- The last 747 freighter will be delivered to Atlas Air
- Ends over five decades of commercial production
- Boeing on the verge of bankruptcy, before becoming a cash cow
- Easy to fly, says rock star pilot Bruce Dickinson
SEATTLE/PARIS, Jan 29 (Reuters) – The Boeing (BA.N) 747, the original and arguably best-looking “Jumbo Jet”, revolutionized air travel to see its reign of more than five decades at the end of the “Queen of Heaven”. by more efficient twin-engine aircraft.
The last commercial Boeing jumbo will be delivered to Atlas Air (AAWW.O) in the surviving freighter version on Tuesday, 53 years after the 747’s instantly recognizable lumpy silhouette captured global attention as a Pan Am passenger jet.
“On the ground, it’s majestic, it’s imposing,” said Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden who flew a specially decorated 747 dubbed “Ed Force One” during the heavy metal band’s tour. British in 2016.
“And in the air, it’s surprisingly nimble. For this massive plane, you can really throw it around if you have to.”
Designed in the late 1960s to meet mass travel demand, the nose and upper deck of the world’s first twin-aisle widebody airliner became the world’s most luxurious club above the clouds .
But it was in the seemingly endless rows aft of the new jumbo that the 747 transformed travel.
“It was the plane that introduced flight to the middle class in the United States,” said Ben Smith, CEO of Air France-KLM.
“Before the 747, your average family couldn’t affordably fly from the United States to Europe,” Smith told Reuters.
The jumbo has also marked world affairs, symbolizing war and peace, from the US nuclear command post “Doomsday Plane” to papal visits on charter 747s dubbed Shepherd One.
Now, two previously delivered 747s are being installed to replace US presidential jets known worldwide as Air Force One.
As a Pan Am flight attendant, Linda Freier served passengers ranging from Michael Jackson to Mother Teresa.
“It was an incredible diversity of passengers. Well-dressed people and people who had very little and spent everything they had on this ticket,” Freier said.
When the first 747 took off from New York on January 22, 1970, after a delay due to an engine problem, it more than doubled the plane’s capacity to 350-400 seats, in turn reshaping the design of the airport.
“It was the plane for the people, the one that really offered the ability to be a mass market,” said aviation historian Max Kingsley-Jones.
“It’s been a transformation in all aspects of the industry,” added the Ascend by Cirium senior consultant.
His birth became the stuff of aviation myth.
Pan Am founder Juan Trippe sought to cut costs by increasing the number of seats. On a fishing trip, he challenged Boeing President William Allen to make something that dwarfs the 707.
Allen instructed legendary engineer Joe Sutter. It took only 28 months for Sutter’s team known as “the Incredibles” to develop the 747 before first flight on February 9, 1969.
Although it eventually became a cash cow, the 747’s early years were fraught with problems, and billion-dollar development costs nearly bankrupted Boeing, which believed the future of air travel lay in supersonic jets.
After a slump during the 1970s oil crisis, the plane’s golden age came in 1989 when Boeing introduced the 747-400 with new engines and lighter materials, making it a perfect choice. to meet the growing demand for transpacific flights.
“The 747 is the most beautiful plane and the easiest to land… It’s like landing on a chair,” said Dickinson, who also chairs aircraft maintenance company Caerdav.
THE AGE OF ECONOMY
The same wave of innovation that got the 747 off the ground spelled demise, as advancements allowed jets to replicate its range and capacity at lower cost.
Still, the 777X, which is expected to take the 747’s place at the top of the jet market, won’t be ready until at least 2025 after delays.
“In terms of impressive technology, great capacity, great economy…(the 777X) unfortunately makes the 747 obsolete,” said AeroDynamic Advisory managing director Richard Aboulafia.
Nevertheless, the latest version of the 747-8 is expected to fly in the skies for years, mostly as a freighter, having outlived the European Airbus (AIR.PA) A380 double-decker passenger jet in production.
This week’s final 747 delivery leaves questions over the future of the mammoth but now underutilized Everett widebody production plant outside Seattle, while Boeing is also struggling post-pandemic of COVID and a 737 MAX security crisis.
Chief Executive Dave Calhoun said Boeing may not design a new jetliner for at least a decade.
“It was one of the wonders of the modern industrial age,” Aboulafia said, “But it’s not an era of wonders, it’s an era of economy.”
Reporting by Valerie Insinna and Tim Hepher; Editing by Alexander Smith
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