History in the Making: United Airlines Final Boeing 747 Flight Takes Off

San Francisco-Honolulu Flight Recreates the Airline’s Original Jumbo Jet Service

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This passenger was also on the world’s very first 747 flight with launch customer Pan Am in 1970


After Boeing lost the contract for a jumbo military cargo plane to arch-competitor Lockheed in the 1960s, Juan Trippe, Pan Am’s founder and CEO, asked Boeing to build a passenger version for which his airline would serve as launch customer. Pan Am committed to 25 of the new Jumbo Jets for $525 million ($3.3 billion in 2017 dollars), putting Trippe in the unique position of having tremendous influence in the design as well.

Then came Joe Sutter, who would become known as the “father of the 747.” He managed a team of 4,500 engineers who required just 29 months to design and build the graceful 747, crafting a glistening airborne response to the ocean liners of the early 20th century.

First Mr. Sutter had to convince Mr. Trippe to abandon his preference for a double-decker configuration (à la today’s Airbus A380). Using a plywood prototype, he managed to persuade the Pan Am founder to accept a twin-aisle cabin design with a hump-like upper deck lounge. This became the iconic aircraft fondly referred to as the Queen of the Skies.


Indeed, Sutter & Co. designed the 747’s 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 the then Seattle-based company expected supersonic aircraft to take hold before the 747 would become functionally obsolete.

The first 747, the 747-100, was a game changer and dwarfed any aircraft in service at the time of its launch. With a length of 231’ (70.4 meters), it was longer than the Wright brothers’ first flight.

It was a revolutionary design when introduced, something immediately apparent to even the most casual observer. It was the world’s first wide-body airliner: Until the 747, 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.

Boeing introduced the world’s first commercially successful jetliner, the 707, in 1957. The 707, which flew into the 1970s, was a single-aisle four-engine aircraft that, depending on the model and configuration, was capable of transporting anywhere from 140 to 219 passengers. The 747, also depending on model and configuration, seated up to three times the number passengers.

Simply put, while the 707 ushered in the jet age, the 747 brought air travel to the masses and made the world a bit smaller.

“Whatever your pleasure, you’ll find it on United’s 747, our Friend Ship to Hawaii, from the people who brought you the Friendly Skies.”

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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