THE BOEING 747- A RETROSPECT

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

In 1969, at North Seattle, Everett, a large commercial airline is slowly moved out of her hanger, seeing sunlight and huge masses of people for the first time. This massive undertaking by Boeing was a giant leap in technology, and it redefined the way air travel was considered by the public. Its introduction paved the way for modern day air travel en mass, creating the era of the Jumbo Jet, and allowing the airline industry to grow out of its infancy.

That plane, was the 747.

At its peak, the 747 reigned dominance over the airline industry. It was the go to plane for any airline looking to operate on a long range widebody commercial airliner. In total, over 1500 Boeing 747s were built, with multiple variants spanning down the line from the original -100 model to the most popular -400 series. Her unique hump, upper deck and raised cockpit along the forward fuselage added to her already iconic status, making the 747 truly a recognisable symbol in human society and earning it the nickname, Queen of the Skies.  

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At its peak, the 747 reigned dominance over the airline industry. It was the go to plane for any airline looking to operate on a long range widebody commercial airliner. In total, over 1500 Boeing 747s were built, with multiple variants spanning down the line from the original -100 model to the most popular -400 series. Her unique hump, upper deck and raised cockpit along the forward fuselage added to her already iconic status, making the 747 truly a recognisable symbol in human society and earning it the nickname, Queen of the Skies.  

Today, 48 years since the first 747 took to the sky, we are witnessing the end of the 747’s golden age, which began when Airlines turned to cost effective, fuel efficient airliners such as the Airbus A380 and Boeing’s own B777. Every single cent saved by these new generation of jets meant better profit margins and cheaper tickets for passengers, something which the 747 can no longer provide to her operators and passengers.

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Boeing did address this fading popularity by introducing the 747-8 variant. The -8 is the latest iteration of the 747 family, integrating new technologies developed for the 787 Dreamliner to make the Queen competitive again in today’s market. It was a mild success, with more orders for the freighter version of the 747 over the commercial variant. Though the 747 will continue to fly, her days as the workhorse of the airline industry is over.

For myself, the 747 will always have a special place in my heart. As an “avgeek”, nothing compares to the Queen in terms of grace, grandeur and beauty. As a designer, the 747 is the epitome of a well thought out design, put together with care and consideration. Why ?you might ask. Well, considering the fact that the 747 evolved from a bomber and military transport concept, it has done well for itself. The unique hump, more than an aesthetic feature was actually needed so that the cockpit could be raised higher in order for a cargo door to be installed at the nose, allowing the 747 to serve as a full fledge cargo plane as well as a dedicated passenger liner. The functions the 747 could serve is wide, which is the saving grace of this long serving aircraft. Modified versions of the aircraft was used to carry the space shuttle, ferry Presidents, serve as a large scale fire fighting aircraft, airborne military command centers and more. No other aircraft in the commercial aviation industry has seen such versatility. This makes being in the presence of the 747 such an awe inspiring moment.

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As a kid raised in the 80s at a time before iPads and the internet, I grew up playing with toy cars, trains and airplanes. In my collection of objects, there was a Boeing 747 toy plane that is etched in my memory. The toy was a motorized, with moving wheels, light up engines and a red beacon light on top of the planes hump, painted in Pan Am livery. I remember it was my favourite. On weekends, my parents would bring myself and my brother to the airport viewing gallery, where we would sit and watch planes land and take off. I always could identify the airline and aircraft before me, and it was a fun thing to do with my dad. But when we saw a 747 come in, that really got me excited, as it “was” my toy plane, in real life right in front of us. I did not realise at first, but as I think back to my first memories of the 747, the reason why it really caught my attention was because the aesthetics of the plane were unique, and the sheer scale of the aircraft was awesome, added to all the toys, TV appearances and memorabilia based off the plane, granted it an everlasting presence in my memory.  

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Flying on the 747 was quite an experience as well. I had the opportunity to fly on different variants of the Queen over my lifetime, from the 747SP to the 747-400. It was the first plane i flew on with my parents back home to Taiwan, first plane i took by myself when I was 12,  first plane I sat on with an Inflight Entertainment System, it was the plane I grew up with, and made lots of memories on. I never thought I would see this day, and took the 747 for granted in thinking that it will be around for a lifetime. Alas, today, more and more 747s are retiring from commercial passenger service. What was once a common sight has now become a rarity we all chase after. Though the 747 might soon be gone, it will live on forever in our lives and memory, for we shall never forget the lasting impact the Boeing 747 has made on us all.

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