Boeing delivers final 747 jumbo jet

The last plane was the 1574th built by Boeing. It was launched in a ceremony attended by thousands of current and former employees.

EVERETT, Wash. – Boeing said goodbye to an icon on Tuesday, handing over its last 747 jumbo jet in front of thousands of workers who have helped build these planes over the past 55 years.

Since its maiden flight in 1969, the huge but graceful 747 has served as a cargo plane, a commercial airliner capable of carrying nearly 500 passengers, a transport vehicle for the NASA space shuttle. and Air Force One for the president. It has revolutionized travel, connecting international cities where there was no direct route before and helping to democratize passenger flights.

But over the past 15 years or so, Boeing and European rival Airbus have introduced more fuel-efficient and profitable wide-body planes that only have two engines to sustain instead of the 747’s four. The last flight was the 1574th built by Boeing in the Puget Sound region of Washington state.

Thousands of workers joined Boeing and other industry executives from around the world – as well as actor and pilot John Travolta, who has flown 747s – on Tuesday for a ceremony at the company’s massive plant north of Seattle, marking the final delivery of Atlas Air cargo.

“If you love this business, you’ve dreaded this moment,” said longtime aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia. “No one wants a four-engine airplane anymore, but that doesn’t erase the aircraft’s great contributions to the development of the industry or its remarkable legacy.”

Boeing began building the 747 after losing a contract to build the giant C-5A military transport plane. The idea is to take advantage of newly developed engines for vehicles – high-revving turbofans, which burn less fuel by passing air through the engine cores, allowing longer range – and use them for an imaginary new kind of civil aircraft.

It took more than 50,000 Boeing workers less than 16 months to build the first 747 — a prodigious effort that has earned them the nickname “The Superman Family.” Producing the jumbo jet required the construction of a large factory in Everett, north of Seattle – the largest building in the world by volume. The factory wasn’t even finished when the first planes were completed.

Among the attendees was Desi Evans, 92, who joined Boeing at its factory in Renton, south of Seattle, in 1957 and spent 38 years at the company before retiring. One day in 1967, his boss told him he was going to the 747 show in Everett – the next morning.

“They told me, ‘Let’s put on rubber boots and hard hats and warm clothes, because it’s a sea of ​​mud,’” Evans recalls.

He was assigned as a supervisor to help figure out how to install the interior of the passenger compartment and then oversaw the crews working on sealing and painting the plane.

“When the first 747 came out, it was a great time,” he said as he stood in front of the last plane parked outside the factory. “You feel elated — like you’re making history. You’re part of something big, and it’s still great, even if this is the last thing.”

The fuselage is 225 feet (68.5 meters) long and the tail section is as tall as a six-story building. The aircraft’s design included a second deck extending from the cockpit back over the first third of the aircraft, giving it a distinctive hump and inspiring the Whale moniker. More romantic, 747 is dubbed the Queen of the sky.

Some airlines have turned the second deck into a first-class cocktail lounge, while even the lower deck sometimes houses a lounge or even a piano bar. A decommissioned 747, originally built for Singapore Airlines in 1976, has been converted into a 33-room hotel near the airport in Stockholm.

“This was the first major airliner, the first wide-body aircraft, so it sets a new standard for airlines to fly,” said Guillaume de Syon, a history professor at Pennsylvania’s Albright University. figure out what to do with it and how to fill it. in the aviation and mobile industries. “It has become the essence of mass air travel: You can’t fill it with people paying full price, so you need discounts to attract people to board. It contributed to what happened in the late 1970s with the deregulation of air travel.”

The first 747 entered service in 1970 on Pan Am’s New York-London route, Aboulafia said, and its timing was terrible. It launched just before the oil crisis of 1973, amid an economic downturn that saw Boeing’s employment fall from 100,800 employees in 1967 to a low of 38,690 in April 1971. “Boeing bust.” ” is marked by a famous billboard near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that reads “Will the last to leave SEATTLE — Lights out.”

An updated model — the 747-400 series — came out in the late 1980s and is much better, coinciding with the Asian economic boom in the early 1990s, Aboulafia says. Cathay Pacific 747 from Los Angeles came to Hong Kong as a backpacker in her 20s in 1991.

“Even people like me can go see Asia,” Aboulafia said. “Previously, you had to stop to refuel in Alaska or Hawaii and it cost a lot more. This is a straight shot – and reasonably priced.

Delta was the last US airline to use the 747 for passenger flights, which ended in 2017, although several other international airlines continue to use the aircraft, including US Airways. German airline Lufthansa.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr recalled traveling in a 747 as a young exchange student and said that when he realized he was going to the US West Coast for the event Tuesday, there’s only one way: take first class in first class. nose of a Lufthansa 747 from Frankfurt to San Francisco. He promised the Lufthansa crowd to keep flying the 747 for many years to come.

“We just love airplanes,” he said.

Atlas Air ordered four 747-8 freighters early last year, with the last one – emblazoned with an image of Joe Sutter, the engineer who oversaw the 747’s original design team – having delivered on Thursday. father. Atlas CEO John Dietrich calls the 747 the largest air freighter, thanks in part to its unique ability to load through the nose cone. Boeing delivers final 747 jumbo jet

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