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The Boeing 747: The plane that shrank the world

It became an icon of long-haul travel and exotic holidays; Boeing’s 747 could fly more people further than any plane before. Stephen Dowling looks back at an aviation classic 50 years after it was first unveiled. ( More...

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Nathan Cox 11
It’s still flying passengers and boxes around the world and does things NO other aircraft can do. In the freighter configuration it hauls more weight farther than any other production airplane. When departure and arrival slots are limited, you need to make every flight count. We routinely fly at or near max takeoff weight out of HKG coming back to the states. The -8 version hauls even more weight and does it on less fuel thanks to the GenX engines. There aren’t a whole lot of airplanes that can get off the ground at 1 million pounds of take-off weight. The -8 did it in certification flights.
My flight aware picture was taken after parking for my last flight PVG/SFO in the 747 before UA sent them all to the dessert in October 2018. I am typed in all Boeing’s from the 727 - 787 and the most exciting events in my career are the first takeoff in the 727 and the 747. I think both airplanes were so beautiful and unique and will never be replaced with anything as cool.
2017 United 47's retired
The only plane for me. I don't trust 2 engine aircraft for overseas travel
user3956 3
Not to mention carbon fiber fuselages etc. I've always liked the 777 but I do wish four engines were still a realistic option instead of "the past".
sparkie624 6
What a Great Plane.... Love seeing these Articles.... The Plane is such a Nice looking plane and a great work horse of many years!
Ivan Blakely 5
since we are collectively & sadly reminiscing that most likely we have had our last 747 flight...
As an Aussie we go long haul just to leave the country, and for a while Qantas was the only "all 747" airline. That was when it only operated international flights and before the merger / takeover of the domestic airline.
My flight diary has 183 B747 flights. It is regretful the SP is not there.
Probably my favourite moment was on Qantas, upstairs in the small first class cabin of a 747-200 on the final leg from Australia via Rome and into Heathrow May 1989. Asked if I could sit in the jump seat for landing and invited to the cockpit about 45 minutes before arrival. Those were "gentler" days and my status as a frequent flyer helped.
After a warm welcome and introductions, I was given a headset and asked to be completely silent. Of course...
It was interesting to see how the crew managed being in such busy airspace.
On final approach there was a 727 landing just ahead of us and the captain advised the co-pilot to be prepared for a go around, but the 727 cleared in time and we landed. I was probably the last passenger off the plane and into the immigration queue.
My only regret is I didn't write down the names of the Captain and First Officer.
Allan Main 1
Ivan, i have had my share of luck in 747 rides and even one unforgettable ride on the SP from Brisbane to Wellington. It was unforgettable as we hooked the jet stream and the ground speed sat on 1100 kph nearly all the way across the Tasman.
Needless to say we arrived early .
ExPatHere 8
I miss the 747....Best bathrooms in the skies! One could actually be comfortable in the seats, even in Economy...but I loved flying upstairs.
The bathroom in the A220 is even better, with a window!
Elliot Cannon 4
The 747-100 was one of the nicest flying airplanes ever. Hand flying it was a joy. It was like flying a giant Beechcraft.
Retiring a 747 is a big waste of an excellent aircraft!!!
James Willich 4
Got to fly on an empty 747 from SFO to SYD on New Years many years ago. Had the whole upper deck to myself. Slept like a champ!
Sure was the Queen of The Skies!
As a kid I was always in Awe of this Aircraft, in October of 2019 I flew to Munich on Lufthansa and was on the 47-8 originally, at the last minute I found a great seat on the A-380 instead, and I'm glad I did because ... as of today it looks like we won't see the 380 again hauling PX. The Queen of the Sky wins again !! My favorite flight of my life so far... 2017 LHR to SFO United's last 47 from there after over 40 years of serving that route (which United took over from PAN AM) At the gate before departure there was a giant party, I met this guy who was still working for United who worked the First Pan AM 747 at LHR and he was seeing the last one off. Can a grown man cry about an Aircraft ? When I saw over a hundred staff waving goodbye to her, this one did as well as the guy next to me. Cheers!
Flightag News 3
Thank you BBC for carrying such a wonderful story about this terrific aircraft.

I've only flown on a 747 twice - BA from Boston to Heathrow, and from Heathrow to JFK (both in October 2007). We were in the upper deck. Hopefully this doesn't sound like hyperbole, but those two flights were my favorite, ever. Just being seated up where the Harlem Globetrotters...well, it was just a great experience. Glad I got to do it, blessed I got to do it twice.
I loved those planes too. Flew the 747 SP short version a lot to South America and at least once each 45 days from JFK to Asia. I have such good memories from the PanAm era. PA 100 and 101 around the world. The pilots were the best
5’5” short, a bit chubby, a cigar in their mouth. You just knew that whatever happened you would be safe with them.
When United and Northwest took over, they also took most of the crew as well, but it wasn’t quite the same.
bruce barton 1
Correction my friend ..PA 002 flight RTW was Jfk to Jfk eastbound!
PA 001 was JFK -LAX then RTW west!
All flights East were evens. Remember PA 103 Lockerbie was coming home for ‘Christmas, West.
Once when things were great, I flew 002 all the way round, 31 days!
Robert Harris 3
All versions of the 747 will NEVER, EVER be forgotten. Long live the "Queen of the Skies!"
Guy Cocoa 3
My first flight in 1970 was on a TWA 747 from ORD to LAX. I was on a student standby ticket, so I got the middle seat. As we flew over the Grand Canyon the pilot rocked the aircraft so both sides could see. I couldn’t see, so the nice lady sitting next to me led me into the aisle. What a magnificent site.

My flight home was SFO-ORD on an American Airlines 747. It was August, so there were violent storms all over the Midwest. As we approached Chicago we were rocking and rolling. The pilot announced that it was going to continue to be a rough ride because no other airport in the area could yet accommodate the 747. ORD was our only option. I was in the very last seat in coach where the fuselage narrowed, just about even with the swept back tip of the wing. In the heavy turbulence the wings were flapping like a bird. Other people were terrified. As a 12 year old I was loving it.
the first time was on northwest air lines from Seattle to the Philippines one of many trips that I will not forget to bad they retired them I wonder if any one thought of building one with todays technology.
David Craig 4
A few of you seen a bit concerned that the 4 engine aircraft have gone by way of the dough dough bird, If you look at the 777 record it is impeccable, just as the 47's record A well known pilot named Chuck Yeager once told me the redundancy of a 4 engine bird was actually not wise at all as it offered a grater chance some thing could go wrong of course he was used to flying one engine only birds but when you think about it, the only reason Boeing put 4 engines big as they were then yet small as they are now, was to help calm peoples nerves for the simple reason that most of us believe 4 is better than 2 and being any modern airliner can safely fly on just one engine ...well maybe a little more tricky with the fatso 380 but still realize you are genuinely very safe in a twin engine bird and 2 time less likely to have engine related problems then you would in a 4 engine aircraft. So relax put your seat in the upright position and prepare for the next 3 hours we will be flying over the Pacific ocean and if something goes wrong we will deal with it mid air, after all this aint no Russki built airplane!...Unless it is!!lol
user3956 4
It doesn't matter if there is a greater chance for something to go wrong with one of the engines because of having more engines. The point is that the total percentage of your available thrust is less affected when divided up between more engines so that in the event that one engine has an issue out of four, you still have 75% capacity, instead of only 50% capacity if there is an issue with one out of two. I don't feel so good knowing that I'm over the water and up to five hours away from the nearest alternative when one out of two engines goes out, I'd feel fine if one out of four went out.
HA ! or 3 :)
Peter Fuller 1
“I’d feel fine if one of four went out.” In 2005 a BA 747-400 flying a Los Angeles-London Heathrow service had to shut down #2 just after takeoff from LAX, due to a compressor stall. Rather than dump fuel and land back at LAX, the crew flew her all the way to Britain on three engines. (‘British Airways Flight 268’ Wikipedia)
sparkie624 1
I do not really blame them... For them, that would be where their spare engines would be.... Just would have taken them a bit longer and the Engineer would have to play with the Fuel Balance.
bruce barton -1
Barry Schiff, I recall, wrote about that in AOPA, years ago... don’t think it was considered top form, in hindsight. Polar Route and all...after Goose Bay what?
James Willich 1
Three engines!
David Craig 2
I believe the 27 and the MD 80 were 3 engine air craft, I always wondered why they didn't throttle down the out board engines in flight and fly solo on the center engine once the bird was flying it uses much less fuel and thrust to stay airborne.
sparkie624 4
Which MD80 were you looking at with 3 Engines? - You may have been referring to the DC-10/MD-11 MD80 is a stretch version of the DC9.
Still flying daily with UPS or FedEX or both
sparkie624 2
Both are still flying them... FEDEX is flying the DC10 and the MD11, but DC10's will be gone very soon.. Timing out.
James Willich 1
Maybe with modern powerplants they could have. Those old screamers though...
Bill Butler 2
OK, I have to tell my 747 story. Sometime in the Sept - Oct 1969 time, we were flying out of NAS Whidbey Island, WA to the USAF radar bomb scoring range at Spokane. On check in, every time we went, we would get a multi-minute spiel on the rules and regs. As we were descending into the range altitude, I noticed what looked to be a very close a/c on an extended downwind from Fairchild. The range kept yakking and this a/c got closer and closer and I was getting a bit concerned. At the end of the spiel, the range monitor concluded by saying, "Traffic, 10 o'clock, 10 miles." TEN miles!

My first glimpse of a 747.
My very first of many flights on a 747 was in 1978 when I flew Pan Am from Heathrow to Seatac. In those days, the airlines still had a last-minute stand-by ticket option. The one-way flight cost me $225. I think my last flight on a 747 was with Thai Airways. Thai, strangely enough, used/uses a 747 on short haul flights between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It is a magnificent flying machine!
I can remember in 1970 taxiing behind a 747 in a DC9, all I can remember is looking up out the window and not seeing anything but this giant airplane. I felt I was on a flea. I’ve flow several, times in 747’s LAX-SYD and BOS-LHR, if I hadn’t gotten on the plane in an airport, I wouldn’t believe I was on one.
aurodoc 2
I flew many flights on the 747 from the West Coast to Germany on both United and Lufthansa. From SFO to Frankfurt Lufthansa flew a 747 combi with cargo in the back half. The captain took me back there during the flight to show me a car he was taking back to Germany and also a pair of horses someone was shipping to Europe I also had a flight on a big orange 747 from Dallas to Frankfurt on Braniff. Always felt safe and comfortable on these flights and will be sorry to see them disappear although Lufthansa is still flying the 747-8
The best commercial plane ever built. No other plane has ever reached its level of versatility. And it's so elegant, Joe Sutter's masterpiece !!
This article just came out, and the info in it seems like it was written a few years ago
David Logan 1
I noticed that too. The article has been redated – if you search for it on Google, the original date of publication was September 27, 2018 which makes the 2020 speculative references more understandable.
Rory Tinston 1
I hope to get to fly in one of them. I love watching them taking and landing even though I haven’t been on one.
1969, SFO - HNL. This non-rev Marine LCpl bumped to First - tks to my FA wife, and a crusty ol' former-Marine Corps A-4 driver.
James Simms 1
Flew STL - Osan vis OAK & Yokota AFB W/other servicemen, dependents & crying babies. Then flew into Kai Tak on a Thai International 747 on the right window. Then flew back from Desert Shield/Desert Storm on an ex-Flying Tiger 747 via Frankfurt to Philly.
William Smith 1
I've only flown on a 747 once, in 1981. It was on a Flying Tiger Lines military flight from Travis AFB to Clark AFB in the Philippines, via ANK and Kadina AFB in Okinawa. It was a long series of flights. Nearly 24 hours enroute.

I was a USN sailor who was traveling to report to my ship, the USS America (CV-66).

Over the past 50 years, the 747 has been a favorite of mine. At least from the plane watcher point of view. I'm glad that it will likely still be flying when I breathe my last. Even if it's only hauling cargo, instead of passengers.
Marston Davis 1
I love just looking at 'The Queen of the Skies'. I saw it when I was about 20 at SFO. It dwarfed every other plane near it. I took several of my friends back there on different days to see this parked plane. They were awed.
When she is gone all other planes will be...just planes. Nothing to look at, just move along, please.
Thanks Boeing! You made a GREAT plane.
Ned Griffin 1
Most flights on my 1978 Pan Am $999 Round the World trip were on 747s (also two 727s and one 707). So comfortable and safe. Absolutely the Queen of the Skies!
I remember the first time I was on a 747, and I was just aft of an exit door. After we took off, I walked forward to see the front of the lower deck, and was surprised that people just got to look at a conical shaped structure that was behind the nose. It would have been awesome of they put a TV there that showed the look from the front of the plane. People would be beating down the doors to sit there and watch the plane flying along. Well, okay, maybe it's just me, but that would be AWESOME!!! Show me the clouds, the approach, the scenery off the nose. How cool would that be? They missed a gimmick that would make people want to ride coach in the nose. Or not...
Pat Cook 1
A group of us went up to Seattle to learn about the economic decisions the was behind the inception and construction of the 747. That was the spring on 1969. We also visited the interior mock-up. Having flown in the 707, 720 and 727, I was blown away by the immensity of the interior. Then on to the Everett plant building, -- unbelievably massive. NWA flew the 747 ANC/SEA for a short while, loved it.
BOB Carlson 1
I flew over 1,000,000 miles on this plane in business class and first class. There has never been anything like it in the sky. One time I flew from Moscow to Tokyo overnight on a 747 in first class and I was the only person on the plane. I really had great service.


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