
Pan Am founder Juan Trippe wanted to cut costs by increasing the number of seats. On a fishing trip, he challenged Boeing president William Allen to build something that dwarfed the 707.
Allen put legendary engineer Joe Sutter at the helm. Sutter’s team, known as “the Incredibles,” it took only 28 months to develop the 747 before its maiden flight on February 9, 1969.
Although over time it became a goose that laid golden eggs, The early years of the 747 were plagued with problems, and the $1 billion it cost to develop nearly bankrupted Boeing.who believed that the future of air transport lay in supersonic aircraft.
After a blip during the oil crisis of the 1970s, the airplane’s heyday came in 1989, when Boeing introduced the 747-400 with new engines and lighter materials, making it perfect for meeting the growing demand for trans-Pacific flights.
“The 747 is the most beautiful airplane and easy to land… It’s like landing an armchair”, says Dickinson, who also heads the aircraft maintenance company Caerdav.
The same wave of innovation that launched the 747 has spelled its end, as advances have made it possible for twin-engine aircraft to replicate its range and capability at lower cost.
However the 777XDestined to take the 747’s place at the top of the jet market, it won’t be ready until 2025 at the earliest, following delays.
“In terms of impressive technology, great capacity, great economy… (the 777X) makes the 747 look sadly out of datesaid AeroDynamic Advisory managing director Richard Aboulafia.
However, the latest version of the 747-8 will continue to take to the skies for years to come, primarily as a freighter, having outlived production of Airbus’ A380 double-decker airliner.
This week’s latest 747 delivery raises questions about the future of the gigantic but underutilized Everett widebody manufacturing plant outside Seattle, as Boeing also struggles in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic and safety crisis. of the 737 MAX.
Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun has stated that Boeing will not design a new airliner for another decade.
“It was one of the wonders of the modern industrial age,” said Aboulafia, “But this is not an age of wonders, it is an age of economy.”
(With information from Reuters/By Valerie Insinna and Tim Hepher)