End of the line for the “Queen of the skies”?

Fondly called “the Queen of the Skies”, the iconic aircraft soon became synonymous with the term “jumbo jet“. As they say, “All good things must come to an end”, this couldn’t be more true with the B747 program.

More than 50 years ago, the first 747 rolled out of the custom-built Everett Plant, the world’s largest building by volume and on February 9, 1969, made its first-ever flight into the skies.

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A brief history

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The Boeing 747 is a large, long-range wide-body airliner designed and manufactured by Boeing Commercial Airplanes in the United States.

History begins with the popularity of the iconic Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 – planes that supposedly heralded the American commercial jet aviation.

Pan Am B707 | Representative | Wikipedia

 In the early 1960s, Boeing was asked by Juan Trippe president of Pan Am, one of their most important airline customers, to build a passenger aircraft more than twice the size of the 707.

By 1965, Joe Sutter was transferred from Boeing’s 737 development team to manage the design studies for the new airliner, already assigned the model number 747. At the time, many thought that the 747 would eventually be superseded by supersonic transport aircraft.  Boeing responded by designing the 747 so it could be adapted easily to carry freight and remain in production even if sales of the passenger version declined.

Joe Sutter – the mastermind behind the iconic Boeing’s Jumbo 747 | The New York Times

Pan Am was the launch customer of the B747 and during the ceremonial 747 contract-signing banquets in Seattle on Boeing’s 50th Anniversary, Juan Trippe predicted that the 747 would be “a great weapon for peace, competing with intercontinental missiles for mankind’s destiny”.

Juan Trippe | Twitter

The 747 was the result of the work of some 50,000 Boeing people. Called “the Incredibles,” these were the construction workers, mechanics, engineers, secretaries and administrators who made aviation history by building the 747- the largest civilian airplane in the world-in roughly 16 months during the late 1960s.

Boeing

On January 15, 1970, First Lady of the United States Pat Nixon christened Pan Am’s first 747 at Dulles International Airport Instead of champagne, red, white, and blue water was sprayed on the aircraft. The 747 eventually entered service on January 22, 1970, on Pan Am’s New York–London route.

Pat Nixon christen Boeing 747 | Wikimedia Commons

For decades, the jumbo jet was the pinnacle of air travel

The 747-100 was the original variant launched in 1966. The 747-200 soon followed, with its launch in 1968. The 747-300 was launched in 1980 and was followed by the 747-400 in 1985. Ultimately, the 747-8 was announced in 2005. Several versions of each variant have been produced, and many of the early variants were in production simultaneously.

Reportedly, Boeing had also studied several 747 variants that have not gone beyond the concept stage. For instance- the 747 trijet – is a shorter 747 with three engines to compete with the smaller L-1011 TriStar and McDonnell Douglas DC-10

Boeing 747 Trijet | Simple Flying

Advancements in technology and the need for more fuel-efficient planes, coupled with the pandemic woes, hit a huge blow to the world fleet. Airliners around the world have been retiring their 747s earlier than planned.

Twin-jets today, have more capability and are more fuel-efficient on flying routes that were earlier the forte for planes with three or more engines.

B777-X | Fuel-efficient twinjet | Representative | Air Cargo News

At the time the 747 was designed, twin engines were severely limited in operation and not permitted to fly more than 60 minutes away from a diversion airport. This made transoceanic flights the domain of the quadjet. This has changed. ETOPS regulations were introduced in the 1980s and recognized the improved performance and reliability of twin-engine aircraft. The first rating given to the 767 permitted operations up to 120 minutes from a diversion airport. This has increased today, with ratings of up to 350 minutes for the Airbus A350.

Simple Flying

From the original -100 to the latest -8s, the Boeing 747 truly has been an icon of the aviation industry and will forever continue to be so.

Final “wrap-up” of the 747 program

The number of “queen(s)” flying in the skies has been plummeting, with its largest operator-Japan Airlines, retiring its last 747 in 2011.

As of April 2021, Boeing had only twelve of its 747 jets left to be built. Its latest -8 configuration has no more orders to be fulfilled.

World’s Largest Business Jet, Qatar Amiri Boeing 747-8i | Representative | Autoevolution

Reportedly, out of the 12,  four 747-8Fs are going to Atlas Air, seven Boeing 747-8Fs are going to UPS, and a single 747-8 is going to an unidentified customer.

The final Boeing 747 might be delivered to Atlas Air, its final customer, probably by  October 2022.

These are the last 747s that Boeing will ever produce, and we’re delighted they’ll be coming to Atlas

Commenting on Atlas Air’s Q3 earnings call, and as reported by Bloomberg, the airline’s CEO, John Dietrich, said
Atlas Air CEO- John Dietrich | Air Cargo News

As the entire world gears up to advance toward an emissions-free scenario, it is not surprising that quad-engine jets have seemingly fallen out of favour and more fuel-efficient twin engines have taken over.

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