Boeing 747: Now On Final Approach

A model of a Pan Am 747-200

By Jonathan Spira on 16 October 2017
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When the Boeing 747 was first placed into service in 1970 with launch customer Pan American World Airways, I didn’t have long to wait to fly in one. My parents were far from aviation enthusiasts but frequently flew on Pan Am. I cut my teeth as a child on the Boeing 707 so it was just a matter of time before I ended up on a Pan Am 747-100 exploring the wonders of an airplane with a spiral staircase.

Boeing designed the 747’s iconic hump-like upper deck to serve as a first-class lounge or extra seating with an eye towards an eventual conversion of the airframe to a freighter as it expected supersonic aircraft to take hold before the 747 would become functionally obsolete.

While we think nothing of the 747’s size, it was revolutionary when introduced. The first model, the 747-100, was the world’s first wide-body airliner. Until then, airplanes only had a single aisle with seats on either side. The 747-100 weighed hundreds of thousands of pounds more than existing aircraft and carried twice as many passengers and crew.

A Boeing 747-8 in Lufthansa livery.

A Boeing 747-8 in Lufthansa livery.

While the 707 inaugurated the jet age, the 747 brought air travel to the masses.

Indeed, airlines extolled the virtues of the new wonder plane, emphasizing two prominent aspects of the aircraft: its size and the amenities it offered.

“Chances are, you’ve heard about the plane with the spiral staircase in first class. The plane with the two wide aisles and the three wide-screen movies and the 8’ ceilings in economy,” a 1969 Pan Am commercial teased.

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