Boeing 747, the original jumbo, prepares for final farewell
The 747 jet from boeingthe original “jumbo” that revolutionized air travel, is preparing to see its reign of more than five decades ended by planes more efficient than two engines.
The last commercial jumbo of the boeing will be delivered next Tuesday to Atlas Air in its surviving freighter version, 53 years after the first 747 drew worldwide attention as a passenger aircraft for the defunct Pan Am.
“On the ground, it’s majestic, it’s imposing,” said Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden who flew a specially designed 747 dubbed “Ed Force One” during the British heavy metal band’s 2016 tour.
“And in the air, it’s surprisingly agile. For that huge plane, you really can throw it around if you need to.”
Designed in the late 1960s to meet the demand for mass travel, the world’s first twin-aisle twin-engine jet also became the world’s most luxurious club above the clouds.
But it was the seemingly endless rows at the back of the plane that made the 747 transform air travel.
“This was the plane that introduced flying to the middle class in America,” said Air France-KLM Chief Executive Ben Smith. “Before the 747, the average family couldn’t afford to fly from the US to Europe affordably,” Smith told Reuters.
The jumbo has also made its mark in global affairs, symbolizing war and peace, from the nuclear command post of the US “Doomsday Plane” to papal visits in chartered 747s called Shepherd One.
Now, two previously delivered 747s are being retrofitted to replace the US presidential jets known globally as Air Force One.
As a flight attendant on Pan Am 747s, Linda Freier has served passengers ranging from Michael Jackson to Mother Teresa.
“There was an incredible diversity of passengers. Well-dressed people and people who had very little and spent everything they had on that ticket,” said Freier.
When the first 747 took off from New York on January 22, 1970, after a delay due to engine failure, it more than doubled passenger aircraft capacity to 350 to 400 seats, forcing a redesign of airports.
“It was the aircraft for the people, the one that really had the capability to be mass market,” said aviation historian Max Kingsley-Jones. “It was transformative in all aspects of the industry,” added the Ascend by Cirium senior consultant.
The birth of the jumbo jet became the stuff of aviation myths.
Pan Am founder Juan Trippe sought to cut costs by increasing the number of seats. On a fishing trip, he challenged the president of the boeingWilliam Allen, to do something that surpassed the 707.
Allen put legendary engineer Joe Sutter in charge. It took just 28 months for Sutter’s team, known as “The Incredibles”, to develop the 747 before its first flight on February 9, 1969.
Although it became a cash cow, the 747’s early years were fraught with problems, and $1 billion in development costs almost led to boeing bankrupt. At the time, the company believed that the future of air travel lay with supersonic jets.
After the oil crisis of the 1970s, the heyday of the airplane came in 1989, when the boeing launched the 747-400 with new engines and lighter materials, making it perfect for meeting the growing demand for trans-Pacific flights.
“The 747 is the best looking plane and the easiest to land… It’s like landing in an armchair,” said Dickinson, who is also president of aviation maintenance company Caerdav.
era of economics
The same wave of innovation that got the 747 off the ground spelled its end, as advances made it possible for twin-engine jets to replicate its range and capability at a lower cost.
However, the 777X, set to take the 747’s place at the top of the jet market, won’t be ready until at least 2025 after suffering development delays.
“In terms of impressive technology, great capacity, great economics… (the 777X) unfortunately makes the 747 look obsolete,” said AeroDynamic Advisory managing director Richard Aboulafia.
However, the latest version of the 747-8 is set to grace the skies for years to come, primarily as a freighter, having outperformed Airbus’ double-decker A380 passenger jet in production.
This week’s final delivery of the 747 casts doubt on the future of the company’s massive but now underutilized wide-body factory. boeing which is close to Seattle, at a time when the company is still facing the impacts of the pandemic and the crisis triggered by two crashes of the 737 MAX that killed hundreds of people.
The Chief Executive of boeingDave Calhoun, said the company may not design a new plane for at least a decade.
“It was one of the wonders of the modern industrial age,” said Aboulafia, “but this is not an age of wonders, it is an age of economics.”
I am an author and journalist with a focus on market news. I have worked for a global news website for the past two years, writing articles on a range of topics relating to the stock market. My work has been published in international publications and I have delivered talks at both academic institutions and business conferences around the world.
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