Happy 50th Birthday to the 747

September 30, 2018

FIFTY YEARS AGO, on the last day of September in Everett, Washington, the first Boeing 747 was rolled from the hangar. Onlookers were stunned. The aircraft before them, gleaming in the morning sunshine, was more than two-hundred feet long and taller than a six-story building.

An airplane of firsts, biggests, and superlatives all around, the 747 has always owed its fame mostly to feats of size. It was the first jetliner with two aisles — two floors, even! And enormous as it was, this was an airplane that went from a literal back-of-a-napkin drawing to a fully functional aircraft in just over two years — an astonishing achievement.

But this was more than size for the sake of itself. Boeing didn’t build the biggest plane of all time simply to prove it could. By the 1970s, a growing population craved the opportunity to travel nonstop over great distances. But no airplane was big enough, or economical enough, to make it affordable to the average person. Boeing’s four-engined 707 had ushered in the Jet Age a decade earlier, but with fuel-thirsty engines and room for fewer than 200 passengers, its per-seat economics kept ticket prices beyond the budget of most vacationers.

Enter Juan Trippe, the legendary founder of Pan Am. Trippe had been at the vanguard of the 707 project, and now he’d persuade Boeing that not only was an airplane with twice the 707’s capacity technologically feasible, it was a revolution waiting to happen.

He was right, even if vindication didn’t come easy. Boeing took a chance and built Trippe his superjet, nearly bankrupting itself in the process. Early-on engine problems were a costly embarrassment, and sales were alarmingly slow at the outset. But on January 21, 1970, Pan Am’s Clipper Victor made the maiden voyage on the New York–London milk run, and the rest, as they say, is history. With room for upwards of five-hundred passengers, the 747 introduced the economies of scale that, for the first time, allowed millions of people to travel great distances at affordable fares. Say what you want of the DC-3 or the 707 — icons in their own right — it’s the 747 that changed global air travel forever.

And it did so with a style and panache that we seldom see any more in aircraft design. Trippe isn’t the only visionary in this story; it was Boeing’s Joe Sutter and his team of engineers who figured out how to build an airplane that wasn’t just colossal, but also downright beautiful.

How so? “Most architects who design skyscrapers focus on two aesthetic problems,” wrote the architecture critic Paul Goldberger in an issue of The New Yorker some years back. “How to meet the ground and how to meet the sky—the top and the bottom, in other words.” Or, in Boeing’s case, the front and the back. Because what is a jetliner, in so many ways, but a horizontal skyscraper, whose beauty is beheld (or squandered) primarily through the sculpting of the nose and tail. Whether he realized it or not, Sutter understood this perfectly.

Joe Sutter and his creation.

It’s perhaps telling that today, strictly from memory, with only the aid of a pencil and a lifetime of watching airplanes, I’m able to sketch the fore and aft sections of the 747 with surprising ease and accuracy. This is not a testament to my drawing skills, believe me. Rather, it’s a demonstration of the elegant, almost organic flow of the jet’s profile.

It’s hard to look at a 747 without focusing on its most distinctive feature — its upper deck. The position of this second-story annex, which tapers rearward from the crown of the cockpit windscreen, has typically inspired descriptions like “bubble-topped” or “humpbacked,” which couldn’t be more insulting. In fact the upper-deck’s design is smoothly integral to the rest of fuselage. Compare the 747’s assertive, almost regal-looking prow to the bulbous, Beluga-like forward quarters of the double-decked Airbus A380 and, well, enough said. As for the tail, where some might see the in-your-face expanse of towering, 62-foot billboard, I see the rakishly canted sail of a tall ship.

Even that name itself — “Seven forty seven” — is such a neat little snippet of palindromic poetry.

Funny, how we gauge a plane’s commercial success, aesthetic or otherwise: through raw tonnage, wingspan, and this or that statistical bullet-point. Or, in the case of the ubiquitous 737, through the number of units sold. How crass. It’s hard to find romance in the business of aircraft production, but we should take a moment to savor beauty where it exists. “Air does not yield to style,” are words once accredited to an aerodynamicst at Airbus. They, builders of the A380, the graceless behemoth that kicked the 747 into second place on the size list. The ghost of Joe Sutter would like a word with you.

This is also the aircraft that has carried five U.S. Presidents. It carried the Space Shuttle, and, we might note, was perennially the star of any number of Hollywood disaster movies. We should mention its roles in real-life tragedies, too, from the collision at Tenerife, to TWA 800, to the unforgettable photograph of Pan Am’s Maid of the Seas lying sideways in the grass at Lockerbie. Horrific incidents to be sure, but they underscore the 747’s prestige in a way that is almost transcendent — bringing the airplane beyond aviation and into the realm of history proper.

The nature and travel author Barry Lopez once wrote an essay in which, from inside the hull of a 747 freighter, he compares the aircraft to a Gothic cathedral of twelfth-century Europe. “Standing on the main deck,” Lopez writes, “where ‘nave’ meets ‘transept,’ and looking up toward the pilots’ ‘chancel.’ … The machine was magnificent, beautiful, complex as an insoluble murmur of quadratic equations.” Rarely do commercial aviation and spirituality share the same conversation — unless it’s the 747 we’re talking about.

In the second grade, my two favorite toys were both 747s. The first was an inflatable replica, similar to those novelty balloons you buy at parades, with rubbery wings that drooped in such violation of the real thing that I’d tape them into proper position. To a seven-year-old it seemed enormous, like my own personal Macy’s float. The second toy was a plastic model about 12 inches long. Like the balloon, it was decked out in the livery of Pan Am. One side of the fuselage was made of clear polystyrene, through which the entire interior, row by row, could be viewed. I can still picture exactly the blue and red pastels of the tiny chairs.

Also visible, in perfect miniature near the toy plane’s nose, was a blue spiral staircase. Early 747s were outfitted with a set of spiral stairs connecting the main and upper decks — a touch that gave the entranceway a special look and feel. Stepping onto a 747 was like stepping into the lobby of a fancy hotel, or into the grand vestibule of a cruise ship. In 1982, on my inaugural trip on a 747, I beamed at my first real-life glimpse of that winding column. Those stairs have always been in my blood — a genetic helix twisting upward towards some pilot Nirvana.

In the 1990s, Boeing ran a magazine promotion for the 747. It was a two-page, three-panel ad, with a nose-on silhouette of the plane against a dusky sunset. “Where/does this/take you?” asked Boeing across the centerfold. Below this dreamy triptych, the text went on:

“A stone monastery in the shadow of a Himalayan peak. A cluster of tents on the sweep of the Serengeti plains. The Boeing 747 was made for places like these. Distant places filled with adventure, romance, and discovery. The 747 is the symbol for air travelers in the hearts and minds of travelers. It is the airplane of far-off countries and cultures. Where will it take you?”

Nothing nailed the plane’s mystique more than that ad. I so related to this syrupy bit of PR that I clipped it from the magazine and kept it in a folder, where it resides to this day. Whenever it seemed my career was going nowhere (which was all the time), I’d pull out the ad and look at it.

Alas, I never did pilot a 747. I’ve been forced to live the thrill vicariously instead, through colleagues who’ve been more fortunate. It was a friend of mine, not me, who became the first pilot I knew to fly a 747, setting off for Shanghai and Sydney while I flew turboprops to Hartford and Harrisburg. The closest I’ve gotten is the occasional upstairs seating assignment. The upper deck on a 747 is a cozy space with an arched ceiling like the inside of a miniature hangar. It’s not the cockpit, but I can recline up there in a sleeper seat, basking in the self-satisfaction of having made it, at least one way, up the spiral stairs.

I had an upper-deck seat to Nairobi once on British Airways. Prior to pushback I wandered into the cockpit unannounced, to have a look, thinking the guys might be interested to learn they had another pilot on board. They weren’t. I’d interrupted their checklist, and they asked me to go away and slammed the door. “Yes, we do mind,” snapped the second officer in a voice exactly like Graham Chapman.

In 1989 I was a passenger on the inaugural 747-400 flight from JFK airport to Tokyo. Everyone on board was given a commemorative wooden sake cup. I still have mine.

For better or worse, however, airlines don’t pick their planes based on beauty or sentimental contemplations, and numbers that made good business sense in 1968 are no longer to the 747’s favor. There’s been a lot of chatter about the plane of late, not much of it auspicious, as the world’s major carriers, one by one, have been sending 747s to the boneyard. Delivery numbers of the final variant, the 747-8 have dwindled to almost nothing, and the assembly line, after almost half a century, is undoubtedly soon to go dark. The fragmentation of long-distance air routes, together with the unbeatable economics of newer aircraft models, have sealed its fate.

When Delta Air Lines retired the last of its 747s in 2017, the plane took a cross-country farewell tour, including a stop at the Washington factory where it was manufactured. At Air France, 300 well-wishers came to Charles de Gaulle airport for a day-long celebration and sightseeing flight over Paris and the French countryside.

The plane’s replacement is not so much the double-decker Airbus A380, as many people assume. The A380 indeed has captured some of the ultra high-capacity market, but with the exception of Emirates’ 100-plus fleet it’s found only in limited numbers. Rather, it’s Boeing’s own 777-300, which can carry almost as may people as a 747, at around two-thirds of the operating costs, that has rendered the four-engine model otherwise obsolete. Pretty much every 777-300 that you see out there — and there are hundreds of them — would have been a 747 in decades past. The -300 has quietly become the premier jumbo jet of the 21st century.

In other cases, market fragmentation has resulted in carriers switching to smaller long-haul planes like the 787 and the Airbus A330. In past decades, traveling internationally meant flying on only a handful of airlines from a small number of gateway cities. Today, dozens of carriers offer nonstop options between cities of all sizes. More people are flying than ever before, but they’re doing so in smaller planes from a far greater number of airports.

With Delta and United having retired the last examples, the 747 is now absent from the passenger fleets of the U.S. major airlines for the first time since 1970. How sad is that? (Atlas Air, that New York-based freight outfit, we turn our lonely eyes to you.)

Just the same, reports of the plane’s death have been exaggerated. Hundreds remain in service worldwide: British Airways, Lufthansa, Korean Air and KLM have dozens apiece, in both freighter and passenger configurations. Other liveries, too, can be spotted at airports both at home and overseas: Virgin Atlantic, Air China, Qantas. While the 747-8 has sold only sporadically, there are enough of them around to ensure they’ll be crossing oceans for years to come.

Icon is such an overused term in our cultural lexicon, but in the case of the 747, it couldn’t be more apt. Like other American icons of design and commerce, from the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge, it endures — a little past its prime, perhaps, but undiminished in its powers to inspire and awe. And this one literally flies, having carried tens of millions of people to every corner of the globe — an ambassador of determination, technological know-how, and imagination at its best.

It could be a metaphor for American itself: no longer the most acclaimed or the flashiest, it remains stubbornly dignified, graceful and important in ways you might not expect. And in spite of any proclamations of its demise, it carries on.

747 at Kennedy Airport, 1997.   Author’s photo.

And now for some fun:

The picture at the top of this article shows the prototype Boeing 747 on the day of its rollout from the factory in Everett. It was September 30th, 1968. I love this photo because it so perfectly demonstrates both the size and the grace of the 747. It’s hard for a photograph to properly capture both of those aspects of the famous jet, and this image does it better than any I’ve ever seen.

Across the forward fuselage you can see the logos of the 747’s original customers. The one furthest forward, of course, is the blue and white globe of Pan Am. Pan Am and the 747 are all but synonymous, their respective histories (and tragedies) forever intertwined. But plenty of other carriers were part of the plane’s early story, as those decals attest. Twenty-seven airlines initially signed up for the jumbo jet when Boeing announced production.

My question is, can you name them? How many of those logos can you identify?

Here, and here, are a couple of closer-in, higher resolution shots to help you.

Once you’re ready, scroll down for the answers.

The 747 in those archival Boeing photos still exists, by the way, and you can visit it — touch it — at the Museum of Flight at Seattle’s Boeing Field.


And the answers are…

Here are the 27 original customers. You may wish to reference this close-up photo as you go along, left to right…

Top row:

Delta Air Lines
Eastern Airlines
Air India
National Airlines
World Airways
United Airlines
American Airlines
Air France

Bottom row:

South African Airways
Air Canada
El Al
Braniff International
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS)
Aer Lingus
Northwest Airlines
Continental Airlines
Trans World Airlines (TWA)
Japan Airlines (JAL)
Pan American

Twenty-seven carriers got things rolling, though many more would follow, from Cathay Pacific to Air Gabon. I’m not sure of the meaning of the order of the decals. Pan Am was the launch customer, and its logo is located furthest forward — either first or last on the list, depending how you see it. The rest may or may not be chronologically arranged, I don’t know.

Whatever order they are in, there’s a tremendous amount of history in those logos. Let’s take a quick look at each of the 27 carriers, and their trademarks. Again, left to right, top row first:

1. Delta operated only a handful of the original 747-100, and not for very long, although later it would inherit more than 20 of the -400 variant through its merger with Northwest. The last of those jets was retired last year. The Delta “widget” symbol is today a two-tone red, but is otherwise identical to the mark you see in these photos.

2. A single 747-100 flew in Eastern colors only very briefly before it was sold to TWA. The airline’s blue and white oval, however — one of the most iconic airline trademarks of all time — endured a lot longer. This was the final incarnation of the carrier’s longtime falcon motif, and Eastern used it right to the end, until the company’s demise at the hands of Frank Lorenzo in 1991.

3. Air India operated four different 747 variants before switching to the 777-300. The centaur logo, representative of Sagittarius, suggested movement and strength. It also resembled the farohar, a Parsi heavenly symbol featuring a winged man. The Parsis are a Zoroastrian sect of the Subcontinent — of which Air India’s founding family, the Tatas, were members — and their farohar is a sign of good luck. Sadly, the carrier abandoned this culturally rich trademark some years ago.

4. National Airlines flew the 747 on routes between the Northeast and Florida. In 1980 the airline merged with Pan Am. Its “Sundrome” terminal at Kennedy Airport, where the JetBlue terminal sits today, was designed by I.M. Pei.

5. World Airways was a U.S. supplemental carrier that flew passenger and cargo charters worldwide for 66 years until ceasing operations in 2014. It operated the 747-100, -200 and -400.


6. Until last year, United Airlines had operated the 747 without interruption since 1970, having flown the -100, -200 and -400 variants, as well as the short-bodied SP version. The latter were inherited from Pan Am after purchase of that airline’s Pacific routes in 1986.

7. American Airlines sold the last of its 747s more than two decades ago, but over the years its fleet included the -100 and, for a short period, the SP. The emblem in the photos shows an early version of the famous AA eagle logo, later perfected by the Italian designer Massimo Vignelli and worn by the carrier until its disastrous livery overhaul in 2013.

8. The Air France seahorse logo still graces the caps of the airline’s pilots. Air France flew the 747-100, -200, and -400. Today, the 777-300 and A380 do the heavy lifting.

9. BOAC, the British Overseas Airways Corporation, merged with British European Airways in 1974 to form what today is known as British Airways. That black, delta-winged logo traces its origins to Imperial Airways in the 1920s. Known as the “Speedbird,” this is where British Airways’ air traffic control call-sign comes from.

10. Lufthansa’s crane logo, one of commercial aviation’s most familiar symbols, is mostly unchanged to this day. The airline’s 13 747-400s and 19 747-8s comprise what is, at the moment, the largest 747 fleet in the world. The -100 and -200 were in service previously, including a freighter version of the -200.

11. Sabena, the former Belgian national carrier, flew the 747-100, -200 and -300. The airline ceased operations in 2002 after 78 years of service. This logo is one of the hardest to identify in the Boeing photos. It’s blurry in most pictures, and the carrier didn’t use it for very long. People are much more familiar with Sabena’s circular blue “S” logo.

12. Spanish carrier Iberia flew 747s for three decades, but today it relies on the A330 and A340 for long-haul routes. Different versions of the globe logo were used until the late 1970s.

13. South African Airways is among the few airlines to have flown at least four different 747 variants: the -200 through -400, plus the SP. The springbok, an African antelope, remained its trademark until a post-Apartheid makeover in the 1990s.

14. Air Canada recently brought back the five-pointed maple leaf as part of a beautiful new livery. Alas, you won’t be seeing it on a 747. The last one left the fleet in 2004.

15. El Al is Hebrew for “to the skies,” and the Israeli airline still operates a handful of 747-400s mainly on flights between Tel Aviv and New York.

16. It was hard to miss one of Braniff’s 747s. The Dallas-based carrier, one of America’s biggest airlines until it was killed off by the effects of over-expansion and deregulation, painted them bright orange.

17. Each of Scandinavian’s 747s carried a “Viking” name on its nose — the Knut Viking, the Magnus Viking, the Ivar Viking among them — with a fuselage stripe that soared rakishly upward into the shape of a longboat. Just a beautiful plane, as you can see below. That striping is long gone, but the SAS trademark, one of the most enduring in aviation, is unchanged.


18. After being in business for 71 years, Swissair closed down forever in March, 2002. It had flown the 747 -200 and -300.

19. Qantas — that’s an acronym, by the way, for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services — uses a modernized version of this kangaroo logo, and continues to operate a fleet of a dozen or so 747-400s.

20. KLM is the world’s oldest airline, and this logo, a masterpiece of simplicity, is still in use today, only barely altered. There are 17 747s in the KLM fleet. With United out of the picture, KLM joins Lufthansa, Qantas, El Al and BOAC/British Airways as the only members of the original 27 to have operated the jet continuously since 1970.

21. Aer Lingus 747s were a daily sight here in Boston throughout the 1970s and 1980s, before the airline downsized to the Airbus A330. A modernized shamrock logo remains on the tail.

22. Alitalia’s “Freccia Alata” bow and arrow is the emblem that readers had the most trouble with. This was the airline’s symbol until 1972, before changing to the stylized red and green “A” used to the present day. It looks even older than it is. One emailer described it wonderfully as, “something Gatsby would have on cufflinks.” Alitalia parted ways with the 747 in 2002, switching to the 777 and A330.

23. Northwest, which merged with Delta in 2008, was for a time the world’s largest 747 operator, with more than 40 in service. It was the launch customer of the 747-400 in 1989. The last of those planes, now wearing Delta colors, will be flown to the desert later this month, ending 47 years of 747 passenger service by U.S. carriers.

24. Continental Airlines flew the 747-100 and -200 on and off, but never had more than a handful. The “meatball” logo, as some people callously called it, was designed by Saul Bass and used from 1968 until 1991. Continental merged with United in 2010.

25. TWA, one of the world’s most storied carriers, was an early 747 customer and kept the type in service until 1998 — shortly after the flight 800 disaster. Though few people remember it, TWA also had a small fleet of three 747SPs at one point. The SP paint job included the markings “Boston Express,” as they were primarily used on routes from Boston to London and Paris.

26. Japan Airlines flew more 747s than anybody — at one point over 60 — including a high-density short-range version that held 563 passengers! (It was one of those “SR” planes that crashed near Mt. Fuji in 1985, in what remains the deadliest single-plane accident of all time.)  JAL’s crane logo, with the bird’s wings forming the shape of the Japanese rising sun, is the most elegant airline logo ever created. JAL retired the crane in 2002 as part of a monstrously ugly redesign, but wisely brought it back nine years later.

27. And then there’s Pan Am — the blue globe that was once as widely recognized as the logos of Coca-Cola or Apple. What can you say?


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147 Responses to “Happy 50th Birthday to the 747”
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  1. Tim Hartzer says:

    I missed this piece when you first put it out. I was a DC lawyer in 1980 or so and had to get to Seattle for a hearing the next morning. I got out to Dulles for an evening flight on a Northwest 747, and we left as it was getting dark and in some rain. What I most remember is the descent into SEATAC in the dark and heavy rain and feeling secure and comfortable in that marvelous Boeing creation. I also remember all those people in the back smoking, which even then seemed crazy. I still look up in the sky when I hear a plane and hope that it will be something heavy like a 747. Thanks and good luck with your career.

  2. David W. Ashley says:


  3. Flight test says:

    I was there for the first flight
    Worked on the flight test program. While it was still in Everett we worked on flight test wiring and equipment. From there it went to Seattle for testing. What an awesome plane.p

  4. Todd C says:

    My first ever flight was at age 12 on June 30, 1971 from LAX to Tokyo on one of JAL’s original 747s. I didn’t appreciate at the time how special this was. As it was before the days of fortified cockpits, I was able to get a FA to escort me up the spiral stairs, through the first class lounge to visit the cockpit. I recall how black it is in the middle of the Pacific in the middle of the night.

  5. “…New York–London milk run…” Really? A milk run used to describe a slow and tortuous journey. It came from trains that had to stop at every small town in an agricultural area to pick up farmers’ raw milk that was to be shipped to a milk processing plant. Does a New York – London flight fit that description in any way – even metaphorically?

    • Ben says:

      You have to realize that back in 1970 when Pan-Am inaugurated 747 service from New York to London that it was pushing the limits of commercial aviation technology. The 747 also was the first widebody jetliner and the first commercial airliner to use the then brand new high-bypass turbofan engine.

  6. Jerry says:

    Here’s a little 747 story. In 1969 a pilot I knew from around town (Bolinas) had just started flying the new 747 and when I asked him what he thought of it he said “it’s like any other airplane, you push the yoke forward and the houses get bigger, pull it back and they get smaller”. Made me laugh.
    Lunch is on me sometime in Lafayette.

  7. Sheila Hartney says:

    When the 747 were new the airlines flying them competed by making them roomy, with first class and coach lounges, and the U.S. carriers all had a 3-4-2 configuration in coach.

    I am old enough that I flew on 747s when they first were in service. I have many fond memories of the upper level first class lounge. I was an airline employee back then, and so when I flew on a pass I was almost always boarded in first class. But even in coach, the seat configuration and pitch, coupled with coach lounges, made the journey on a 747 luxurious no matter where you sat on the plane.

  8. ps This airplane ushered in Modern Australia-it opened up the country to the world from September, 1971. Nothing else even comes close.

    80% of Australian citizens hold passports, and I’d wager every one of them has ridden the 747 multiple times.

    The 747 made Australians global citizens & we will never be the same.


  9. A magnificent, epic post.


    The 747 was like the System/360 for IBM. Both products almost brought their manufacturers to their knees [‘broke the bank’]. Both products also transformed not only their companies, but modern life:


  10. Ray Sheddan says:

    I recall going to Auckland International to see over a 747 when it was doing a promotional tour down under. See everything except the flight deck. The size of the thing was awe inspiring. Watching it approach and land had one thinking it is not possible. Beautiful, beautiful machine, sad to see it gone from our skies.

  11. dickwaitt says:

    Although possibly because it was not a passenger carrying 747, one you did not mention is a 747 in Evergreen International colors which currently rests atop a building housing the waterpark at the Evergreen Air and Space Museum, McMinnville, Oregon.

    I am not aware of the history of this particular aircraft but other readers may be aware of its details.

  12. Cameron Beck says:

    Thank you for your fascinating article on the 747.

    Here’s a factoid which you might enjoy. Unfortunately I cannot remember the source. I read it several years ago in an article on the 747.

    Just before The Glorious Craft entered service, insurance actuarial analysts were trying to figure what to charge the airlines for hull loss coverage.

    They finally decided that The Queen would suffer two crashes during its first five years of service. They set rates accordingly.

    Two Glorious Queens did not crash in that period. HOWEVER, from Wikipedia [abridged]:

    1. Pan Am 93 was the first hull loss of a 747,after it was hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine(PLFP) On September 6, 1970, a new Pan Am aircraft flying from Amsterdam to New York was hijacked and flown first to Beirut, then to Cairo. Shortly after its evacuation, it was blown up.

    2. JAL 404 was the second 747 hull loss, hijacked on a flight from Amsterdam to Anchorage on July 20, 1973, by the PFLP and Japanese Red Army. It flew to Dubai, then Damascus, then Benghazi. The occupants were released and the aircraft blown up. One hijacker died.

    So, there actually were two write-offs in five years. I’d like to know how the insurance people calculate such things.

  13. Andrea G says:

    Thank you for this fantastic essay!
    My grandfather was an engineer for PanAm (at JFK) from around 1950 until the early 80s. One of the stories I remember him telling was about the annual Christmas party. They would wheel a 747 out from the hanger and a Santa Claus would come out of the plane.

  14. Nigel Costolloe says:

    beautifully written, thank you!
    Referencing Barry Lopez’s essay – spot on!
    Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker was a beautiful ode to flying and though he flies the 747 he never unpacked or revealed a similar appreciation for this plane.
    After 50 years of flying, I am still drawn to the majesty and magnificence of the 747 when it arrives at the terminal – no other plane comes close.
    Keep up your excellent work and thank you.

  15. Julia says:

    This is an excellent ode to the 747. When I was 6 my family flew one of Air Canada’s old 747-100s to Europe. My father, an Air Canada pilot himself, took my brother and I up to the cockpit. The second officer let me sit in his seat and the captain joked that because I was sitting there I got to tell the pilots what to do. That was such an exciting moment for me and I remember it fondly.

  16. Simon says:

    I’m curious about the large workhorse aspect. It would be obvious to say that the 747 would be replaced by the A380. The latter is larger and more modern. It covers all of the needs of carriers who want really large long-range aircraft.

    But that’s not how the market is responding. It presently appears the A380 could end production not long after the 747. So you could then wonder (and it’s an often spread notion) if airlines in today’s market no longer want such large aircraft. The 777 and the A350 cater to just that idea: twin engine and long range, but fewer pax than the 747 or A380.

    So how is it then that in precisely that segment of the market there’s such a push for bigger now? The 777X wasn’t just a modernized 77L/W to better compete with the A359, it is now becoming substantially larger. Same thing on Airbus’ side. They had barely started with the A350 they were already pushing the A35K to better compete with the 77W but also the 777X project.

    So what is it now? Bigger is better or smaller is better? And if Boeing lies right by betting on the former (and hence the 777X), has Airbus put itself into a corner by not allowing the A350 to go head-on against larger 777(X) variants because they were worried about cannibalizing A380 sales?

    • Rod says:

      My ignorance is substantial, but could it be that what’s “better” is having two engines instead of four (maintenance costs, whatever)?
      The passenger-carriers seem to have settled on twin-engine aircraft and that’s it.

      • Simon says:

        It definitely appears so. But is it then also true that among twins, more pax is better? Is the huge 779 the proper 747 successor (as opposed to say a modernized 77L/W)? Is the A35K too small?

        • Rod says:

          Perhaps airlines are simply afraid of having to haul empty seats around the sky. When I see a 380, I have to ask myself How full is that thing Really?
          Of course the same calculation applies to ever-further stretched 777s and 350s, but possibly a dim view is now taken of gigantism since aircrews have had to accustom themselves to lower wages, etc., and filling the sky with direct flights (in smaller aircraft) seems to be an option.

  17. Speed says:

    What’s next? What can replace this workhorse?

    On September 18, 2013, Lufthansa became [the Boeing 777X] launch customer by selecting 34 Boeing 777-9X airliners, along with 25 Airbus A350-900s to replace its 22 747-400s and 48 A340-300/600s for its long-haul fleet.


    There’s a lot that’s new about the 777X but the folding “wingtips” will be the headline.

  18. prof prem raj pushpakaran says:

    prof prem raj pushpakaran writes — 2018 marks the 50 years of the Boeing 747!!!!

  19. Speed says:

    Earlier this year UPS ordered another 14 747 freighters which will keep the production line going a little longer. There was a time when freight fleets were made up of converted passenger planes no longer loved by their airlines or passengers.

    Among today’s jets, the 747 has a unique sound. Most mornings around seven, it is easy to recognize the sound of Asiana 242 passing over as it approaches Sea-Tac. It’s a jet freighter milk run … Incheon to Anchorage to O’Hare to DFW to Sea-Tac.

  20. Alan Dahl says:

    I recently flew to and from Europe on a Lufthansa 747-400 and I’d forgotten how much more comfortable the 747 is to travel on than the 777 or A330. These were my first flights on a 747 since 1997 and it was so nice to be on one again. I’m still hoping against hope that Boeing can keep the old girl in production a little bit longer and maybe even sell a few more Intercontinentals in the process.

  21. Daniel Ullman says:

    One of the surprising things is how briefly the Jumbos lasted. The Tri-Star, the DC 10 and the 747 were basically it during the era. The Tri-Star failed mostly to due with manufacturing issues, the DC 10 failed mostly because Douglas was purchase by McDonnell and the aircraft developed a very mediapathic way to crash.

    The 747 survived the era and made it to the point were it could be retired with dignity.

    Music for what a close run it was:

    For no good reason: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1FFUBN1JYE

  22. Stephen Stapleton says:

    One of your best articles ever. Not only very heartfelt, but full of great interest. I loved it. Having stepped onto Pan Am’s famed 747s in the airlines heyday when I was young, it was very much, “like stepping into the lobby of a fancy hotel, or into the grand vestibule of a cruise ship.” When I stepped onto the RMS Queen Mary 2 for an Atlantic crossing a few years ago, I very much had the sense of déjà vu from when I board the 747, took the spiral staircase to the upper deck. I felt the same sense of timeless luxury and care for detail both times.

    I also used to fly from SF to New York on Tower Air. It was rather down-scale airline that would often not bother to keep to the schedule if there weren’t enough tickets sold, but it used only 747s. For an extra $100, assuming space was available, one could upgrade to First Class on the upstairs. I must have flown 50 flights up there. One felt in a magic world in that separate compartment. I think there were only 18 people, but we had two flight stewards and two bathrooms. Everyone could see the movie, the seats were comfortable, and the drinks flowed. What a way to fly!

  23. Patrick says:

    My first flight on a 747 was in 1974, I believe, on Braniff Airlines when I was a junior in college. The bright orange plane was the ONE and ONLY 747 owned by Braniff, which flew the Dallas – Honolulu route nonstop each day. Quite an amazing experience for this young man from a small farm town in North Central Texas to fly on a plane that carried twice as many people as lived in the little town I grew up in! I LOVED the entire experience and still have some small mementos from those flights.

  24. Amlan Gupta says:

    Being a bit older, I have flown the 747 many times in the 100, 200, 300, and 400 variants. That included the combi versions that Air Canada flew. Pre-911 of course, I also had one takeoff and two landings in the jump seat. What a wonderful airplane and technological marvel. If you have not done so, read Joe Sutter’s autobiography – it is fascinating.

  25. Ben says:

    I didn’t grow up with the original 747, but I did grow up with the 747-400 Model and Air Force One being a 747. During the 747’s main heyday in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Air Force One was a Boeing 707. My favorite version of the 747 is the newest 747-8 with its raked wingtips, saw tooth engine covers from the 787, and swept bladed GEnx engines. Sadly looking back in retrospect, the 747’s days were numbered when the Boeing 777 debuted in service in 1995, and especially when the 777-300ER model entered service in 2004.

  26. Tod Davis says:

    You might be interest to know that Qantas will retire the last of its 747’s by the end of 2020, replacing them with more 787-9’s

  27. Alan Dahl says:

    Strictly speaking I’m replying to the express blog on this issue but I find it interesting that Lufthansa is revising their new 787-8 color scheme after adverse comments by their employees:


  28. Pedro says:

    One of my favorite scenes (a 747) of the James Bond movies :


  29. Derek I Smith says:

    My first ever airliner fight was in a 747 to LAX from EWR in 1984. I was one of about 10 passengers on the aircraft, and I was allowed to wander around in what was an amazingly spacious flying building. It was too early in the morning to sit at in the ‘penthouse’ and nurse a drink, but I had the place all to myself.

    I never got to fly in a 747 again.

  30. Christopher says:

    I’m sitting in the BA lounge at London Heathrow. I’m about to fly to Boston on a BA 777. I caught myself looking out of the window at a couple of BA 744’s parked at nearby gates. It occurred to me that although I like the 777 a lot as a passenger; I really wish I was flying on a 747 today. That is a special aircraft that can create the ‘i’d rather be…’ longing in someone. Din’t You think? 😢

  31. ReadyKilowatt says:

    My memory of the 747 was Aer Lingus, SNN to JFK in March of 1986. My high school marching band had just marched in the Dublin St Patrick’s day parade. As we were disembarking a few of us snuck upstairs to see how the other half lived. The stewardess introduced us to the pilots, who gave us a quick tour of the cockpit and even let me sit in the left hand chair! That still was more memorable than all the marching band and touristy stuff.

  32. Clive says:

    When I was a kid in the 70’s (Canada), we flew Wardair from Edmonton to London for a few summers in a row. They didn’t sell seats in the upper deck, it was a lounge for anyone to visit. Fantastic. I still remember the Inuit art in glass cases on display on the upper deck.

    We wore suits and ties. I was less than 10 years old. 🙂

  33. Fred says:

    I remember my first flight TWA out of JFK to Boston and was amazed what a magnificent aircraft I was in.

    It was a reposition flight and I and my son were the only passengers on it.

    We were able to tour the entire plane and when we landed in Boston the Captain gave us a first hand look at the cockpit. Even though it was many years ago I still remember it as if it was yesterday.

    Thanks for a great article.

  34. Mike Richards says:

    The other stroke of genius at Boeing was to go with a twin aisle design, rather than the double-decker fuselage that Pan Am initially requested. They knew two aisles would be more pleasant for the passengers and even went so far as to build mock-ups of both alternatives to show Pan Am how passengers in the top deck of the twin-deck design would feel claustrophobic and have more problems when it came to evacuation.

    (Though I would kind have like to have seen Vicker’s planned double-deck VC-10 take to the air).

    I’ve got a 747 flight to Vancouver next week and I can’t wait to see that big bird at Heathrow. My first ever flight was on a Northwest 747 from Gatwick and I still remember it looming impossibly-big in front of the gate windows. BA still have just over 30 747s in their fleet, but have announced they will all be out of service by the mid 2020s – doubtless replaced with 777s and 787s and their cramped, dingy interiors.

  35. Jennifer Moore says:

    As a mature woman; i.e. stiff, achy, and fragile; I am extremely uncomfortable with turbulence. When the air is rough, I am fearful. And, I also have mild claustrophobia. Climate change has intensified storms…the only solace I had booking overseas flights was the ability to fly over the North Atlantic in a 747 or A380. The big boats flew higher, faster, and were less bouncy. I’m displeased that, in the interests of greedy profits, airlines have been making planes smaller and smaller––with no wide-bodies routed in the US, and smaller wide-bodies assigned for ocean trips. The turbulence and claustrophobic environment have become much worse! Plus, who can relax stuck in a two engine jet when the plane is over water and far from an airport? Air France and Qantas lost 1 engine on 4 engine A380s; so, clearly, engine failure can happen. Expecting over-ocean voyages to chug along on 1 engine for 2-3 hours is torture for passengers and risks their lives. Upgrade the 4-engine 747 to be more fuel efficient if you must, airlines, but give us back some robust engine back-up; as well as a plane that bounces less, and provides some open space to enjoy our achingly long trips. Airlines can save the tiny tubes for hypersonic flights overseas lasting 1-2 hours at 60,000 feet.

    We’re already being treated like cattle at the airport and in coach–—and business class is even cramped now. Keep the 747s in play and give us all a break.

    • Ben says:

      The rise of twin engined aircraft doing ocean crossings comes from ETOPS certification standards, though there is an appropriate cynical acronym for ETOPS that goes “Engines Turn Or People/Passengers Swim.” What ETOPS does is certify the engine on a twin engine aircraft for the farthest possible time away from a diversion airport should one engine fail. For example, “ETOPS 180” means that the aircraft has to remain within 180 minutes of diversion airport at all times during the flight. In the past, twin engine aircraft were forced to be mandated to be within 120 minutes or less from a diversion airport, which meant ocean-crossings were being done with four engined 747s or tri-jets like the DC-10 and Tristar which were exempted due to have 3 or 4 engines. Now engines have become so absurdly reliable, that you have ETOPS ratings of 330 minutes from a diversion airport or 5 and a half hours. With ETOPS ratings that high, you can fly a twin engined aircraft as direct as 3 or 4 engine aircraft now.

    • Alan Dahl says:

      United will soon be flying the 787-10 from Newark to LA and San Francisco so there’s at least one intra-US twin-aisle flight outside of mainland to Hawaii flights. I remember the day that it was not unusual to find a DC-10 on a Seattle to LA or even San Francisco flight.

  36. Tim says:

    I first flew in a 747 in the early 70s ( my Junior year of High School) on United from California (SFO?) to Honolulu. We flew in regular 1st class seats to Honolulu, but the return flight was full, so on the return i say in a sideways facing seat near the main cabin door, I don’t recall if it was 1st class. I was horribly jet lagged and slept the entire flight home; I didn’t eat, so I don’t know if the meal was first cless. I normally flew either Convair 580s or 1st Class 727s, so the 747 was quite a difference.

    I flew coach on a NWA 747 from Seoul, Korea, to Tokyo, to Seattle, on a military contract flight; it was nicer and far less crowded than the transAmerica stretch DC 8 flight from Travis AFB to Osan Korea.

  37. Tim says:

    Pan Am’s Juan Trippe had originally wanted a double decker airliner, but Trippe was convinced by Boeing engineers that he really wanted a very impressive wide body airliner. During a meeting, a Boeing executive brought a piece of rope that was as long as the width of the proposed wide body fuselage. The Boeing Executive extended the rope along a wall of a conference room to show how wide the proposed body would be. Trippe did get his upper level, the 747’s upper deck was added to solve engineering problems related to a front too cargo door and the flight deck.

    Not only is the 747 a fantastic passenger airliner, it is still also a very impressive freight airliner. The 747 can still carry more freight than the A380.

    • Ben says:

      Also back during the 747’s development period, many aviation experts thought Super Sonic Transports (SSTs) would replace subsonic airliners like the 707 and DC-8. Boeing had its own SST design and research program at the same time as the 747, and the jumbo jet was put on the back-burner. Boeing in the end killed its SST, and the 747 went on to revolutionize air travel, but nearly making Boeing go bust in the process early in its life.

  38. lahmisc says:

    Delta inherited Northwest’s 747s when they merged. They are now retiring those planes. Tomorrow, Dec. 20, their last 747 is flying into MSP (Northwest’s former headquarters) and they have arranged with the FAA to fly a circle around the airport at 2000 ft so people can see it, and then there will be a retirement party at the old Northwest hangar.

  39. Ben says:

    There is something hugely ironic in that the 747’s demise was mainly from cannibalization by the 777, and especially the 300ER model. The A330, A340, A380, and 787 played a role in it too, but the 777 was the real slayer of the 747, and the in development 777-9X is going to put the final nail in the coffin for it.

  40. Speed says:

    When aircraft are retired many people ask why? Why is it cheaper to buy a new airplane than to fly an older one that is already paid for? Here is a comment from Alan Joyce, CEO of Quantas on why they won’t be buying any more A380s or even taking delivery of those they’ve ordered.

    “We could fly two 787s [together] with two sets of pilots and two take-offs and landings, and it is cheaper to do that than an A380 flying the same route – the economics of the new technology are that much better.”

    Joyce adds that he sees the 777-8 and the A350 as eventual replacements for the A380. Qantas is evaluating the two twinjets for its ultra-long-haul mission requirement and expects to place an order in 2019. It aims to use the twinjet it selects to introduce nonstop flights between eastern Australia and London in 2022.


  41. Speed says:

    It ain’t over yet. From FlightGlobal …

    Delta adds stops to final 747 tour

    The 747-400 will fly from Detroit to Paine Field then on to Seattle Tacoma International airport on 18 December, as well as stop at Los Angeles International airport on 20 December, the Atlanta-based carrier says today.


  42. Stephen Barbour says:

    In the 1990’s I flew a lot but mostly in regional aircraft. Very exciting when I flew in the upper cabin from Frankfurt to Toronto in an Air Canada 747. Those were the salad days of flying and I was allowed to visit the flight deck. The crew pointed to a jump seat and I stayed for the landing. We threaded our way through a line of thunderstorms and descended. It was very calm and quiet and then things got a bit busy until we touched down. What a terrific experience!

  43. Tom Z says:

    In 1994 I was checking out on the 747 Captain. My previous jet Captain experience was DC-9, 727 & 757.
    As the Check Captain and I were walking on the ramp to the jet, he made the suggestion, “don’t look up”! Just get to the cockpit and sit in your seat”. His point was not to let the size intimidate me. Spot on!

  44. raj gopal says:

    A great eulogy for a wonderful craft. I used to enjoy the flights from Bahrain in the late 90’s . The best experience was flying Mumbai to Tokyo via Bangkok in the first seat on the main deck below the pilot’s cabin.Surreal imagining being in the front. The return was fantastic , the weather perfect , the landing pitch perfect at Delhi – not a thud , jerk or swing.The aircraft was full of japanese tourists who spontaneously burst out in applause. All thanks to a wonderful plane.

  45. Jennifer says:

    It’s hard to believe they’re all going to be in the desert before long. I have flown on only three. One was a BA SEA->LHR. I was in coach class, and when, upon exit, I tried to peer into the front section, which was, I believe, business class, I was utterly body blocked by a flight attendant. Not even allowed to look!

    My second and third were business class SEA->AMS and AMS->SEA on KLM. I was on the upper level both directions, which was glorious, even if the seating was the old school 180 degree recliner that goes flat but then tilts at a 10% or so angle. I set myself up Barcalounger style so I wasn’t sliding forward all night, but man, I don’t miss those crappy seats.

    I’m hoping to get on one of the Delta final flights, but we’ll see …

  46. Anil Pillai says:

    My first sight of this beautiful girl was on May 20th, 1996. The airport was Muscat in Sultanate of Oman. Airlines was the world’s oldest, KLM. I was to go from TVM to DTW via Oman. My friend (who’s no more) worked at the airport in Muscat, picked me up after I landed, and showed me the city.

    Nearly ending up missing the flight to DTW, and got dropped off at the bottom of the stairs. I remember running up the stairs, they closed the door right after me as they were waiting, and they were not very pleased.

    She was a beautiful sight though, all lit up in the night.

    Thanks again for the wonderful article, Patrick.

  47. Robert Henry says:

    Every time I tour the Everett factory I am amazed to see the tooling and jigs from 50 years ago still making 747s today. I am also amazed at the development model used to build the Everett factory: put all the engineers in the basement as the building is being built, and they can collaborate and easily get to the factory floor to resolve issues quickly and easily. A far cry from the 787 disaster. (I am not a Boeing employee..)

  48. Anonim Air says:

    What a shame that such an impresive airplane does not sells anymore (just a few ones of the 8 had been sold). The end of an era.

  49. Sparky says:

    Another great piece – so sad to see the 747 going. According to my flight tracker, 38% of my 3 million miles have been done on the 747. Fortunately I still fly BA and Qantas a lot, so will get to continue riding in them for awhile.

    Finally had the chance to tour the Boeing factory in Everett last month, a great thrill. The guide said they’re building only six 747-8s per year these days, mostly for freighters. Sad to see that upgraded model wasn’t too successful (and I wonder how Lufthansa justified it in terms of operating cost when no one else could).

    And lastly, years ago I read a long-forgotten book on the history of Boeing and the development of the 747. Apparently when the prototype was ready for its inaugural test flight in front of the assembled execs and dignitaries, the pilot took the plane back over Boeing field at low altitude and executed a barrel roll! How cool would it have been to see that!

  50. Matt says:

    Here’s a write up of the final United 747 flight to Honolulu.

  51. Speed says:

    Delta plans Northwest hub tour for 747 farewell

    The Atlanta-based carrier will fly the 747-400 from Detroit to Seattle on 18 December, Seattle to Atlanta on 19 December and Atlanta to Minneapolis/St Paul on 20 December as part of a farewell tour, it says today [November 14, 2017]. Seats on the flights will be open to employees and members of its SkyMiles frequent flier programme.

    Delta’s last regularly scheduled 747 flight will operate from Seoul Incheon to Detroit on 17 December, arriving at the Michigan airport at 11:15 local time that day.

    Delta plans to operate the 747 on a “handful” of sports team and other charters through the end of December, before flying it to storage in the Arizona desert in early January 2018, it says.


  52. Kevin A says:

    Great article Patrick.
    It’s sad to learn that the home teams have all retired their 747s. What a great airplane. I’ve never had the chance to fly on one, so I’ll have to save up to buy a ticket to London or Frankfurt before they’re all gone.
    What will happen to all these retired aircraft? I bet if everyone on here threw in a few bucks we could buy one. Now, just where to park it….

  53. John Graham says:


    The South African Airways “Flying Springbok’ continues to fly as SAA’s call sign is “Springbok”.

  54. Martyn Henry says:

    I must be one of the few people never to have flown in a 747. As a long time customer of now-defunct Cyprus Airways, most of my flying has been with A320s. Back in the 80s I was invited into the cockpit of their ex-Pan Am 707. The captain told me they were training to convert to the Airbus but that it was not the same. The 707, he told me, was ‘a man’s airplane.’!

  55. Rod says:

    I agree with Jon Morris that Patrick has many virtues. His thoughtfulness and writing skill enable him to share a great deal with the rest of us.

    More bad news on the 747: British Airway is planning to retire it within seven years. Well, back in the 60s, aero-engines simply weren’t nearly as reliable as they are today, so you weren’t going to launch any twin-engine planes across oceans. They lacked the range in any case.
    Now four engines seems to be a liability. The BAe-146 is also being massively retired here in Europe.

  56. Jon Morris says:

    Patrick, no one has ever been more deserving of becoming a pilot than you.

  57. Paul Schnebelen says:

    Good article, Patrick! When I was a kid in single digits in the mid-70’s, I think I’d taken all of one flight , but if you asked me to draw you an airplane then, inevitably it’d be in the rough shape of the 747.I’m gonna miss her.

    I’ve seen the prototype of the 747 at the Museum of Flight. She’s still beautiful – except for not having any engines on her. You’d think the Museum could find a set to put on the wings, or at least a reasonable facsimile…

    • Jennifer says:

      When did you see the 747 at the museum? I haven’t been over there in a while, but I helped with the restoration, and it did have engines on it. Now I’m curious – I’ll drive by and take a look.

  58. Walt says:

    Nice requiem, Patrick. My first recollection of the 747 was its inaugural (and as it proved, ignominious) flight to Sydney (Kingsford Smith), Australia … in Pan Am livery, this magnificent then state-of-the-art aircraft was marshalled to the gate, to disgorge its complement of VIPs, Officials, senior Boeing and Pan Am staff into the jetbridge. Unfortunately, the marshaller waved the aircraft a little too close to the terminal building. The forward doors were not able to connect with the jetbridge, there were no rear stairs of appropriate height, so there the aircraft sat – still with its VIPs and other bods on board. There was not enough room between the aircraft and the terminal building for a tug to maneuver to push the 747 backwards. It took 3 – 4 hours before Seattle was able to come up with a solution to tow the aircraft just a few metres backwards by attaching a tow rope to the nose gear. Embarrassment was the order of the day 🙂

  59. Reza Gorji says:


    This is a great tribute written for the 747. It was very enjoyable to read.

    Thank you.

  60. Dave Burhenn says:

    I saw my first 747s at ORD in May or June of 1970, Air France and United birds. My folks went to the Art Institute and left me watching airplanes for an entire day. Seeing the United 747 up close was like seeing a building that flew. Absolutely memorable, but I didn’t get to fly on one until an Air France 747-100 in 1984. I wonder if that was the same airplane I saw landing in Chicago 14 years before.

  61. Dave Burhenn says:

    Loved this piece. My wife and I flew on a TWA 747SP, Rome to Boston, coming home from our honeymoon. Logan in those days was not really equipped to handle multiple jumbos, which happened when we hit Beantown. To make matters worse, TWA scheduled the same movie, “The Natural,” on the Logan-LAX flight that it had shown on the Rome-Boston leg. But still, great to have flown on such a rare aircraft.

  62. robert says:

    Wow, what a write-up, congrats on your knowledge

  63. Kevin Brady says:

    Great update on the details of 747’s by airline-I would add that NAL also flew 747’s MIA-LHR. I always flew 747’s when I could, especially in the front or upstairs-nothing like it and the only plane where you can be seated forward of the pilots. I have been on 175 747 flights on 20 different airlines – One of my favorite trips was all 747’s and all in first class,by hook and crook, arranging business, airline relationships and cunning, I flew JAL 5, seat 2K Sep-06-2003 JFK-NRT, then UA 837, seat 1J on Sep-09 NRT-HKG, SQ 1, seat 3A on 9-11, then HKG-SIN, BA 15, seat 5K on Sep-12 SIN-SYD, then QF 107F Sep-17 in seat 1A SYD-LAX-JFK.That last flight was special. I was thrilled that I was able to take this trip of 24,097 O&D 747 miles, and became quite nostalgic and sad as we approached JFK.

  64. Fnarf says:

    I was at that rollout in 1968. My daddy worked for Boeing. If you think they look big now, imagine how it looked to a ten year old, looking up at that magnificent nose from the tarmac underneath. I actually remember thinking “I’ve seen planes before, from far away, but I don’t understand this thing at all. How can anything be so big?”

    • Rod says:

      Also, to someone used to gawking at Really Big planes like 707s and DC8s, the 747 produced the illusion of flying very Slowly through the sky. All a question of scale.

    • Art Knight says:

      Memories like that are priceless. I remember my dad coming back from a business trip to California in the 80’s. I asked him what he was working on. He took out a napkin and drew a triangle with serrations at the trailing edge. I asked “What is that?” He said “A bat.”

      It was the B-2 Stealth Bomber.

  65. Tod says:

    Didn’t Qantas actually wait until the 200 came for some reason?

  66. PAtrick Smith (not the author) says:

    I have only flown on a 747 once, in business class on CX and the flight was 800 miles long!!! Such is the volume of traffic between HKG and MNL

  67. Kelly says:

    When coming into or pulling out from the terminal and having to go round a747 I was always struck both by it’s enormity and it’s almost organic form. It just looked like the ideal form of mass air travel.

  68. Tom says:

    I always thought that the best looking 747s were the original -100 and -200 series models, with the shorter upper deck and no winglets.

  69. Speed says:

    United’s final 747 trip is scheduled to depart San Francisco for Honolulu at 11:00 AM local time. You can follow it at FlightAware …


  70. Speed says:

    Still a few years to go …

    Last BA 747-400 to leave fleet in early 2024
    British Airways is aiming to withdraw its last Boeing 747-400 in February 2024 under its latest strategic fleet plan.
    [ … ]
    Chief financial officer Steve Gunning, speaking during an IAG investor event on 3 November, said new-generation aircraft were 30% more efficient than the 747s.


  71. Ken Smith says:

    One of my first flights was on a JAL 747 from SFO to Tokyo for the 13th World Boy Scout Jamboree in 1971, I hadn’t realized until now how recent the introduction into the JAL fleet it was. The aircraft was set up 100% economy seating, I wish I was still as flexible as I must have been then. The 747 is still my favorite aircraft, especially the upper deck.

  72. Thomas Reinagl says:

    Now that Air Berlin is grounded forever, there’s a high demand of air traffic between FRA and TXL. Lufthansa uses 747s in between their long hauls — possibly the shortest distance for the Jumbo (albeit I know a special variant was developed for inner-Japan commuter flights decades ago).

    My first flight with a BA 747 was from LHR to BOS, where I had a window seat in one of the last rows, and discovered you could easily stretch out in the narrow room between seats and the inner side of the fuselage — it allowed you to have a cigarette once in a while!

    I loved this plane. Boarding one would be the start of a most sentimental journey!

  73. Kevin Brady says:

    I’ve flown on 17 of the original airlines 747’s out of the 27 listed here, if British Airways counts as BOAC. And for what it’s worth, at least once in first class on all 17!

  74. James says:

    I do recall PeoplExpress had at least one 747 — which I flew. It was probably acquired by Continental.

  75. Frank L says:

    Rcvd in my AOL mail today 10/31/2017. Started my Aviation Career in 1961 with Pan American World Airways, went on to Alitalia Airlines, and lastly, Varig Brazilian Airlines. All flew the B747 and all gone, except Bella Alitalia. Yes, fuel, crew costs & noise footprint contribute to the demise of the B747, even the -8 model. WHY ??? Still feel it’s the safest, strongest most beautiful lines on a plane ever built! Feel like I’m in a Womb when flying on one. Very sad end to a beautiful creation. Thank you William Boeing!

  76. UncleStu says:

    My only ride in a 747 was from Rome to Germany, in October 1987.

    As far as I could tell, there were no other passengers on board, aside from my honey and me. Can you even imagine that?

    It was a rare treat to fly over the Alps, switching from one side of the plane to the other, to see as much as possible.

    It’s always sad when old aircraft leave the scene.

    The young whippersnappers don’t know what they missed. For too many of them, an aircraft is just a flying bus – no romance at all.
    (Hey you! Get off my lawn!)

  77. Mia says:

    So happy to see Sabena included (though I couldn’t make out their logo in the photos). My Mom worked for Sabena for several decades and it was through that job that we both traveled the world in the the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Their takeover by Swissair that ruined them, alas.

    I recognized the Alitalia logo because my Mom worked with them before Sabena, and she had a charm with that logo on her bracelet, as well as 1 or 2 Sabena charms.

    The one logo that hung me up was World Airways.

    And that SAS Viking – wow! I think that wins the award for most ferocious livery.

    I will miss the 747. As a nervous flyer (I know, how silly, coming from an airline family), it was always comforting to me to cross any large body of water (summer and Christmas trips home to Ireland every year), on a plane with 4 engines, in case anything goes wrong. I have so many happy memories on 747s. To get home to Ireland we often used to fly through London (hard to get on full Aer Lingus flights, and they were loathe to upgrade staff and would prefer to offload you, as I can attest to), and we often flew Pan Am. Those new jumbos were exotic and a little scary. How on earth would such a huge plane get off the ground? The 1st time I ever saw a kiwi fruit was on a Pan Am 747, and on another, when Jackie O was living in London, young Caroline and JonJon Kennedy flew on our plane. He came back to Economy (with Secret Service) to watch “The Andromeda Strain” because First Class was showing “Love Story”.

  78. Actually, Lufthansa is still operating the 747-400 on its direct route between Seattle and Frankfurt. As a Boeing engineering instructor, I have flown this route four times on my way to and from Chennai, India for work. The Frankfurt – Chennai leg is flown on an A340. The fact that the 747 is still, at mach .85, the fastest cruising commercial airliner really shows on these long flights where the A340 only does about mach .78. When I thanked the cabin crew for keeping the Queen of the Skies alive, the junior purser added in his fine German accent “the Queen Mother” to which I almost died laughing. BTW, I retire today from Boeing after 40 years.

    • Mia says:

      One of the Top 3 highlights of a cross-country driving trip I did in ’91 from NYC to Seattle and back though Canada, was to stop at the Boeing site in Everett and see the 747 in production. It was thrilling and SO impressive.

      I still have the thin, flat family of fridge magnets of the 747, 737 and two other Boeing aircraft.

      I hope you enjoy a well deserved retirement!

    • Misha K says:

      James Patrick,

      As of yesterday through the end of December Lufthansa is actually operating the 747-800 on the Seattle route. Despite being bigger, the premium heavy cabin configuration on LH’s 747-800 means it actually has fewer total seats than the -400 which lacks a first class. So I suppose with the better fuel burn it’s the better plane for the lower loads during the winter season.

  79. Dan Ullman says:

    I am always surprised by seeing the Eastern Logo on that 747. Airline advertising of the day meant if you had a 747 it appeared in a majority of your ads. I couldn’t remember seeing such an ad for Eastern.

    Know I know why. They purchased one and sold it soon after.

  80. Ian Farquhar says:

    QANTAS = Queensland And Northern Territory Air Service

    It’s an acronym, so please, QANTAS. Not Qantas.

    • Patrick says:

      Actually, it’s Qantas, not QANTAS. Go look at the Qantas website. There are various acronymic airline names that in usage appear as normal words. Qantas is one of them. So is Avianca. Sabena was one. Varig was another. It’s up to the carrier how it wants the name to appear.

      And just for the record, the letters stand for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services, not “air service.”

  81. Alan Dahl says:

    In 1986 I got a chance to take my one and only flight in a 747-SP. It was an ex-Pan Am aircraft soon after the United takeover of their pacific routes. They hadn’t even had a chance to totally repaint the aircraft yet, the Pan Am logo on the tail had been covered up with a smaller than normal United tulip and the “Pan Am” on the sides had been obviously covered up with “United”. Everything else including the blue Pan Am stripe and the interior was still Pan Am.

  82. Thomas Daddato says:

    The Lufthansa logo isn’t a condor. It’s a crane, a bird called a ‘Kranich’ in German. Compare the logo with pictures of the birds on Wikipedia:
    The logo goes back to the DLR (Deutsche_Luft-Reederei) an airline that started operating scheduled passenger services in 1919 (see
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Luft-Reederei) and merged with another airline in 1926 to form Luft Hansa.

    • Patrick says:

      Oh shoot. And I knew that, too. Just wasn’t thinking.

      I’ve made the edit.

      • Simon says:

        It’s an simple enough mistake to make considering Lufthansa used to own a subsidiary called Condor (now part of the Thomas Cook Group).

        • Thomas Daddato says:

          And then of course there was the Condor Syndikat of the 1920s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Condor_Syndikat) which spawned VARIG and Cruzeiro do Sul, the first airlines in Brazil.
          Lufthansa was involved with a lot of condors.
          In the US it is a common mistake, to think that the bird in the Lufthansa logo is a condor. Maybe that’s because of the former South American involvement.
          In Germany Lufthansa is often referred to as the “Kranich airline”, so people know what bird it is.

          • Simon says:

            It’s kind of funny because with JAL there’s another airline that prominently features a crane, the Tsurumaru.

            I like both logos and LH and JAL are also both great airlines IMHO. Although, these days I prefer ANA over JAL I have to admit. Regardless, compared to my home town carrier (UA) they’re all far superior.

  83. Mark Maslowski says:

    OK, how many of the 27 airlines have you flown (although not necessarily on in a 747)? My count is 16: Delta Air Lines, Eastern Airlines, Air India, National Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines, Air France, BOAC, Lufthansa, Air Canada, Braniff International, Alitalia, Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines, TWA, Pan American

    • Simon says:

      I only reached 15. Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines, Air France, BOAC, Lufthansa, Air Canada
      Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), Swissair, KLM, Northwest Airlines, Continental Airlines, Trans World Airlines (TWA), Japan Airlines (JAL), Pan American

    • Patrick says:

      I count 19 of them. Nine of them on 747s.

      Related: did you see this story?

  84. Prasad K says:

    The Parsi are a greatly loved and admired community here in India. They are smart, industrious and rich, very broad minded and generous to a fault. Sadly, they are also disappearing – most of them are old, there is some amount of dogma in their religion that prohibits marrying outside the community and many inter-family marriages have caused infertility, fewer offspring, and hence its a community in decline. In fact, the Indian government last year – in a rare gesture – launched a campaign called “Jiyo Parsi” – encouraging them to reproduce more!

    The Parsi landed on Indian shores many centuries ago from Iran – where they were persecuted but were welcomed with open arms in India, and over time they thrived and prospered.

    Interestingly, the Jews landed in India many centuries ago in Kerala, and the city of Kochi of Kerala has many old jewish families and a vibrant Jewish quarter. One stroll on their street and its amazing to see how well they have preserved their tradition, architecture and way of life.

  85. mitch says:

    BTW, lots of airline fleet lists and aircraft production lists for many current and former airlines and manufacturers can be found on planespotters.net.

    Start drilling from

    or from

  86. mitch says:

    Logo list – conclusion.

    NOTE: By a quirk of the software, Items 1 thru 13 ended up as a continuation of my reply to Rod]

    27. Pan Am and TWA were the first and second airlines to introduce the 747, but they were soon left behind by their international competition. They never had the ability to update their original fleets with more capable longer-range newer -200s and -300s. During the late 70’s and early 80’s, higher thrust engines became available not just from Pratt, but also from GE and Rolls-Royce. In the Classic 747 years before 1988’s 747-400, maximum gross weight increased from 710,000 to 833,000 lbs. Many airlines, including Air France, Alitalia, British, KLM, Iberia, Lufthansa, JAL, Qantas and Singapore replaced their original 747s by the more capable versions.

    Pan Am and TWA could not keep up. As for the -400 – it was far beyond their financial reach. Just one of the many reasons why both airlines could not survive.

  87. mitch says:

    [logo list – continued]
    14. Air Canada had -100s, -200s and -400s
    15. El Al never had very many 747s at any one time, but they have operated them continuously since 1971. That puts them right up there with their [very] big brothers KLM, British, and Lufthansa. Also Qantas. Over the decades, Boeing sold them four new 747-200s, two -200C’s, a -200F, plus four -400s. They now operate their four original -400s plus another -400 and -400 freighter ex-Singapore
    On May 24 1991, an El Al 747-200C outfitted with760 seats brought 1,122 Ethiopian Jews to Israel on one flight. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Solomon
    16. Braniff’s first and only 747-100, “The Great Pumpkin”: spent its early years flying between Dallas and Honolulu, starting in early 1971.
    17. SAS’s first 747 was named [what else?] “Huge Viking”, which may have been a bilingual pun.
    18. Swissair never had any -100s. In 1971, they bought two -200s from Boeing. In 1983, they became the first airline to fly the long upper deck 747-300, taking four in 1983 plus a fifth in 1987.
    19. Qantas is another original 747 user, since 1971. It operated -200s, -300s, SP’s. Their current fleet is all -400s. Six of those are the world’s only 910,000 lb takeoff weight Extended-Range -400 passenger airplanes. [All other -400s are limited to 875,000 lbs; all other -400ER’s are freighters]
    24. Continental’s original four-100s were traded back to Boeing in the mid 1970’s. All 747s since then were from other airlines.

  88. Planely Obsessed says:

    “once United retires its final 747 a few weeks from now, KLM will join Lufthansa and BOAC/British Airways as the only members of the original 27 to have operated the jet continuously since its inception.”

    Pretty sure Qantas has operated the 747 continuously too, and it’s one of the 27.

  89. Rod says:

    Patrick, is there any relatively simple (100-words-or-less) reason why British Airways, and to a lesser extent Lufthansa, see fit to continue flying the 747 on essentially the same routes on which other airlines now have dumped the 747 to fly largely twin-engine aircraft?

    • Thomas Daddato says:

      Very interesting question. Could ETOPS be part of the answer?
      But this also illustrates what a great airplane the 747 is. Still able to compete with new metal designed decades later.

    • MW says:

      Is there any relatively simple reason why twin jets are much cheaper to run than quad jets of the same size? While there are two engines instead of four, those two engines are pushing the technology much harder to have such high thrust, so probably cost at least twice as much. Furthermore, you need to be able to climb with the loss of a single engine at takeoff. This means a twin needs 200% of minimum climb thrust, where a quad needs only 133%.

      This running cost differential between quads and twins is why the 747 is in winter. 747 production has been cut way back, and the A380 program is similarly in trouble (except unlike the 747, I don’t think it has paid back its development costs.) The A340 died some time ago.

      • Ben says:

        The simplest reasons are fuel economy and ETOPS. Twin engine aircraft are naturally more fuel efficient then quads, and jets engines have become so absurdly reliable that ETOPS ratings (Which certifies how far an engine on a twin engine aircraft can be from a emergency landing airport) have been certified for over 5 hours long. With ETOPS ratings that long, twin engine aircraft can now fly as direct on most routes as four engine aircraft can.

  90. mitch says:

    Despite its size, the 747 has always been the fastest subsonic jet airliner. For comparison, Patrick’s 767 cruises at around 80 to 82% of Mach 1.0, the speed of sound [M.80 to M.82].

    The original 747’s were designed to cruise at M.88 or.90. They had a max operating speed [Mmo] of M.92 and were certified to a max dive speed [Md] of M.97. As a former Boeing flight test engineer, in 1975 I witnessed and reduced the data from a 747SP that reached M.99 at around 33,000 ft during a dive to demonstrate safe dive recovery at M.97 at 27,000 ft, the altitude of maximum aerodynamic forces in the flight envelope. [for the techies, that was the intersection of the max dive V and max dive M curves]

    In service, the short upper deck 747’s best long-range cruise is M.84. An unintended area-rule aerodynamic consequence of the wing-body shape of the short-fuselage 747SP was M.86 cruise speed. This is true also for the wing-body shape of the extended upper deck 747-300 and -400 [not sure about the stretched 747-8I]

    Newer airplanes are slightly slower – the 777 for example cruises at M.85. Does anyone know the cruise Mach number for the Airbus A330, A350 and A380?

    • Rod says:

      Don’t know. But that hump is counter-intuitive — ’tis the Fairing Fairy makes it possible.
      Apparently the damndest planes have broken the sound barrier (the Handley-Page Victor for example) — some of them allegedly as early as WWII — and survived to tell the tale.

      • mitch says:

        Rod, the 747’s high cruise speed is largely due to the wing’s sweepback – 37.5 degrees, more than any other subsonic airliner. The extra oomph from the upper deck ending over the wing [SP, -300,-400 maybe -8I] is the consequence of the Whitcomb Area Rule, complicated cross-section shapes for transonic flow that, if done right, reduce high-speed drag. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Area_rule

      • mitch says:

        More info about many of the logo list airlines:
        1. Delta had five 747-100s but not for long; they were all traded back to Boeing. They became freighters for other airlines during the mid 1970’s
        2. Eastern never took delivery – their 747s were sold to TWA while in production. Eastern leased a few Pan Am 747s during 1971
        4. National had two 747-100s. They flew from Miami to JFK, Los Angeles, and London. Northwest bought both airplanes in 1970.
        5. World only bought three 747s directly from Boeing – all the others were from other sources. The three World airplanes were unique: they had a nose door [note the gap in the front cabin windows] plus the heavy freighter floor and wings. The cabin could be converted from all-passenger to all cargo. Boeing only made 13 747-200C.
        7. American bought sixteen 747-100s; all were gone by the mid 1970’s. One American 747-100 became “NASA 905” in 1974. It was heavily modified during 1976-1977 to carry the Space Shuttle. NASA used it until 2011 when the program ended.
        10. Lufthansa operated the -100, -200 and -400. They were the first to buy the 747-200 Freighter.
        11. Sabena only bought three 747s from Boeing: two -100s and a -300. In 1974, Boeing modified both their -100s with the first side cargo door so the aft cabin could be used for passengers or cargo. Their sole 747-300, delivered in September 1990, was the last 747 “Classic” passenger airplane.
        [to be continued]

    • Dan Ullman says:

      Check out this website:

      It is the sort of site that is good for this sort of question.

  91. Speed says:

    As the 747 is replaced in passenger service by newer more fuel-efficient aircraft, some will continue to fly as freighters and fire fighters. Engadget has a pretty good (for a non-aviation source) piece titled, “A 747 ‘Supertanker’ rains retardant on California’s wildfires.”


    Wine Country Fire …

    Cockpit Video …

    • Rod says:

      I wonder if all that fire retardant will enhance the flavour of the wine. Possibly.
      When I see this video, I think Wonderful, but that thing has to be flown back to its base and pumped full again, while the Canadair 415 (you’ll notice the lake the 747 overflies) could just keep shuttling back and forth, dipping repeatedly for a new load of water.

      • Speed says:

        On the other hand, retardant is more effective than water. Many aerial drops create a line of retardant ahead of the fire that functions like the classic fire break.

        Here are some interesting numbers from a DC-10 tanker …

        An Air Tactical Group Supervisor (ATGS) has completed a detailed comparison of the use of a DC-10 Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) and P2V Large Air Tankers to complete the same task of creating 4.6 miles of retardant line on the Colockum Tarps Fire, which is what Tanker 911, a DC-10, accomplished during 3.12 flight hours on July 30, 2013.

        The DC-10 made eleven drops from five-11,600 gallon loads of retardant. The writer figured it would take 41 drops from P2Vs to construct the same amount of retardant line. Two P2Vs could do it in two days, or four P2Vs could do it one day.
        [ … ]
        Other advantages pointed out were that the VLAT could accomplish the objective much more quickly with a wider and more consistent retardant line, and “the eleven individual drops with the VLAT significantly reduced the number of ‘pilot drop exposures’ as compared to the number of drops/passes that would have been required with heavy airtankers”.


        I wonder how a re-purposed B-52 would work …

  92. Mike says:

    Ooops – I forgot to mention. Those of you with access to the BBC (or know how to work Google) should look for ‘Jumbo: The plane that changed the world’ originally made for BBC4 last year.

    There is an enormous amount of archival footage from the development programme as well as interviews with the late Joe Sutter who made the 747 possible.

  93. Mike says:

    If anyone is heading Seattle-wards, there’s really no excuse not to go and visit the Museum of Flight – it’s superb and their collection of planes is marvellous.

    And if you have time, go up to Everett to see the Boeing assembly plant – it will blow your mind just how big the facility is. And they are still turning out 747-800s – not many, but these big handsome monsters are still rolling off the production line; though it’s harder and harder to find a flight still using them.

    Which is a shame as even British Airway’s endless costcutting hasn’t made economy in a 747 entirely unbearable (their new 10-across in the cheap seats 777s are another matter). I hope that I will get a chance to go upstairs before the last of these beauties is retired in favour of something with all the charm and beauty of a dishwasher.

  94. Speed says:

    This is too cool for words. Go to the link below to see the Boeing 747 Matterport 3D Tour …


    This is the aircraft pictured above, now parked under cover at The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field as Patrick wrote.

    If you travel to the tail of the aircraft you can see the experimental mid-air refueling station that never went into production.

  95. Andy Pasternak says:

    Horrific fires in Northern California. Cal Fire is now using a 747 to help fight them….

  96. Mark Maslowski says:

    Flew on a 747 for the first time in June 1970 – Pan Am from London to San Francisco. Sad to see both Pan Am and the 747 go.

  97. Art Knight says:

    My eyes aren’t that good to see the logos, otherwise, I’d be a pilot. What I’m wondering is, why is there dihedral in the horizontal stabilizer?

  98. Daniel Ullman says:

    The fun thing about the 747 was designed with the idea that the SST would be choice of the sort of folks who flew when it was first imaged.

  99. David Deibel says:

    My dad took me to Tucson International Airport in 1969 or 1970 to watch touch and go landings of the 747. I’m not sure why TIA was picked but I remember being really impressed by the size of the plane.

  100. Edward Furey says:

    You really see the fading of the 747 here in Queens, a few miles from JFK. Most of the heavies are twin engined 777s and 330s. Even when a four-engined plane flies over, most of the time it’s a 380.

  101. Matt D says:

    Damn. I got all except the very last one, furthest aft. I stared and squinted, but not triggering any recollection.

  102. DV Henkel-Wallace says:

    There are two I don’t know so I can’t enter 🙁 but what fascinates me is the airlines on that nose that once rode so high but no longer exist. I’ll just mention Pan Am since you mentioned it in the body but there are several other memories on that nose (as well as obsoleted logos).

    • Rod says:

      There were ultimately three or four I just couldn’t make out.
      I’ll be mighty impressed by anybody who can get them all simply looking at that photo.

  103. Chip C says:


    That’s a great photo. It puts it in perspective, age-wise, that someone climbed way up on who-knows-what to get that elevated shot (pre-drone!) and didn’t even bother to load newfangled colour film. But let’s be glad they didn’t, the resolution and tone just wouldn’t have been half what the b&w photo has.

    Kinda thinking that the one with the flight attendants might have been a better choice for your bedroom wall, but yeah, they are kinda blocking the view of the landing gear.

    My *real* question is why the heck the plane left all those tire tracks behind it when they towed it out. Did they drag it with the brakes on? Was there a heat wave across the Pacific northwest? Or do new airplane tires have a coating of roofing tar on them?

    • Speed says:

      The 747 had/has four sets of main gear — two on the wings and two on the fuselage. The wing gear is slightly (slightly when compared to the length of the 747) forward of the body gear so on a tight turn there needs to be some sideways scrubbing of tires.

      The amount of scrubbing is minimized in normal operation by castoring main gear — it can turn left and right. It is my understanding that castoring can be turned on and off (locked-out) in normal operations. Maybe castoring was disabled while the plane was positioned for pictures.

      Designing and building the airplane wasn’t Boeing’s only job. They had to work with airports to make them compatible with this remarkably large airplane that carried hundreds of passengers and their baggage. In addition, larger capacity ground equipment (tugs, baggage handling, ground-start, air conditioning/heat, fuel delivery) had to be designed and manufactured. In some cases runways had to be widened and strengthened.