America’s Delta Airlines says goodbye to the iconic Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jet” this week, with the Queen of the Skies getting an unexpected extension of service at the last minute.
On the 9th of February 1969, aviation changed forever. From Boeing’s factory at the Everett airfield, the iconic hump-backed shape of the Boeing 747 lifted into the sky for the very first time, making the world a much smaller place. This week, Delta says goodbye to the 747, the last American airline to be operating the aircraft. However, Delta’s goodbye met with an unexpected hiccup that caused the final commercial flight to Seoul and back to be cancelled. Due to the fiasco and resultant delays at Atlanta airport, according to some news outlets, a pilot was unable to make it to the flight. With only three pilots available, there was no option but to cancel the flight and reschedule it, meaning that the last commercial service will now land in Detroit on Wednesday, December 20, 2017.
The last commercial 747 flight to depart from the US approaches Seoul at the end of its 13 hour journey. The final flight back is scheduled for Wednesday.
A farewell tour has also begun, with an aircraft flying home to Everett from Detroit, landing on the very same runway that the first ever 747 took off from. The flight carried employees and customers who had bid frequent flier miles to be onboard. For one morning, Boeing and Delta put aside their differences (Boeing and Delta/Bombardier have been embroiled in a bitter battle after Delta ordered Bombardier’s CSeries aircraft. For details, see our article here). The farewell tour includes stops in Seattle, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
The 747 was the first twin-aisle aircraft, more than doubling the capacity of the largest commercial aircraft of the time. This design made it literally a ‘wide-body’ aircraft, which then make the industry’s moniker for twin aisle types. But what truly made the 747 ground breaking was its reach – 6000 miles – which literally made the aircraft capable of going anywhere in the world. Micheal Lombardi, Boeing corporate historian, says “It was the plane that shrank the world. That is the legacy of the 747.”
Largely, the creator of the legacy was Joe Sutter, the Boeing engineer known as the Father of the 747, who died last year at 95. He and his team brought the aircraft to life in less than two and half years, all the while dealing with engine issues and the prospect of financial ruin. The 747 was, after all, a risky undertaking for Boeing – but turned out to be one that paid off in spades. Juan Trippe of PANAM wanted the 747 to be a single aisle, full length double decker aircraft. But Joe Sutter believed in the twin aisle layout and that is what prevailed. So large was the 747 at the time, that the Everett factory was created just to build the 747. It is the largest building in the world by volume and is now also the birth place of Boeing icons like the 767, 777 and 787 Dreamliner.
All told, a little over 1,500 747s have been delivered since 1969. Now, 48 years old and with at least four major variants made over the years, the Queen seems to be heading into retirement. Delta is the last airline in the US operating the 747 – and when the last flight from Seoul touches down this week, the 747 will officially be relegated to the history pages of American aviation. Around the world, most airlines operating the 747 have said their goodbyes, including PIA.
British Airways, Korean Air, Thai Airways, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa remain as the major options if you still want to fly a 747.
Over the past ten years, sales of the 747 have dwindled and the jet’s future seems to be that of a freighter. Just 136 747-8 models were ordered, passenger and freighter included. Only 14 orders are left unfulfilled and 13 of those are for the 747-8F. Boeing will also be preparing two very special 747-8i versions for Presidential use, which will replace the current Air Force One (747-200). Airbus’ A380 isn’t faring too well either. Although there are more than 90 aircraft on the order book, none have been ordered in 2017. In fact, two aircraft previously ordered were cancelled in 2017. The future for large jets seems gloomy and if you’re lucky enough to be booked on a 747 flight, you should make the most of it.
What are your fondest 747 memories? What 747 flight would you like to take? Let us know in the comments below.
By Hassan Ansari
containing reporting from Bloomberg.com, The Telegraph, Boeing.com, Airbus.com, Wikipedia and the Flightradar24 app.
Boeing 747 rollout image from Wikipedia Commons.