• Farewell to Boeing B747 marks the end of an era

The last Boeing 747 left Boeing’s Everett factory last December to end a historic era for aviation. The last unit will be delivered to Atlas Air Worldwide.

To speak of ‘The Queen’, the colloquial name by which the B747 is referred to by “air geeks”, is to speak of more than five decades of history; its launch was a revolution.

The Boeing 747 has been responsible for making large transcontinental flights accessible to the vast majority of the population, since its introduction allowed a significant reduction in ticket prices.

But do you want to know more about the Boeing B747? In today’s post, we tell you interesting facts, everything about its origins and, in addition, we list the most famous B747s in the world. Will you join us?

Origins of B747

The origins of the Boeing 747 go back to Juan Trippe, founder of the now-defunct Pan American World Airways. Juan had realised that, although the number of flights could increase to meet growing demand, the capacity of the aeroplanes was small, and this would eventually lead to airport congestion.

Trippe asked Boeing to create a new single-aisle but twin-deck aircraft that would double the capacity of the Boeing 707, which at the time was the U.S. manufacturer’s flagship model.

But for Joe Sutter, known as the father of the 747, that design would doom the future of the new aircraft; so Sutter went for a single-deck but twin-aisle aeroplane.

Double capacity and half the expense

‘The Incredibles’, as Joe Sutter’s team was nicknamed, set to work and, in less than two and a half years, were able to design the new aircraft.

The result was a success. They had designed an aeroplane with twice the capacity of the aircraft of that time and, thanks to the new engines, it generated twice the power while reducing fuel consumption by 60%.

The expectation was such that on September 30, 1968, thousands of people gathered at the Everett factory to learn about the characteristics of the new aeroplane.

Thus, the Boeing 747 made its first flight on February 9th, 1969, and on January 21st, 1970, it entered service with Pan Am.

Curiosities of the Boeing 747

  • A total of 1,574 have been produced.
  • At normal cruising speed, the 747-8 crosses three football fields per second.
  • The 747-8 can carry up to 133.1 tonnes of cargo, which is equivalent to 10,669 bars of gold or 19 million golf balls.
  • The 747 was the first aircraft to incorporate overhead baggage compartments.
  • It was the first aircraft to incorporate a sound system, known as Deltasonic.
  • More than 3,500 million passengers have travelled on a 747 since 1970.
  • The 747 is capable of carrying 550 passengers. In fact, for 36 years it held the record for being the world’s largest passenger aircraft, until Airbus introduced the A380.
  • At 76.2 metres, it is the longest passenger aircraft in service.
  • The maximum take-off weight, MOTW, is 442 tonnes.
  • The initial idea was for the Boeing 747 to have a full second deck, but the aircraft was not able to meet the requirement to evacuate in less than 90 seconds using 50% of the emergency exits, so the design had to be changed.
  • In 1991, during the Solomon rescue operation, Israeli airline El Al removed the seats from a Boeing 747 and carried 1,122 people on one flight.
  • The 747 has appeared in more than 300 films.

Evolution of the B747 design

The 747’s beginnings were not easy, as at the time there was already talk of Concorde (which you can read more about in our post on the speed of aircraft), so companies doubted whether passengers would want to fly in subsonic aeroplanes.

Moreover, the reduction in operating costs was only noticeable if the plane was full. For this reason, Boeing needed to keep listening to airlines in order to make its new aeroplane an industry success.

Stewart John, who worked for Cathay Pacific Airlines, played an important role in the subsequent designs of the 747, because the 747-200 was too small for them. At the time, the airline was operating the longest routes in the world, so they needed an aircraft with more range.

The result was the 747-400, with a range of 14,200 kilometres loaded to maximum capacity. To achieve this increase, the 747-400 was fitted with wingtip devices that increased aerodynamics and, as a result, it was able to cover much longer distances than its predecessor.

In addition, the cockpit had been redesigned, allowing the flight engineer to be eliminated, further reducing costs for airlines.

Finally, in 2005, Boeing introduced the 747-800, a fully cargo-focused aircraft that incorporated many of the changes Joe Sutter had considered.

The cargo version of the Boeing 747

During the design of the 747, it was taken into account that the aircraft should also be able to be used for cargo transport.

This explains the location of the cabin, which allows the nose of the aircraft to be converted into a hatch to introduce cargo.

Although the first versions were also used for cargo transport, the “boom” came with the 747-800, which, as we have already mentioned, was designed almost exclusively for cargo.

On 10th March 1972, Boeing delivered the first 747-200 freighter. Lufthansa was the first operator.

The 747 has been kept alive in recent years by the high profitability it offers to air cargo airlines.

The most famous and special B747s

The Boeing 747 is not only one of the most successful passenger and cargo aircraft in the world, it is also the model used for very specific missions. These are some of them:

Air Force One, the aircraft used by the President of the United States, is actually a 747 that has been modified to ensure communications and maximum security on board.

The US military has another 747, the E4, designed to be an extension of the Pentagon. The E4 is like a super-secret office on the move, from which any operation can be coordinated; hence, it is also known as ‘the plane at the end of the world’.

For Shuttle Carrier Aircraft SCA, two B747s were designed to transport a space shuttle from the landing site to the take-off site.

Rolls Royce has a B747 converted into a test bed. As a curiosity, this model can have up to five engines installed. Incredible, isn’t it?

NASA has the Sofia: a modified 747 with a large hatch that opens in flight, allowing the telescope on board the plane to capture images.

US firefighting company Evergreen, has a modified 747 that is capable of operating with 74,200 litres of liquid as cargo.

Boeing has in its fleet the Dreamlifter, a 747 modified to carry Boeing-made aircraft parts. Its European counterpart is the Airbus Beluga.

The last B747 will operate for Atlas Air

As we were writing this article, the delivery ceremony for the last B747 was taking place at Paine Field, Everett.

The event, organised by Boeing and Atlas Air, brought together a host of industry personalities, including former Boeing president Phil Condit, representatives from Atlas Air and Lufthansa, and even pilot and actor John Travolta, who recounted his experiences during the B747 type rating training.

In addition, the employees involved in the project were also invited to the event. Everyone present at the event was full of praise for the B747.

Boeing President Stan Deal closed the event with the following sentence: “We are not closing a book, we are closing a chapter”.

What does the future hold?

Everything in life has an end, and the end of the 747 is drawing ever closer. There are still many aircraft in flight, of course, but the end of the production line brings this story to an end.

The 747 symbolises modern aviation, and in it we can see all the advances that aviation has undergone in just over 50 years.

The ‘Queen of the Skies’ will retire as one of the most important aircraft in aviation history, and also one of the best known to the general public. Who has not heard of the Jumbo?

In addition, the end of the 747 also symbolises a change of cycle, as airlines are now opting for single-deck, twin-aisle aircraft, leaving behind the three- and four-engine aircraft.

We hope that this article has helped you to understand a little more about the importance of the 747, and that you have learned a little more about it. If you want to continue discovering curiosities, we recommend that you take a look at our aviation blog.

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