A few days ago, Boeing rolled out the last production model of its 747 line of wide body aircraft. Wikipedia noted:
The first flight took place on February 9, 1969, and the 747 was certified in December of that year. It entered service with Pan Am on January 22, 1970. … The final 747 was delivered in January 2023 after a 54-year production run, with 1,574 aircraft built.
I have many fond memories of this great airplane – from seeing it for the very first time flying in to land at San Francisco International Airport (which must have been in 1970) to my first flight which – best of my recollection – was on TWA flying from San Francisco to New York. My last 747 flight was on a Lufthansa 747-8 flying out of Bangalore to Frankfurt in 2016.
I had a few flights in a seat on the 747’s upper deck – a special treat! The upper deck was also where the cockpit was located – it always seemed to be so high up off the runway that landing a 747 seemed to require some special skill and depth perception! On the other hand, the airplane’s landing gear really smoothed out landings as it had this swing mechanism where the rear wheels on the main landing great touched down first and then pivoted to smoothly bring down the front wheels. The early models of the 747 had a circular staircase to the upper deck where there was a lounge instead of seating. This upper deck cockpit design also facilitated adding a nose door which pivoting upward in the freighter version of the 747. In fact, the last 747 delivered was a freighter to Atlas Air.
Speaking of Atlas Air and that last 747, after delivery it flew from Seattle to Cincinnati as it was put into service. The pilots on the first flight of that last 747 has some fun on their flight – trading a lovely tribute to the “Queen of the Skies” on their radar track.
NASA used a special version of the 747 as the transporter for the space shuttle. In 2012, NASA flew a final flight of its 747 carrying the shuttle Endeavor to its new home in a museum in Los Angeles. Along the way, the NASA 747 toured the San Francisco Bay Area and I was fortunate to be able to make a few images of that flight:
While the last 747 has been delivered by Boeing, it will continue to be flown for many years ahead. Most airlines have removed 747s from their fleets but a few (including Lufthansa) continue flying them. I’d enjoy taking another trip on one of these beautiful aircraft. In the meantime, I’ve got lots of good memories about trips and sightings of the 747.
Update: February 03, 2023 – a few additional thoughts on the 747.
- For many years, two 747’s have provided air transport for the US presidents – and the current 747’s are soon (?) to be replaced by two new models that have been undergoing customization for some time.
- Wired added an article about the negatives of the 747 – saying it should have been retired “many years ago”. The article also adds more interesting details about the history of the 747. Fuel economy is the biggest detractor: “A Boeing 747-400, which was manufactured between 1989 and 2009, costs around $26,635 an hour to run. A Boeing 787-8, which is still produced today, costs $14,465 an hour to operate—45 percent cheaper.”
Update: February 04, 2023 – The New Yorker also has an new article about the 747 titled “The World the 747 Didn’t Predict“.
Because the 747 could now seat more travellers on a single flight, airlines were able to sell more tickets at lower prices. Suddenly, travel, particularly intercontinental travel, was accessible to people who had rarely, if ever, been in the air. The 747, in a sense, taught the world to fly.
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