On September 30, 1968, 50 years ago today, the very first Boeing 747 was rolled out of Boeing’s new factory built specifically for it. It would not fly until February of the following year, but what everyone who worked on it didn’t know was that the 747 would change air travel permanently and become one of the most successful, iconic aircraft of all time.
If there were “Seven Wonders of Aviation”, the 747 would be included hands down. As the first dedicated long range widebody (twin-aisle) passenger airliner the 747 introduced a new form of air travel the world had never seen before.
In the 1960s, supersonic airliners were considered the future. Aircraft like Concorde and the unreleased Boeing 2707 and Lockheed L-2000 were envisioned to render sub-sonic airliners like the popular Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 obsolete. When Joe Sutter’s team at Boeing designed the 747, they thought it would be discontinued after 400 units were sold and the remaining aircraft would be converted to freighters. For this reason the Boeing 747 was designed with its signature “hump” upper deck, allowing the entire nose to open as a giant cargo door.
Obviously, this wasn’t quite true. The 747 became a monumental success and over 1,500 were sold to airlines all around the globe. Back in the 1970s it’s launch customer Pan American World Airways (“Pan Am”) fitted early 747-100 models with a lounge on the upper deck for first class passengers. Gives you an idea of just how old the 747 really is, seeing as it was around when flying was still considered a luxury.
The 747 has seen many variants over the 50 years in which it has been produced. The most common variant flying today is the 747-400, which operates with passenger airlines including Lufthansa, KLM, British Airways, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic and a few others. The latest variant, the 747-8, operates with Lufthansa, Air China, and Korean Air.
Many 747s have been produced as freighters, and the plane has proved to be a highly successful one just as Boeing originally predicted. While many passenger 747s are departing the skies, we will still see the aircraft flying with cargo companies like Cathay Pacific Cargo, Atlas Air and Cargolux.
It has even been modified to carry the space shuttle...
extreme outsize cargo...
and the President of the United States (with the well-known callsign of “Air Force One”.)
So that’s my sketchy 747 history, I hope I did a decent job of explaining the important stuff. My personal opinion on the 747 is that it’s a truly iconic airplane that deserves its title “Queen of the Skies” and all the praise it’s been given.
The 747 has revolutionized air travel for 50 years and paved the way for many successful large airliners of our time including the 777, 787, A330, and A350. Hopefully we’ll continue to see the 747 flying for a long time from now, remembering what it did for commercial air travel today, a thing most people take for granted, but it just wouldn’t be what it is without the Boeing 747.
If I missed anything give me a heads up!! I’m no historian but I can try ;D
Thanks for reading this article, it lets me know there are others in the Flite Test RC community that are interested in modern commercial aviation, clearly I’m a total geek when it comes to this type of aviation!