Thousands of current and former employees, customers and suppliers of the aircraft manufacturer were present at the handover of the last 747 in the massive warehouse built in Everett to assemble the giant aircraft.
With the delivery of the 1,574th example of the 747, the curtain falls on an iconic aircraft, also known as the ‘Queen of the Skies’, that played an important role in aviation history. “The aircraft has opened the world,” said Michel Merluzeau, aviation expert at the specialized agency AIR. Thanks to its size, range and efficiency, the 747 “gave the middle class the ability to adventure outside of Europe or the United States, with ticket prices that became more affordable even during the oil crisis of the 1970s.”
The history of the 747 goes back more than half a century. The idea for the jumbo jet matured in the late 1960s. Airline tickets became cheaper and the number of passengers increased. The American aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which had just missed out on a contract for a huge military transport aircraft, used the knowledge from that file to create the largest airliner ever at the time: the 747.
The new aircraft was developed and built in about two and a half years. It became a four-engine mastodon. The fuselage was 68.5 meters long and the tail reached as high as a six-story building. It was also the first two-aisle passenger airliner.
The Boeing 747 was developed from the start with a second role in mind: that of a freighter. After all, the belief was that passenger transport in the foreseeable future would mainly take place with supersonic jets (such as the Concorde). To allow cargo to be loaded through a swing-open nose, the designers moved the cockpit rearward and upward, giving the jumbo jet its distinctive front hump.
For the construction of the giant, a new factory had to be built in Everett, near Seattle in the western United States. That factory grew into the largest building in the world (by volume). Some of Boeing’s long-haul aircraft are still assembled there today.
The development of the new aircraft brought Boeing to the brink of bankruptcy, but on September 30, 1968, the first 747 rolled out of the factory. And more than four months later, on February 9, 1969, the first test flight took place.
Almost a year later, the first passenger flight could also take place, for the American company Pan Am. But that did not go entirely smoothly. The flight was scheduled for January 21, 1970, but had to be postponed due to engine problems. Another 747 was called in and it was finally able to take off from New York almost two hours after midnight – on January 22 – with destination London.
It was the beginning of a success story. Various models of the 747 were built over the years (the latest being the 747-8), and in June 2014 the 1,500th example rolled off the line, an aircraft for the German airline Lufthansa. The jumbo jet was the first long-range aircraft to reach that cape. The former Belgian company Sabena also had a few 747s in its fleet.
Preference for two engines
As the largest passenger aircraft in the world, the Boeing 747 has been replaced by the Airbus A380 since 2005. But it could not match the success of its predecessor: in 2021, the 251st and last copy of the “super jumbo” was delivered.
Especially as a passenger plane, the 747 has been on the decline for a while. American carriers have not used them since the end of 2017. Twin-engine aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350, are now preferred.
There will be 747s flying for years to come, especially as cargo planes. They can also be seen very regularly at the airports of Liège and Zaventem. Boeing is also modifying two more 747s to replace the current Air Force One aircraft (older 747s) used by the US president.
Leave a Reply