The first of its class
Truly the first Jumbo jet, Boeing 747 also referred to as “The queen of the skies” is in service for over 50 years now. It was introduced in 1970 to the public with the now-defunct company Pan Am which wanted a large airplane that could lower the price of tickets for the average paid man. Boeing accepted the challenge and designed a four engines, two-deck airplane that now has decades of faithful service. The thing that differentiates the 747 from other airplanes is its specific hump that houses the cockpit, a feature that makes this airplane not only a great passenger aircraft but a cargo-capable one too.
For Boeing 747 to become a reality, it needed a big factory which the company constructed in Everett, 50 km outside Seattle and almost three million cubic meters of earth had to be moved to make space for a queen palace.
But the queen had its problems too, initially, the airplane did not meet the FAA requirements for the evacuation process which had to be done in 90 seconds, then, the pilots were not trained for such high deck airplanes so Boeing mounted a cabin above a truck to make pilots train for taxing. The 747 had problems with its structure also when tests showed that wings suffered oscillations under certain conditions but this was solved by reducing the stiffness of some wing components, however, a particularly severe high-speed flutter problem was solved only after depleted uranium counterweights were introduced in the outboard engine nacelles of the early 747s. This measure worried people, especially when these aircraft crashed, for example in 1992 in Amsterdam, the airplane had 282 kilograms of uranium in the tailplane. This and other problems did not stop Boeing from bringing the 747 to Paris Air Show in mid-1969, where it was displayed to the public for the first time. Before the end of development, the company was over $2 billion in debt to a banking syndicate, and if the airplane was a failure this could have meant the end of Boeing, but the gamble succeeded and Boeing had the only Jumbo Jet at the time and held a monopoly in this category for many years. The program’s final cost was 1 Billion US $ (7.4 Billion today).
On January 15, 1970, First Lady of the United States Pat Nixon christened Pan Am’s first 747 at Dulles International Airport, in the presence of Pan Am chairman Najeeb Halaby. The aircraft was sprayed with red, white, and blue water instead of champagne. On January 22, 1970, Pan Am’s New York to London flight took off after more than six hours of delay because of an engine failure to the original aircraft that was replaced by another.
The Boeing 747 has four wing-mounted engines and it is capable of reaching a Mach number around 0.84 to 0.88. It has a sweep angle of 37.5 degrees for its wing, a feature that reduces its wingspan. The maximum takeoff weight ranges from 333,400 kg to 439,985 kg but its range increased over the years from 9800 km (5300 nautical miles) to 14815 km (8000 nautical miles). This aircraft also has four main landing gears, each equipped with four wheels that provide good safety in the case of a blow-out and were designed with sophisticated triple-slotted flaps that minimize landing speeds and allow the 747 to use standard-length runways. The queen of the skies is capable to carry 366 to 467 passengers on board, depending on the variant
Boeing 747 family
It has many variants like 747-100, -100B, -200, -300, -400, -8 for passenger transportation but it also has some special variations like 747 LCF Dreamlifter, a modification of the 747-400 that flew for the first time in 2006, with only four aircraft like this being complete by February 2010.
Truly a versatile aircraft, the Boeing 747 has many military or government variants like the Boeing VC-25, which is popularly known as Air Force One even if it carries that designation only when the President of the United States is on board. Also, a number of other governments use the 747 as a VIP transport, including Bahrain, Brunei, India, Iran, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Several Boeing 747-8s have been ordered by Boeing Business Jet for conversion to VIP transports for several unidentified customers. Some airlines used the jet to carry passengers and cargo on the same level, known as Combi aircraft. Horses were among the frequent flyers in the cargo hold with flight attendants often letting passengers go back and see the livestock mid-flight.
Other variants include the E-4B variant is an airborne command post designed for use in a nuclear war, four aircraft like this were introduced and are referred to as National Airborn Operations Center, Evergreen 747 Supertanker is used to carry 76000L of firefighting chemicals, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a former PanAm Boeing 747SP modified to carry a large infrared-sensitive telescope, in a joint venture of NASA and DLR, and the famous Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, two 747’s that can carry the Space Shuttle orbiter.
Moreover, the US Army considered some interesting variants like 747 CMCA- “Cruise Missile Carrier Aircraft” that could have carried 50 to 100 AGM-86 ALCM cruise missiles and 747 AAC- “Airborne aircraft carrier” that would have carried 10 Boeing Model 985-121 micro-fighters with the ability to launch, retrieve, re-arm and refuel but this projects were dropped even if a 747 AWACS with two micro-fighters on bord was considered technically feasible in 1973.
Incidents and accidents
As of 2020, the 747 has been involved in 166 accidents and incidents that caused 3746 fatalities but just a few crashes have been attributed to design flaws of the 747. Some aircraft suffered decompressions, other improper repairs. Some of the most tragic accidents are the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 that was shot down by a Soviet fighter aircraft in 1983 after it had strayed into Soviet territory, causing US president Ronald Reagan to authorize the then-strictly military GPS for civilian use and the Tenerife disaster where on March 27, 1977, two Boeing 747s, KLM Flight 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736 collided on the runway and is considered the deadliest accident in the aviation history, resulting in 583 fatalities.
Boeing 747 on screen
The Boeing 747 appeared on the big screen for the first time in the 1974 movie “Airport 1975”. Since then it has appeared in several movies like in the 1979 James Bond film “Moonraker” where a Moonraker Space Shuttle is stolen in mid-air from the back of a Boeing 747, in the 1981 Australian film “The Survivor”, in the 1990 action film “Die Hard 2”, where the special effects pushed the film’s production costs towards the then-record of $70 million. In 1997 a real 747-212B was rented from Kalitta Air and was used in the film “Air Force One”, portraying the real 747-200-based VC-25 that transports the US president. After the year 2000, the 747 continued its career in movies appearing in 2002 in “The Sum of All Fears”, in 2006 appeared in the horror-thriller film “Snakes on a Plane”, in 2008 was featured in the Japanese movie “Happy Flight” and more recent A Boeing 747-200(F) was featured in a scene of the 2020 science fiction action-thriller film “Tenet”, where the plane was crashed into a hangar.
The queen of the skies has to step down and leave the throne to a new generation
The end of the lifetime is near for “The Queen of the skies” due to its high maintenance costs and the new twin-engine aircraft that can fly on distances as far as 747 at less cost. In 2020 British Airways announced that will retire its fleet of Boeing 747s with immediate effect because of falling demand. The company had 31 Boeing 747s and it is not the first to retire its fleet, in December 2017 United waved goodbye to its final 747, and in 2019 Delta followed suit sending its last 747 to an Arizona ”boneyard”. As of today, Lufthansa has the largest Boeing 747 fleet.
If you want to discover more about the Boeing 747 legacy, you can check this YouTube video.