The Last 747

This week, Boeing produced its last 747 “jumbo jet.” A freighter model, the last 747 was delivered yesterday to Atlas Air and will be used as a cargo carrier. It was the 1,574th 747 produced by Boeing, and its delivery ends a remarkable 54-year run for that airplane, beginning with the first test flight of the first 747, pictured above, on February 9, 1969.

To give that longevity record of the airplane that came to be known as the “Queen of the Skies” some context, that means the first 747 took off before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, when Richard Nixon was President and the Vietnam War dominated the news. For most people who have flown on 747s, 1969 is ancient history. It’s hard to believe that a single model of an airplane could be so dominant for so long in the field of air travel.

The Seattle Times published an interesting article this week about the 747, and some of the people who designed and built this remarkably successful engineering marvel. If you’ve ever been on an international flight, you’ve probably been on a 747–the plane that is far wider than domestic flight aircraft, with nine or ten seats across, two aisles, and lots of space (relatively speaking, of course). The plane was designed, built, tested and delivered on time. It could carry an astonishing number of passengers–more than 400, far more than its predecessor, the 707. It also had amazing range, allowing airlines to fly nonstop between faraway cities.

The Seattle Times article quotes some of the many people who designed, built, and were involved in the 747’s long run, and who are obviously proud of what they accomplished with that one ground-breaking model. They should be, of course. The 747 was a plane that revolutionized international air travel and made it what modern travelers have come to expect. As its long run comes to an end, it is worth remembering the creativity, ingenuity, and hard work that produced it–and hoping that those same qualities can be employed to produce another, newer quantum leap in travel technology.