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The End of an Era for the ‘Queen of the Skies’

Written by Josue Navarro ‘25

Edited by Naphat Permpredanun '24

Image 1. Boeing 747 Landing [1]


Aircraft sore the skies, and passengers fill airport terminals everyday seeking their next destination. Manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus are constantly innovating their designs to make their new fleets more efficient and faster. An integral piece that allowed Boeing to become more efficient was the creation of a double-decker Boeing 747 aircraft. Depending on the seating and class configuration, the capacity of a Boeing 747 is anywhere between 416-524 passengers. Depending on the model, it can travel 8350-9500 miles which is about 16 hours without stopping to refuel (1). This opened the door to a bevy of transcontinental flights, facilitating travel around the globe. But on January 31, 2023, the last manufactured 747 rolled out of the Boeing Everett factory in Washington state (2). It was delivered to Atlas Air, marking the end of an era for the plane dubbed the ‘Queen of the Skies.’ This aircraft will continue to soar the skies for decades to come, but how did it all begin?

Air travel was Leonardo Da Vinci’s dream in 1505 (3). He published a book in which he theorized aerodynamic principles that would influence aviation several centuries later. In the 19th century, the Mongolfier brothers developed the hot air balloon–the first manmade object to fly (3). In the 20th century, the Wright brothers developed the first plane. Later, airships were seen as the flagship of air travel, but the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 halted that vision after this famous balloon caught on fire as it arrived in New York City (3). Despite this obstacle, air travel continued to evolve, and in 1949, the first commercial jetliner took off (3). It was manufactured by de Havilland Comet. Even still, air travel was still novel, and these aircraft were grounded after a series of mid-flight disasters (3). Finally, in 1954, the Boeing 707 took off. This came at a time when people looked past World War II's gloom. Pan-American World Airways (Pan-Am) was the first airline to use this plane to fly daily flights from New York to Paris (3). Air travel was a commodity, and flight attendants dressed for the occasion and served gourmet meals for passengers. Travelers dressed up for the occasion, and the experience was unique. But as time passed, the demand for more plane seats grew as airport terminals became packed with many eager to travel. After all, the Boeing 707 could only carry 181-200 passengers (depending on the model) (4). As a result, Boeing developed a jumbo-jet that could carry more passengers and cargo than any aircraft before it in the mid-1960s at the request of Pan-Am’s President Juan Trippe (5).


On January 22, 1970, the first Boeing 747 made its inaugural flight from New York to London’s Heathrow airport as Pan Am’s ‘Clipper Young America’ (5). Proving the plane's success, other airlines placed their orders. These airlines included TWA, American Airlines, United Airlines, Air Canada, Air India, and others (5). The new routes that the 747s flew called for expanding airport lounges, terminals, and check-in areas to accommodate the colossal planes. More international arrivals led to the expansion of customs and immigration areas that quickly became overwhelmed with hundreds of passengers coming in and out simultaneously.


Along with the changes on the ground, the 747 changed the design of the cabin of planes that preceded it. The 747 is known for its double-deck design. At first, Boeing wanted to use it as a cabin crew rest area, but after consulting with Pan Am’s Juan Trippe, they decided to make it a first-class lounge. Airlines took the task of creating the best experience possible by adding tea rooms, sit-in couch space, and a vast assortment of foods. The Boeing 747 was the first to have twin-aisle seats with aisles of seven or more rows, making it a wide body (6). It provides a tall ceiling with lavatories and galleys separating each class according to ticket price (6). Along with these modifications, ground crews worked hard to ensure that ramps, refueling tanks, and ground-support equipment were ready to service these planes (6). Air travel soared, and the 747 proved successful–even becoming an efficient cargo carrier and the plane used as Air Force One! However, as innovation of air travel evolved, so did the planes.


In the 2000s, airlines began looking to replace their 747s with larger, more efficient, and more advanced twin-engine jets (6). Maintenance began an issue with the older 747s, as explained by the former CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz (7). The plane became outdated and was too big for this and several other U.S. airlines (7). “If I need a part today, I can’t get it. We stripped every airplane of its parts to feed the need, and no one is making new parts.” U.S. air travel thrives on smaller twin-engine jets such as the Boeing 777, Boeing 787, Airbus A330, and Airbus A350 (7). These planes are more fuel-efficient and serve the needs of its passengers. The Boeing 747’s rival, the Airbus A380, is not popular among U.S. airlines, which further diminishes the need for such beasts (7).


All in all, air travel has continued to evolve since the 1950s, and unfortunately, the career of such a grand aircraft has ended. The Boeing 747 was the face of air travel for many decades, and it bridged the gap between different cultures, languages, and customs. For over 60 years, this aircraft gave the commoner a means of vacationing to previously out-of-reach destinations. Now, airplane manufacturers look to the horizon to make the next best planes for their passengers.

 

References

  1. Stokel-Walker C, Boeing 747 Landing [Illustration]. 2023. Wired. Business.

  2. Boeing. Historical Snapshot: 747 Commercial Transport [Internet]. Boeing. 2019 [cited 2023Apr7]. Available from: https://www.boeing.com/history/products/747.page

  3. Cummins N. The Evolution of the Boeing 747 [Internet]. Simple Flying. 2020 [cited 2023Apr7]. Available from: https://simpleflying.com/boeing-747-evolution/?newsletter_popup=1

  4. National Air and Space Museum. Welcome to How Things Fly [Internet]. How Things Fly. 2014 [cited 2023Apr7]. Available from: https://howthingsfly.si.edu/ask-an-explainer/how-far-can-airplane-go-full-tank-fuel-without-stopping-while-travelling-constant-1#:~:text=A%20modern%20Boeing%20747%20can,stop%20for%20almost%2016%20hours

  5. Randle A. History of Flight: Breakthroughs, Disasters and More [Internet]. History.com. A&E Television Networks; 2021 [cited 2023Apr7]. Available from: https://www.history.com/news/history-flight-aviation-timeline

  6. Sarmiento R. The 747 Takes Off [Internet]. Northwestern Libraries. 2023 [cited 2023Apr7]. Available from: https://sites.northwestern.edu/747anniversary/

  7. Singh S. Why did the US Airlines Stop Flying the Boeing 747? [Internet]. Simple Flying. 2022 [cited 2023Apr7]. Available from: https://simpleflying.com/us-airlines-stop-flying-747s/#:~:text=The%20company%20felt%20that%20the,747s%20flew%20in%20April%201977

  8. Slutsken H. How Boeing's 747 Jumbo Jet Changed Travel [Internet]. CNN. Cable News Network; 2023 [cited 2023Apr7]. Available from: https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/boeing-747-jumbo-jet-travel/index.html#:~:text=The%20design%20makes%20the%20engine,sophisticated%20high%2Dbypass%20turbofan%20engine

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