Boeing 747: End of an era as final aircraft is delivered

Production of the iconic aircraft ceases after 50 glorious years.
Ameya Paleja
Boeing 747
Boeing 747


A magnanimous chapter in aviation is drawing to a close as Boeing has delivered its final 747 'jumbo jet' aircraft at its Everett facility in Washington state. Thousands of people, including former company employees, joined the celebration as Boeing handed over the last 747 aircraft produced to Atlas Air, a cargo freighter, a company press release said.

Designed as a giant military transport jet, the 747 was converted into a passenger aircraft after Pan Am's Juan Trippe offered Boeing a $500 million deal to build an airplane that could carry hundreds of passengers simultaneously and help reduce the costs of air travel for passengers.

The aircraft first took to the skies in 1969 but was designed to serve as a passenger and cargo aircraft. Back in the 1960's supersonic travel was expected to be the next big thing in passenger travel, and the 747's unique shape allowed the aircraft to switch to a cargo role by lifting the cone-shaped nose.

The jet that shrank the world

Supersonic travel arrived and departed, but with the 747, airline passengers could experience luxury never seen before in the skies. The aircraft's upper deck, which was considered a break room for flight crew, became the epitome of grandeur as airlines converted them into lounges and later as premium passenger seating.

Earlier aircraft versions also came with movie-screening facilities as the four-engine airplane crossed oceans without stopping. The first two-aisle aircraft was further modified over the years to seat as many as 550 passengers in a single flight. People were keen to travel to new destinations in lesser time as the aircraft cruised at nearly 500 knots (907 km/h).

The aircraft remains iconic for the four sets of engines and vital equipment like hydraulic systems and landing gears, making for some great landing and take-off videos.

Such was the scale of the aircraft that Boeing had to build the Everett facility to manufacture the 747s.

Beaten by fuel efficiency

The need for fuel efficiency beat the magnificent aircraft as airlines moved away from the hub and spoke model of transportation and looked for smaller and more efficient aircraft making faster and more direct journeys between destinations.

The 747's redundancies perhaps made it one of the safest aircraft in the sky and more expensive to fly, and airlines that once queued to induct a 747 now began retiring the plane. In 2020, the 747 also powered its maiden flight with vegetable oil.

The aircraft remains a top choice for freighters as they look to transport large volumes of cargo across the world. It is also hardly a surprise that when NASA needed a carrier to transport its space shuttles, it relied on the capabilities of the 747.

"It is fitting to deliver this final 747-8 Freighter to the largest operator of the 747, Atlas Air, where the 'Queen' will continue to inspire and empower innovation in air cargo", said Stan Deal, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes in the press release.

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