The wings of a Boeing 747 span a greater distance than the first flight of the Wright brothers in 1903.
It’s so colossal that the U.S. factory in Everett, Washington, where the planes have been manufactured since 1969, is the largest building in the world at 13 million cubic feet. It is appropriate that clouds form within.
With a top speed of just over 650 mph, it is the fastest commercial airliner in the world – and it once carried 1,088 people on a single flight evacuating Ethiopian Jews from Addis Ababa in 1991.
But of course, the superlatives whiz through the air effortlessly when it comes to this iconic aviation workhorse that has carried nearly four billion passengers to and from destinations around the world in sprawling (or tight) style for over 50 years.
The last Qantas Boeing 747-400 aircraft lands on the ground at Sydney Airport in Australia on March 29 this year
With a top speed of just over 650 mph, the Boeing 747 is the fastest commercial airliner in the world. Pictured: A group of passengers seated in a plush lounge aboard an American Airlines Boeing 747 aircraft in 1975
That’s why the Queen of the Skies’ forced abdication causes such turbulence when we can all finally fly again.
Boeing announced this week that it will complete production of all 747s at the factory, but will not take any new orders. Not one. And that’s it for the much-loved original jumbo jet that has ‘shrunk the world’ and opened the journey to the masses like no other plane has ever done before.
Covid-19 cannot be held fully responsible. The 747’s four gas-guzzling engines have provided enough ammunition long enough to shut the planes down for environmental reasons – and even the most creative accountants wouldn’t be able to claim they are cost effective.
Regardless of their fuel consumption – just to land a 747 with approximately 400 passengers at Heathrow Airport costs more than £ 13,000, of which nearly £ 4,000 are environmental fares. Therefore, British Airways has a larger number of 747s in storage – 36 – than the 31 in service, and plans to withdraw them all by 2024.
United Airlines and Delta flew their last 747s in 2017, while Qantas offers three final ‘joy flights’ around Australia before retiring later this month.
And what about Virgin Atlantic? It doesn’t seem long (well, actually 2009) that Sir Richard Branson typically picked up Kate Moss and took her to the wing of a 747 for one of his classic publicity stunts. All Virgin’s 747s are now grounded.
“Best plane of all time,” said Martin Bowman, author of Boeing 747 – A History: Delivering The Dream. “They have their own mystique, and climbing the steps to the upper deck is like entering a wonderland.”
It’s that sleek yet bulging top deck (which Frank Sinatra booked in its entirety to accommodate his entourage while traveling), plus the premium double aisles below – with four seats in the middle and three on each side – which makes it so distinctive. And its six-story tail is also a sight.
Not bad for an aircraft designed with a raised cockpit so it could be converted to a cargo plane because Boeing thought it would be replaced with supersonic planes in a decade – not least because less than a month after the first 747 test flight , an Anglo-French consortium tested a new plane called Concorde on March 2, 1969.
Construction of the Boeing took two years, included six million parts, 170 miles of wiring, and the finished jumbo weighs 160 tons. Pictured: Two people pose next to the jumbo jet as the plane launches a London to New York flight in March 1970
In 2009 Virgin Sir Richard Branson typically picked up Kate Moss and carried her to the wing of a 747 for one of his classic publicity stunts
The Space Shuttle Discovery is lifted into the air in 1995 while sitting on top of NASA’s modified Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft
In the 1960s, Juan Trippe, president and founder of the now-defunct airline Pan Am, asked Boeing to build an aircraft twice the size of a 707 so he could cut ticket prices by 30 percent – ” airboat of the skies, “as he put it, a bit clumsy.
The contract was signed in 1965, before the draft was even agreed, at a time when Boeing was in debt of around £ 11 billion in today’s money.
It was a gamble for Boeing and a high bet for Trippe. First, Boeing had to find a factory large enough to fit the liner.
But there was none, so the company had to build from scratch on a 780-acre site about 30 miles north of Seattle, Washington, for £ 160 million.
Initially, the 747 was intended to be a double-decker, but that was ruled out when 560 volunteers took part in a mock-up evacuation of the cabin and took two and a half minutes to escape the plane, much longer than the Federal Aviation Administration’s maximum of 90 seconds.
Construction took two years, it involved six million parts, 170 miles of wiring, and the finished jumbo weighed 160 tons, with beer barrels filled with water and 54-tonne filled mailbags. On September 30, 1968, the first 747 was paraded at the World’s Press, accompanied by Elgar’s Pomp And Circumstance.
It showed the logos of the 26 airlines that ordered the aircraft and the female cabin crew of those airlines and knocked bottles of champagne against the fuselage.
Four months later, the test flight was not without problems – the main pilot, Jack Waddell, realized that one of the Pratt & Whitney engines was considerably hotter than the others; then one of the high speed wings had a flutter problem.
The hearts of Boeing’s board of directors must have been on impulse upon hearing that, but Waddell landed the plane safely.
First Lady, Pat Nixon, wife of President Richard Nixon, officially christened the 747 at Washington Dulles International Airport on January 15, 1970. A week later, with 336 passengers who paid the equivalent of £ 4,000 for the trip, Pan Am’s New York-London 747 service took off.
The intention was to leave 24 hours earlier, but the pilot canceled takeoff when an engine overheated. A second 747 was rushed into service and arrived in London less than seven hours later.
But the 747 also had some dark moments. In December 1988, 263 passengers and 16 crew died when Pan Am’s 747 Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie. And in 1977, two Boeing 747 jets collided on the runway at Los Rodeos Airport in Tenerife, killing 583, the deadliest crash in aviation history.
The 747 has not only carried passengers. In addition to all-cargo versions, U.S. Air Force command post aircraft, and even a prototype interceptor that would have fired laser beams at incoming missiles, the jumbo carried the Space Shuttle on its back in the 1980s and beyond.
The shuttle landed like a regular plane, but was unable to take off without assistance, so it had to hitchhike between NASA facilities.
America may see the 747 as one of its own – but the genius is that all national airlines have considered it theirs. If you didn’t have a few jumbos waiting to take to the air, you weren’t really a player.
Now the planes are dumped or used only to transport cargo. All governments are coming to an end – and history will no doubt benefit the unparalleled Queen of the Skies.