BOEING bid farewell to its iconic 747 airplane, delivering the last plane to Atlas Air on Tuesday (01/31), 2023 afternoon and marking the end of an era when the first “jumbo jets” ruled the skies.
Thousands of Boeing employees including some of the so-called “Incredibles” who developed the jet in the 1960s witnessed the final delivery of the historic plane, which brought massive air travel and represented an indelible piece of Americana.
The event at the giant factory ended with an appearance by celebrity John Travolta, who recounted the experience of learning to fly the 747-400 as an ambassador for Qantas Airlines. (It was) the toughest program any commercial pilot has to go through, said Travolta, who called the jet the best and safest aircraft ever built.
Known as the “Queen of the Skies”, the 747 was the world’s first twin-aisle jetliner, designed and built by Boeing in 28 months and introduced by Pan Am in 1970.
“It redefined the industry and redefined air travel,” said Guy Norris, co-author of “Boeing 747: Design and Development Since 1969.”
British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, who was inspired to start an airline with a single Boeing 747 after being stuck on a delayed flight, on Tuesday (01/31), 2023 morning called it a “magnificent beast” as he bid farewell.
Boeing’s Everett, Washington, facility has been home to 747 productions since the plane’s creation. Built in 1967 to produce the giant jet, it remains the largest manufacturing plant in the world according to Boeing.
But after five decades, customer demand for the 747 eroded as Boeing and Airbus developed more fuel-efficient two-engine wide-body aircraft. When Boeing confirmed in July 2020 that it would end production of the 747, it was producing only half a plane per month.
Boeing delivered five 747s in 2022, while in 1990, the peak delivery year of the best-selling version 747-400, Boeing delivered 70 747s.
Due to different parts of the last 747, wings or fuselage structure for example, the production line “slowly started to shut down,” said Kim Smith, Boeing vice president and general manager for the 747 and 767 programs.
Smith said all 747 program workers were either transferred to other jobs or voluntarily retired. The last 747 was rolled out on December 7, capping the program at 1,574 in total. The plane has completed inspections and flight tests, flying to Portland over the holidays for a paint job. It will fly on Wednesday morning to Atlas’ headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio.
While Boeing also builds 767s and 777s in Everett, the company has not decided which program will permanently take over the 747-production space, which is currently used for 787 inventory and 777X work, Smith said.
Boeing will remain tied to the 747 through its aftermarket business and the Air Force One replacement program, which Boeing won in 2018.
The 747’s heir, the 777X won’t be ready for delivery until 2025, but Boeing Chief Executive David Calhoun is focusing his attention on that future: The 777, the next airplane to dominate this space, displaces all of its competitors out of hand and we haven’t even introduced the best version yet. [sources/photo special]