Goodbye to the Queen of the Skies

Nearly 54 years after the first Boeing 747 left the factory floor, the storied history of the “Queen of the Skies” came to an end on Tuesday, January 31 as the last 747 Boeing will ever make was entered into service.  The delivery of this final 747 marked an end to the extraordinary life of the first ever mass-produced commercial airplane.  The 747 is widely regarded as having changed commercial air travel by improving access to travel for all while simultaneously becoming an iconic symbol of American ingenuity.

Boeing began designing the 747 during the 1960’s at the request of Pan American World Airways.  Boeing and Pan Am cleverly designed the airplane for both the delivery of passengers and cargo.  The 747’s unique design featured a cockpit above the main cabin.  This allowed for the nose of the aircraft to open up and allow for easier loading of cargo onto the plane.  Designing the 747 with cargo in mind allowed it to remain in service for so long – indeed the final 747 was delivered to cargo shipper Atlas Air.

While the iconic 747 is made up of more than 6 million parts sourced from across the globe, every single 747 was manufactured at the giant Boeing plant in Everett, Washington.  The plant, built specifically for the 747, is regarded as the largest building in the world by volume.  The plane delivered on January 31 to Atlas Air was number 1,574, all produced in Everett.

The first Queen of the Skies Pan Am flight took passengers from New York to London in 1970.  Since then, more than one billion passengers have flown more than 57 billion nautical miles in 747’s.  The success and longevity of Boeing’s “Super Jet” is even more remarkable considering its demise was predicted soon after it’s maiden voyage in 1970.  Aviation experts expected at the time that supersonic aircraft such as the Concorde and Tupolev jets would offer passengers  and airline companies travel time and cost benefits the 747 could never match, and this would eventually leave the 747 servicing only cargo deliveries.  These predictions never came to light as the 747 continued to serve passengers while both the Concorde (final flight in 2003) and Tupolev (last one manufactured in 1971) models ceased production.

The 747 was twice as large as any other passenger plane when it went into service.  The size of the plane allowed it to carry hundreds more passengers in a single flight than other planes, allowing airline companies cost-savings they were able to pass on to passengers.  The resulting cost decreases made air travel affordable for many who never could afford it before, driving the worldwide travel movement that would begin during the 1970’s and never cease.

The size and power of the 747 allowed it to carry perhaps its most memorable passengers – NASA’s Space Shuttles.  Boeing 747’s carried the Shuttle across the United States numerous times.

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Sources: by Nirak Chokshi, January 31, 2023 by Howard Slutsken, February 4, 2023

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