Iconic 747 on Final Approach as Boeing Winds Down Production

A BA 747 waiting to operate one of its final flights to New York City

By Jonathan Spira on 29 July 2020
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Boeing’s announcement that it would wind down production of the fabled 747 jumbo jet hardly came as a shock, yet the news nonetheless gave many frequent travelers and aviation enthusiasts pause.

While we think nothing of the 747’s size today, 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.

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, at the time, supersonic aircraft to take hold before the 747 would become functionally obsolete.

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

Pan Am was the launch customer for the 747.

Indeed, the 747 came about thanks to the efforts of then Pan Am president Juan Trippe, who saw the potential economies of scale that would cut the seat-per-mile cost of air travel by a third. Trippe called the 747 “a great weapon for peace, competing with intercontinental missiles for mankind’s destiny.”

Once it had been launched, 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.

The plane itself is considered an icon of modern design, akin to Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center or Arne Jacobsen’s chair. “This is one of the great ones,” noted aviator Charles Lindbergh.

In 2017, both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines retired their 747 fleets and other airlines have followed suit.  British Airways, the world’s largest operator of the type, recently announced that its 747s, currently parked due to the coronavirus pandemic, would not return to the skies.

Generations will continue to marvel over the majesty of the 747 for years to come. At least a few 747s will fly off the assembly line in the next few years with the notable example being two 747-8i aircraft (Air Force designation VC-25B) to be used as Air Force One, the President’s plane and expected to be delivered in 2024. Modern twinjet aircraft are rapidly displacing four-engine planes.  Still, it appears that the 747 will outlive its arch rival, the Airbus A380, which will end production in 2021.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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