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The storied Boeing 747, world’s first jumbo jet, is cleared for retirement

January 11, 2018
The Boeing 747
The Boeing 747

Ask a person to name a passenger airliner and the first numbers that will pass their lips will most likely be the 747. The so-called Queen of the Skies, aviation’s first jumbo jet, is being retired after more than four decades of operation and carrying over 3.5 billion passengers the world over.

The 747, manufactured by Boeing Company, started carrying passengers in 1970, when its big selling point was that it could transport 400-plus passengers, more than twice as many as the largest airliner previously in use.

Despite its storied history and longtime dominance, the 747 is being phased out in favor of lighter, more environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient jets, such as Boeing’s 777 and 787 Dreamliner.

Two of the largest U.S. air carriers, United and Delta, announced last year they were retiring the 747 from their fleets. United sent one of the last 747s on a farewell tour of its major hubs during fall 2017. Seats on the airline’s final 747 flight from San Francisco to Honolulu took place in November and sold out within two hours of being announced, according to the Washington Post. Delta’s final 747 flight went airborne in December.

“Everyone had to have a 747,” Bob van der Linden, curator of air transportation at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, told the Post. “It became the flagship for every major airline. If you didn’t have one, you weren’t a top-notch airline.”

Since the 747’s advent, Boeing has manufactured 18 versions of the aircraft, including Air Force One for the President of the United States, and a version that transported the Space Shuttle back to NASA after each mission.

“It was huge — it was so much larger than anything that had flown before,” said van der Linden.

Its tail was taller than a six-story building, and its distinctive double-decker hump made it the most recognizable plane in the world. But it wasn’t just big. Its four jet engines allowed the 747 to travel faster and farther and burn less fuel that any airliner at the time.

When Boeing made the monumental decided to gamble on the 747, it assembled a team of top engineers and built a factory the size of 40 football fields in Everett, Washington. Three years later, and through the labor of 4,500 people, the 747 became a reality, taking its first test flight in 1969. Its first passenger flight, operated by Pan Am, took travelers from New York to London.

While airlines have begun phasing out the 747, its wide body and enormous carrying capacity will continue being used by cargo carriers, and will presumably continue being used as Air Force One for the President of the United States for some time to come.

Do you have any recollections about trips made aboard the 747, or any nostalgic thoughts about the Queen of the Skies? We would enjoy hearing from you. Just click here to write to us.