Final 747 Flight: Goodbye To The Iconic Jumbo Jet

Boeing bid farewell to an aviation legend by delivering its latest 747 jumbo jet.

Since its first flight in 1969, the giant but graceful 747 has served as a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft capable of carrying nearly 500 passengers, a transport for NASA space shuttles and an Air Force One presidential plane.

It revolutionized travel by connecting international cities that had never had direct routes before and helping to democratize passenger flying.

But over the past 15 years, Boeing and its European rival Airbus have introduced more cost-effective and fuel-efficient jumbo jets, with just two engines to maintain instead of the 747’s four.

The latest aircraft is the 1,574th built by Boeing in Washington’s Puget Sound region.

“If you love this job, you dread this moment,” said longtime aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia.

“No one wants a four-engine airliner anymore, but that doesn’t erase the aircraft’s tremendous contribution to the development of the industry or its remarkable heritage.”

Military personnel watch Air Force One, with President Donald Trump on board, prepare to depart at Andrews Air Force Base (Andrew Harnik/AP).

Boeing set out to build the 747 after losing a contract for a huge military transport, the C-5A.

The idea was to take advantage of new engines being developed for transport – high-flow turbofans, which burned less fuel by blowing air around the engine core, allowing longer flight range – and use them for a newly imagined civilian aircraft.

It took more than 50,000 Boeing employees less than 16 months to produce the first 747 – a Herculean effort that earned them the nickname “The Incredibles”.

Production of the jumbo jet required the construction of a massive factory in Everett, north of Seattle – the largest building in the world by volume.

Among those present on Tuesday was Desi Evans, 92, who joined Boeing at its factory in Renton, south of Seattle, in 1957 and spent 38 years with the company before retiring.

One day in 1967, his boss told him that he would be joining the 747 program in Everett the next morning.

“They told me, ‘Wear rubber boots, a helmet and dress warm, because it’s a sea of mud,'” Mr Evans recalled. “And that was – they were preparing for the erection of the factory.”

He was assigned as a supervisor to help figure out how the interior of the passenger cabin would be installed and later supervised the crews who worked on sealing and painting the planes.

The Crew of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet pose in Front of The Plane’s Nose at Heathrow Airport in 1970 (AP)

“When that very first 747 came out, it was an amazing time,” he said as he stood in front of the last plane, parked outside the factory.

“You felt elated – like you were writing history. You are part of something big, and it is always big, even if it is the last.

The plane’s fuselage was 225 feet (68.5 meters) long and the tail was as tall as a six-story building.

The plane’s design included a second deck extending from the cockpit over the first third of the plane, giving it a distinctive hump and inspiring a nickname, the Whale. More romantically, the 747 became known as the queen of the skies.

Some airlines turned the second deck into a first-class cocktail bar, while even the lower deck sometimes featured lounges or even a piano bar.

A decommissioned 747, originally built for Singapore Airlines in 1976, has been converted into a 33-room hotel near Stockholm Airport.

“It was the first big carrier, the first widebody, so it set a new standard for airlines to know what to do with it and how to fill it,” said Guillaume de Syon, professor of history at the Albright College of Pennsylvania which specializes in aviation and mobility.

A Boeing 747 Takes Off From Seattle in January 1970 (AP)

“It became the essence of mass air travel: you couldn’t fill it with people paying full fare, so you have to lower the prices to get people on board. This contributed to what happened in the late 1970s with airline deregulation.

The first 747 entered service in 1970 on Pan Am’s New York-London route, and its timing was terrible, Mr Aboulafia said.

It debuted shortly before the 1973 oil crisis, amid a recession that saw Boeing’s employment drop from 100,800 employees in 1967 to a low of 38,690 in April 1971.

An updated model – the 747-400 series – arrived in the late 1980s and had much better timing, coinciding with the Asian economic boom of the early 1990s, Aboulafia said. He remembers taking a Cathay Pacific 747 from Los Angeles to Hong Kong as a backpacker in his twenties in 1991.

“Even people like me could go see Asia,” Mr. Aboulafia said. “Before, you had to stop to fill up in Alaska or Hawaii and it was much more expensive. It was a straight shot – and reasonably priced.

Delta was the last US airline to use the 747 for passenger flights, which ended in 2017, although some other international carriers continue to fly it, including German airline Lufthansa.

Atlas Air ordered four 747-8 freighters early last year, with the last leaving the factory on Tuesday.

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