SEATTLE (AP) — Boeing is saying goodbye to an icon on Tuesday: It is taking delivery of its last 747 jumbo jet.
Since its first flight in 1969, the gigantic yet graceful 747 has served as a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft that can carry nearly 500 passengers, a transport for NASA’s space shuttles and Air Force One presidential aircraft. It revolutionized travel, connecting international cities that had never before had direct routes and helping to democratize passenger aviation.
But over the past 15 years, Boeing and its European rival Airbus have introduced more profitable and fuel-efficient wide-body planes, with just two engines to maintain instead of the 747̵[ads1]7;s four. The last flight is the 1,574. built by Boeing in the Puget Sound region of Washington state.
A large number of current and former Boeing workers are expected for the final deployment. The last one is delivered to the cargo ship Atlas Air.
“If you love this business, you’ve been dreading this moment,” said longtime aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia. “Nobody wants a four-engine airliner anymore, but that doesn’t erase the enormous contribution the aircraft made to the development of the industry or its remarkable legacy.”
Boeing set out to build the 747 after losing a contract for a huge military transport, the C-5A. The idea was to take advantage of the new engines developed for the transport—high-bypass turbofan engines, which burned less fuel by passing air around the engine core, allowing for a longer flight range—and to use them for a newly envisioned civilian aircraft.
It took more than 50,000 Boeing workers less than 16 months to turn out the first 747 — a Herculean effort that earned them the nickname “The Incredibles.” The jumbo jet’s production required the construction of a massive factory in Everett, north of Seattle – the world’s largest building by volume.
The plane’s fuselage was 225 feet (68.5 meters) long and its tail was as tall as a six-story building. The aircraft’s design included a second deck that extended from the cockpit back over the first third of the aircraft, giving it a distinctive hump and inspiring a nickname, the Whale. More romantically, the 747 became known as the Queen of the Sky.
Some airlines turned the second deck into a first-class cocktail lounge, while even the lower deck sometimes contained lounges or even a piano bar. A decommissioned 747, originally built for Singapore Airlines in 1976, has been converted into a 33-room hotel near Stockholm airport.
“It was the first major airliner, the first widebody, so it set a new standard for the airlines to figure out what to do with it and how to fill it,” said Guillaume de Syon, a history professor at Pennsylvania’s Albright College which specializes in aviation and mobility. “That became the essence of mass air travel: You couldn’t fill it with people paying full price, so you have to lower the prices to get people on board. That 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, and the timing was terrible, Aboulafia said. It debuted shortly before the 1973 oil crisis, amid a recession in which Boeing employment fell from 100,800 employees in 1967 to a low of 38,690 in April 1971. The “Boeing bust” was infamously marked by a billboard near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that read: “Will the last person to leave SEATTLE — turn off the lights.”
An updated model — the 747-400 series — arrived in the late 1980s and had much better timing, coinciding with the Asian economic boom of the early 1990s, Aboulafia said. He recalled taking a Cathay Pacific 747 from Los Angeles to Hong Kong as a twentysomething backpacker in 1991.
“Even people like me could see Asia,” Aboulafia said. “Before, you had to stop for fuel in Alaska or Hawaii and it cost a lot more. This was a straight shot – and affordable.”
Delta was the last US airline to use the 747 for passenger flights, which ended in 2017, although some other international airlines continue to fly it, including German airline Lufthansa.
Atlas Air ordered four 747-8 freighters early last year, with the last one leaving the factory on Tuesday.
Boeing’s roots are in the Seattle area, and they have assembly plants in Washington state and South Carolina. The company announced in May that it would move its headquarters from Chicago to Arlington, Virginia, putting its executives closer to key federal government officials and the Federal Aviation Administration, which certifies Boeing passenger and cargo planes.
Boeing’s relationship with the FAA has been strained since the fatal crashes of its best-selling plane, the 737 Max, in 2018 and 2019. The FAA took nearly two years — far longer than Boeing expected — to approve design changes and allow the plane back into service. the air.