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The Classic Jumbo Jet, Boeing's 747, Gets Ready For Last Send-Off

The Classic Jumbo Jet, Boeing's 747, Gets Ready For Last Send-Off
The original and presumably most aesthetically pleasing "Jumbo Jet," Boeing's 747, changed the face air travel, only to have its more than five-decade reign as "Queen of the Skies" finished by more efficient twinjet planes.
On Tuesday, the last commercial Boeing jumbo in the remaining freighter version will be supplied to Atlas Air, 53 years after the 747's instantly identifiable humped silhouette captured worldwide attention as a Pan Am passenger jet.
"On the ground it's stately, it's imposing," said Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of Iron Maiden who piloted a specially liveried 747 nicknamed "Ed Force One" during the British heavy metal band's tour in 2016.
"And in the air it's surprisingly agile. For this massive airplane, you can really chuck it around if you have to."
The nose and upper deck of the world's first twin-aisle wide body jetliner, designed in the late 1960s to meet demand for mass travel, became the world's most luxurious club above the clouds.
The 747, however, transformed travel in the seemingly endless rows at the back of the new jumbo.
"This was THE airplane that introduced flying for the middle class in the U.S.," said Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith.
"Prior to the 747 your average family couldn't fly from the U.S. to Europe affordably," Smith told Reuters.
From America's "Doomsday Plane" nuclear command post to papal visits on chartered 747s nicknamed Shepherd One, the jumbo made its mark on global affairs, symbolizing war and peace.
Two previously delivered 747s are now being outfitted to replace US presidential jets known as Air Force One around the world.
Linda Freier worked as a Pan Am flight attendant, serving passengers ranging from Michael Jackson to Mother Teresa.
"It was an incredible diversity of passengers. People who were well dressed and people who had very little and spent everything they had on that ticket," Freier said.
After a delay due to an engine problem, the first 747 took off from New York on January 22, 1970, more than doubling plane capacity to 350-400 seats and reshaping airport design.
"It was the aircraft for the people, the one that really delivered the capability to be a mass market," aviation historian Max Kingsley-Jones said.
"It was transformational across all aspects of the industry," the senior consultant at Ascend by Cirium added.
Its conception has become the stuff of aviation legend.
Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan Am, attempted to cut costs by increasing the number of seats. During a fishing trip, he challenged Boeing President William Allen to build something even larger than the 707.
Allen entrusted the job to legendary engineer Joe Sutter. Before the first flight on Feb. 9, 1969, Sutter's team known as "the Incredibles" had only 28 months to develop the 747.
Although it eventually became a cash cow, the 747's early years were plagued by problems, and the $1 billion development costs nearly bankrupted Boeing, which believed supersonic jets were the future of air travel.
Following a slump during the 1970s oil crisis, the plane's heyday came in 1989, when Boeing introduced the 747-400 with new engines and lighter materials, making it an ideal fit to meet growing demand for trans-Pacific flights.
"The 747 is the most beautiful and easy plane to land ... It's just like landing an armchair," said Dickinson, who also chairs aviation maintenance firm Caerdav.
The same wave of innovation that propelled the 747 to success has also spelled its demise, as advances have enabled dual-engine jets to replicate its range and capacity at a lower cost.
However, the 777X, which was supposed to replace the 747 at the top of the jet market, will not be ready until at least 2025 due to delays.
"In terms of impressive technology, great capacity, great economics ... (the 777X) does sadly make the 747 look obsolete," AeroDynamic Advisory managing director Richard Aboulafia said.
Nonetheless, the latest 747-8 version is expected to remain in service for many years, primarily as a freighter, after outlasting European Airbus' (AIR.PA) double-decker A380 passenger jet in production.
The final 747 delivery this week raises concerns about the future of the massive but now underutilized Everett widebody production plant outside Seattle, while Boeing is also dealing with the COVID pandemic and a 737 MAX safety crisis.
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun has stated that the company may not design a new airliner for at least a decade.
"It was one of the wonders of the modern industrial age," said Aboulafia, "But this isn't an age of wonders, it's an age of economics."

Christopher J. Mitchell

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