Boeing and Atlas Air Worldwide joined thousands of people – including current and former employees as well as customers and suppliers – to celebrate the delivery of the final Boeing 747 to Atlas, bringing to a close more than a half-century of production.
Nicknamed the Queen of the Skies, the 747-100 made its first test flight on February 9, 1969. It was the first airplane with two aisles and marked the first commercial use of the high bypass turbofan engine. It allowed more people to fly farther, faster and more affordably than ever before.
The 747 was the result of the work of some 50,000 Boeing people. Called “the Incredibles,” these were the construction workers, mechanics, engineers, secretaries and administrators who made aviation history by building the 747 — the largest civilian airplane in the world — in less than 16 months during the late 1960s.
All the customers of the 747 got together in front of the test aircraft, which carried the logos of all the customers at the time.
The distinctive hump on the 747 makes it recognisable, a symbol of excellent engineering, and often noted as an outstanding work of architecture. The 747 has also become a part of popular culture, starring in numerous movies, TV shows and the lyrics of songs.
The 747 was designed with freight in mind from the programme’s early days. A key reason the 747 design located the flight deck on a second level was to facilitate cargo loading in later freighter derivatives.
The Boeing employees who designed and built the first 747, known as the “Incredibles,” returned to be honoured at the Everett factory, where the journey of the 747 began in 1967. The factory produced 1,574 airplanes over the life of the programme. The delivery ceremony was held inside Building 40-21, the original birthplace of the programme.
There was a flag march with all the flags of the customers being brought on stage. The PanAm flag was delivered by the grandson of Juan Trippe and the Atlas one by the Chief Pilot.
John Travolta gave the voice-over and made a video appearance at the final 747 delivery as well.
Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, on the occasion, said,
This monumental day is a testament to the generations of Boeing employees who brought to life the airplane that ‘shrank the world’ and revolutionized travel and air cargo as the first widebody.
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.
John Dietrich, president and chief executive officer, Atlas Air Worldwide, said,
We are honoured to continue our long history of flying this iconic aircraft for our customers around the world. Atlas Air was founded over 30 years ago with a single 747-200 converted freighter, and since then, we have spanned the globe operating nearly every fleet type of the 747, including the Dreamlifter, Boeing’s 747 Large Cargo Freighter, for the transport of 787 Dreamliner parts. We are grateful to Boeing for their shared commitment to safety, quality, innovation and the environment and for their partnership to ensure the continued success of the 747 program as we operate the aircraft for decades to come.
As the first twin-aisle airplane and “jumbo jet,” the “Queen of the Skies” enabled airlines to connect people across vast distances and provide non-stop trans-oceanic flights. Its development solidified Boeing’s role as an industry leader in commercial aviation. The airplane’s core design, with its distinctive hump and seating on the upper deck, has delighted generations of passengers and operators alike. Boeing continued to improve on the original design with models like the 747-400 in 1988 and the final 747-8 model that was launched in 2005; across all the models, the jet has delivered unmatched operating economics and efficiency to travel and air cargo markets.
As of December 2022, there are only 44 passenger versions of the 747 still in service, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. The figure is down from more than 130 in service as passenger jets at the end of 2019, just before the Covid-19 pandemic crippled demand for air travel, especially on international routes on which the 747 and other widebody jets were primarily used. Lufthansa remains the largest operator of the passenger version of the B747-8, with 19 in its current fleet.
Atlas Air will fly the 747 delivery flight with a drawing of the 747 in the US Skies, along with a crown, before putting it in regular commercial service.
The last-produced Boeing 747, a freighter version, was delivered to its customer Atlas Air by Boeing on January 31, 2023. In the presence were employees and customers of Boeing’s 747 aircraft. The final aircraft will be flown away by the airline on February 1, 2023, and it will draw a 747 sky art, and a crown, to signify the “Queen of the Skies” moniker that the aircraft earned for itself.
What are your Boeing 747 memories? Do share with us.
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