In light of British Airways retiring their fleet of Boeing 747s in July 2020, the wings of the iconic 747 are being clipped, and its final flying days are over. With its maiden flight being made on 9th February 1969, the Boeing 747 has been airborne for almost fifty-one years. Since its first flight, it quickly became a passenger favourite and adopted as the favoured plane by many different airlines and agencies; most famously being used by the White House as the official plane for Air Force One.
These days, according to Cirium Fleets, there are only 170 of the passengers 747 in the fleets of airlines around the world, with only thirty still in use. The 747 revolutionised commercial air travel, and excelled in comfort and design.
The 747 led the way in cabin design and innovation. With a twin-isle and a wide-body, it’s easy to see why this plane was a passenger favourite. The plane was given almost vertical walls and high ceilings, with the aim of taking away the claustrophobic feeling of the Boeing 707 (Single isled). The focus here was really on comfort and luxury. Naturally this changed how commercial air travel was seen. Instead of just being about practicality, the tube of the aircraft was split into rooms, with galleys and toilets acting as dividers. The shape created in the Boeing 747 has defined air travel for over half a century.
With the increased capacity of the 747, this means that more passengers could be transported to their desired locations. Not surprisingly, hundreds of passengers were arriving and departing daily on this jumbo jet and so this directly impacted airports. The large glittering airports we see today are a direct result of how the 747 revolutionised air travel. With almost every single commercial airline wanting the prestige of having a 747 in their fleet, airports became larger, and therefore so did their ground crew. New jobs had to be created to accommodate and, in many ways, the ‘airport experience’ we know today is down to the introduction of the 747. More than 1500 Boeing 747s have been manufactured in the last half-century, which is a staggering figure, and a testament to its design and favourability.
As well as the comfort and ease that the 747 is so famed for, it is perhaps its turbofan engine that made it favourable to pilots. Being so large in size compared to the aircraft at its inception, the 747 needed a highly powered and fuel-efficient engine to heave it off the ground and into the air. So, Pratt & Whitney came up with their JT9D turbofans and changed the shape of jet engines forever! The engine differed from earlier power plants with a huge fan at the front. Vast amounts of air were forced into the engine, but only a small portion of the air is transported to the engine’s core where it was compresses, mixed with fuel and ignited to drive the turbine. The turbine spins the fan and that in turn was able to push the jet forward. Since most of the air flow was directed around, as opposed to through, the core of the engine, it was the first high-bypass turbofan. The engine was quieter, more powerful and had a much better fuel efficiency.
But perhaps the main reason why the 747 was so popular was because of time and place. It was introduced at a time when there was major social change globally. Tourism and travel were exploding with the new mobility of the social classes, and so it was becoming more affordable too. The 747 came at a time when a jumbo jet like this was needed to cater for the masses, and flying slowly stopped becoming the reserve of the rich and powerful, and the world became more connected for it. So, the Boeing 747, though no longer as common in our skies, has earned the title, and will always be the Queen of The Skies.