Home » The Last Boeing 747 Has Been Built After An Incredible Production Run Of Over 54 Years

The Last Boeing 747 Has Been Built After An Incredible Production Run Of Over 54 Years

747top1
ADVERTISEMENT

On Tuesday night, the very last Boeing 747 rolled out of the aircraft maker’s Everett, Washington factory. When the 1,574th Boeing 747 gets delivered to Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings early next year, it’ll mark the end of an era. The aircraft enjoyed a production run over half of a century-long, earning the nickname “the Queen of the Skies” and becoming synonymous with the term jumbo jet along the way. Let’s take one last look at the incredible story of a majestic plane.

Back in April, I wrote about how Boeing was cracking through its final five orders of its famed 747. The very last 747 that UPS will get rolled out of the paint shop. And the final aircraft in the order book were for Atlas Air. We’ve all known that this day would come, but it’s still a bit of a shock. The Everett plant, the world’s largest building by volume, will no longer build the aircraft that it was constructed for.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom
22bft192 01 Photosby Paulweatherman
Boeing

Kim Smith, Boeing Vice President and general manager for 747 and 767 Programs, released a statement on the occasion:

“For more than half a century, tens of thousands of dedicated Boeing employees have designed and built this magnificent airplane that has truly changed the world. We are proud that this plane will continue to fly across the globe for years to come.”

The story of the Queen of the Skies starts with the Boeing 707. First flown in 1957, the iconic 707 wasn’t the first commercial jet, but it was one of the most successful. The 707 helped reshape air travel in the early years of the Jet Age and it can be argued that without the 707’s success, there would be no 747. As Simple Flying notes, 707 launch customer Pan American World Airways worked closely with Boeing on the aircraft’s development.

48087187367 25e4c6e23a O
San Diego Air and Space Museum

When the 707’s success meant further expansion, Pan Am CEO Juan Trippe looked to capitalize on the explosive growth of air travel with an aircraft with double the capacity of the 707. The airline executive’s idea was that if Pan Am could fit more people on a plane, it could charge less per seat. And having one plane full of tons of people would reduce airport congestion. When Boeing itself looks back on the 747’s development, it mentioned the same ideas. We’d see this concept decades later–and arguably too late–with the super jumbo Airbus A380.

ADVERTISEMENT

But Boeing? It was primed to change the world.

13657055 Web1 L 1st Boeing 747 1 Edh 180928 1200x749
Boeing

There is another event that happened that helped thrust the 747 into existence. In 1961, the United States Air Force began looking into a replacement for the Douglas C-133 Cargomaster. This proposed aircraft would also complement the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter. A number of aircraft manufacturers took on the challenge. In 1963, the military finalized what it was looking for in its Request for Proposal for a large military transport aircraft. The project was dubbed the Cargo Experimental-Heavy Logistics System, or CX-HLS.

For the CX-HLS, the military sought an aircraft with a fuselage large enough to carry its largest cranes, missiles, radars, and other equipment. The aircraft would have cargo doors in the front and rear to allow for quick loading and unloading. Fully loaded, the CX-HLS would weigh 600,000 pounds (around twice that of a 707), have the range to carry a 100,000-pound load 6,000 nautical miles, and have a rugged enough undercarriage to permit landing on rough fields.

That’s a huge wishlist, and Boeing, Douglas, General Dynamics, Lockheed, and Martin Marietta all had their bid for the best CX-HLS. Of those, the military pared the list down to Boeing, Douglas, and Lockheed. Due to those front-loading requirements, all three finalist designs placed the cockpit above the cargo area. Lockheed went with a spine that ran the length of the fuselage while Douglas and Boeing elected for cockpit pods.

Boeingpage
Boeing

 

ADVERTISEMENT

Boeing eventually lost the bid for the CX-HLS, but it wasn’t going to let the aircraft’s development go to waste. The 747 is different from Boeing’s bid for the CX-HLS project, but some attributes made it over. The easiest carryover to spot is the hump for the cockpit and the upper deck. To meet the military’s requirements, High-bypass engine technology was in development for the CX-HLS. Those engines would make it over to the 747 in the form of four 43,000-pound-thrust Pratt & Whitney JT9D-3 turbofans.

Just like with the 707, Pan American’s Juan Trippe had some say in the 747’s development. Targeting those aforementioned lower fares, Trippe asked for the new aircraft to carry twice what a 707 could. As the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission notes, an early design for the 747 blew right past Trippe’s goal. This mammoth design called for two full-length decks with passengers seated in two aisles. Carrying more than 400 passengers, the Commission notes that the design called for a seating capacity three times that of the largest 707. However, concerns about emergency evacuation times and cargo capacity meant the design would be scaled back.

Instead, Boeing widened the fuselage cross-section, allowing a single deck with twin aisles and ten abreast seating. Then, additional space would be found in the hump above that deck. The new design allowed a seating capacity of 366 in a three-class configuration but alleviated the need for two full decks.

747int
SAS Scandinavian Airlines

Boeing agreed to deliver the first 747s to Pan American by the end of 1969. When that agreement was reached, the aircraft manufacturer had just 28 months to design and build the plane, from Boeing:

The 747 was the result of the work of some 50,000 Boeing people. Called “the Incredibles,” these were the construction workers, mechanics, engineers, secretaries, and administrators who made aviation history by building the 747 — the largest civilian airplane in the world — in roughly 16 months during the late 1960s.

Boeing marks the beginning of production as starting in 1967. The 747 took its first flight in 1969 before deliveries started to Pan American in January 1970, changing aviation history.

ADVERTISEMENT
Cockpit
norio nakayama

The 747 has enjoyed a long and distinguished career, earning the endearing nickname the Queen of the Skies. These aircraft have carried people all around the world in style and comfort. And true to its goals, cramming hundreds of people in 747s helped make flying cheaper. Boeing produced a wide array of 747s from the short 747SP to the 747-400 Dreamlifter, a modified 747-400 that carries 787 Dreamliner assemblies in its enlarged cargo hold.

The 747 wasn’t just a vehicle to change aviation either, as it was a rockstar of sorts all on its own. Watch a movie featuring a plane and chances are you’ll see a 747 or an imaginary aircraft inspired by the 747. Even wacky Soul Plane used a goofy CGI version of the plane with 84-inch spinners, hydraulics, and flown by Snoop Dogg.

Boeing 747 409lcf Dreamlifter
scott wright

The Boeing 747 changed aviation, but it was built for a world that is fading away. Jumbos like the 747 work best on a “hub and spoke” model. In this operational model, people fly from hub to hub on a large aircraft, then board something smaller to reach their final spoke destination. Airlines saw these large beasts reducing airport congestion while getting lots of people to one place at one time.

However, recent decades have seen a rise in point-to-point travel. Today’s twinjets are more capable than their predecessors and economical, too. This has allowed smaller planes to fly regional routes between points. Because of this, today you can board a plane at one small airport and fly to another small airport and you may not need to connect at a major hub.

And there’s more. Today’s twinjets can fly routes that were once reserved for trijets like the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 or quadjets like the 747. Simple Flying explains it short and sweet:

ADVERTISEMENT

At the time the 747 was designed, twin engines were severely limited in operation and not permitted to fly more than 60 minutes away from a diversion airport. This made transoceanic flights the domain of the quadjet.

This has changed. ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) regulations were introduced in the 1980s and recognized the improved performance and reliability of twin-engine aircraft. The first rating given to the 767 permitted operations up to 120 minutes from a diversion airport. This has increased today, with ratings of up to 350 minutes for the Airbus A350.

Flying747
Lufthansa

These hits have made giants like the 747 and A380 better fit for the handful of routes with enough demand to fill hundreds of seats on a single flight. That means like the A380, the number of 747s in operation is dwindling. The type’s largest customer, Japan Airlines, retired its last aircraft in 2011. And just like with the A380, the pandemic’s decline in air travel accelerated the retirement of 747s. But a few airlines are holding out, and you can still catch a ride in a 747-8 with Air China, Korean Air, and Lufthansa. Air China, Air India, Asiana, Rossiya, and Thai Airways are still flying older 747-400s.

Celebrating the end of production, Boeing has released some fun facts about the 747. Over 54 years of production (going by Boeing’s date of 1967) the aircraft maker cranked out 1,574 examples. Over that time, the 247-foot-long Airbus A340-600 took the crown as the longest commercial aircraft in the world. Boeing unseated Airbus with the 250-foot 747-8, which the manufacturer says at cruising speed covers the length of about three football fields a second. And the very last 747, a 747-8 Freighter, can carry 133.1 tonnes, or about 10,699 gold bars or 19 million ping-pong balls. I love those silly stats.

22bft192 02 Photosby Paulweatherman
Boeing

With production over for these famous aircraft, the time left to catch a ride in one is finite. It’s hard to say when, but eventually, passenger versions of the 747 will go the way of other historic commercial jets. Then, the final holdouts of these majestic planes will be freighters, which could be flying a couple of decades into the future. Hopefully, I can find myself aboard a passenger 747 (and maybe in a cockpit) before all is said and done.

Relatedbar

Read more on The Autopian

Want to write for The Autopian? Pitch us here. Or check out the stories on our homepage.

ADVERTISEMENT
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
40 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
HalloweenPentastar
HalloweenPentastar
1 year ago

Sad to see. In todays world, there’s just no way we could build and fly a big jet like that in 16-18 months, much less a smaller bird.

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
1 year ago

I’m surprised at you, Mercedes. The BBJ (Big Beautiful Jet) community has been trying to disassociate itself from the derogatory reference, “Jumbo.” In the future please choose your words carefully.

Rick Dalghren
Rick Dalghren
1 year ago

Flown too many times to count on Lufthansa’s 747-8’s in Business & 1st class in and out of Frankfurt. Upper deck is intimate and personalized. This is my favorite aircraft and will go out of route just to fly in that aircraft.

Austin Thomason
Austin Thomason
1 year ago

Nice read, Mercedes. If you want to fly on a 747 domestically, Atlas Air is still using passenger versions for charter work. They’re really helpful when you need to transport a football team or similarly large contingent of people across the country.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

For those of you with a ride on a 747 on your bucket list, I can tell you that you are not missing much. Unless you are talking about a ride in the upper deck, it is just as miserable as any other commercial jet. I have taken several trans-Atlantic/Pacific flights in the latest iteration, and they are not fun.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

The 747 is an amazing plane, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see cargo versions in the sky for another 30 years. The scope of up-fitting they can do with airplanes nowadays is awesome. The B-52 is due to stay in service for another 30 years with the re-engine program.

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago
Reply to  Boxing Pistons

That reminds me – It would be cool to get some coverage on the B-52 re-engine program as well as the B-52 junkers that they have recently resurrected and put back into service.

John Patson
John Patson
1 year ago

Eight litres of jet fuel a second. No wonder no-one wants one any more — oh I forgot the President has a new one to fly to climate summits with.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 year ago

As we lived in Japan 3 times between 70 & 80, I got to ride in 747s a few times. Somewhere, I still have the little silver jet pin from a cockpit visit at age 7—and the 4-cigarette Marlboro pack I got on the final flight back aged 14. *cringe*

Drunken Master Paul
Drunken Master Paul
1 year ago

As a native PNW boy, this is really the end of an era. If you are in Seattle I highly recommend touring the Museum of Flight at Boeing field which has the first 747 on display. You can go inside and look around, although it is stripped out as it was last used for testing and stuff. Mercedes if you come out I would be happy to show you around and get a pint.

Jeff Wood
Jeff Wood
1 year ago

Growing up in Mexico City, I still remember watching one of the early 747 take off. It rotated maybe midway down the runway and then stayed in that position to almost the very end of the runway. If I recall correctly take-offs only happened in the early morning or late evening when air was a little cooler and denser.

First 747 flight was with the high school French club to Europe on Iberia in the late 70s. Most memorable part was being in awe of the physical size of the planes interior, seemed like seats for miles, also having the in flight movie dumping down on my lap after the film came off pickup reel.

Have flown in it several times since and still find it a comfortable plane as long as you are in economy comfort or higher (probably true for almost all airliners)

An awesome plane, hopefully I will get one more flight.

Phil Layshio
Phil Layshio
1 year ago

I do not care to fly. Rode a 747 home to Portland Oregon from Atlanta in 1995. Red-eye flight on an empty plane, right after takeoff the FA suggested I take a middle row so I could sleep. Flipped up all the armrests and slept all the way home. Best flight ever.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 year ago

I worked for Boeing Aerospace Company from about 1978 to 1984 and my location was mostly alongside Boeing field. We would see the workhorse 747 on the runway frequently. When a custom modified one for one of the Saudi princes or the like was out on the tarmac being worked on, we were able to get on board for a looky loo. Gold everywhere, way too much gold.
Various 747 versions would appear for various testing at Boeing field, so we were able to at least see them and occasionally take off and land. Good times.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago

Wow, in production longer than the Checker Marathon.

SparkySparkington
SparkySparkington
1 year ago

I’ll miss you, 747. The upgrades I’ve scored for reserving an upper deck seat on less-than-full flights where the airline would decide to close the upper deck in order to fly fewer cabin crew are the only times I’ve felt like I’d gotten one over on an airline, as opposed to the other way around.

Paul Brogger
Paul Brogger
1 year ago

I worked for Boeing for a short stretch in the early eighties (software on a military project). After staying late one evening, I was headed out to my car near Boeing Field when a shiny new PanAm 747SP taxied past nearby — all smooth, brawny & full of attitude.
I felt spontaneous, immense & overwhelming pride to simply be associated with an outfit that could produce such a wonder.

B P
B P
1 year ago

I flew on an Aer Lingus 747 to Ireland as a kid with my family in the 90s. Super big plane, the 5 seat across middle row was nice to keep us all together as a family.

Paul Brogger
Paul Brogger
1 year ago
Reply to  B P

I rode a 747 to South Africa in 1984. There were something like 60 people in the whole plane. A 5-seat middle section was my bed for that long flight.

...getstoneyII
...getstoneyII
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Brogger

I did the same on a flight from Hong Kong to Seattle as a kid! Other than being fully stretched out, we hit some wicked turbulence and I woke up on the damn floor, lol. Who needs a seatbelt when your bones are made of rubber at that age

Andy Hoodward
Andy Hoodward
1 year ago

Great wrap up on the 747.
Lufthansa is retrofitting/upgrading some of their 787-8 tails, I’m lucky to be on one of the subsystem vendor teams working on our hardware deliverable for DLH. Working on these widebody 3-4-3 layout planes is a hoot.

MrLM002
MrLM002
1 year ago

While I’m sad to see a legend go I am excited for prop planes to make a comeback with electric powerplants.

Phil Layshio
Phil Layshio
1 year ago
Reply to  MrLM002

No. Just… No.

Scott Baysinger
Scott Baysinger
1 year ago

In 1969 I visited the production line at Everett. Engineers sat at desks in darkened corridors for lack of office space. A row of 747s sat in the rain, engineless. The Pratt & Whitney JT9D turbofans were… delayed. I was just a kid.
Over the years these things carried me all over the globe through all kinds of weather. They seemed so… confident, “safe as houses”. But now they are reaching the end. And I suppose so am I.

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
1 year ago

The 747 was responsible for both my most* and least comfortable flights.

The least comfortable was a trans-Pacific flight when I was stuck in a middle seat in economy with a flight attendant jumpseat immediately behind me. Every time the FA got up, the jumpseat would flip up, smacking the seat assembly and jolting me awake.

The most comfortable was a trans-Atlantic flight where I was seated on the upper deck, window seat, in an “exit row” which provided excellent privacy, easy access to the aisle, plenty of storage, and great views. When the FA asked if I’d be willing to help in the event of an emergency, I responded that I’d happily open the window exit, but someone would probably have to PUSH me out because it is a LONG way down to the ground from the upper deck!

*Until very recently when I flew Qatar’s amazing business class on their 777.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
1 year ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

Thanks to the standby flight equivalent of “rolling a 20,” I have been privileged to fly precisely one domestic flight segment on a United 777, from Chicago to Denver. I was served an excellent breakfast on United china with United silverware (I don’t mean metal utensils, I mean *silverware*), while enjoying flip-up satellite TV from my Barcalounger of a seat.

Compared with flying coach, it’s not remotely the same thing. I’d fly everywhere if it was more like that and less like a cross between a city bus and a lousy theme park ride.

Jatkat
Jatkat
1 year ago

My dad worked at the Everett plant for 35 years, it was simply amazing seeing these things getting put together. He was a 777 guy, but I always snuck a peek at the queen of the sky. RIP to an amazing plane.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
1 year ago

Planetopian is good …topian. Thanks for writing this. Sadly, I will probably never fly in a 747 though it is definitely on my bucket list. Just don’t travel international often enough.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago

To put in perspective just how long of a production run the 747 had, it made it’s first flight over a year before the President ran in his first election

SoMuchBetterThanJalopnic
SoMuchBetterThanJalopnic
1 year ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Killed a lot less people than the president in that time too!

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
1 year ago

I am incredibly dumb and have deleted this post 2 times already:

The 747 holds the record for most passengers on any flight at over 1000 refugees. 2 babies were allegedly born on the flight:

https://simpleflying.com/the-day-1122-passengers-flew-on-a-single-747/

A -8f has a MTOW of 975,000lbs. This is a mind-blowing fact to me. Remember that these have to be able to pull roughly 3Gs (THREE million lbs) without falling out of the sky.

The -400 is the second lowest crash rate plane of all time! Boeing makes safe planes with the 2 previous generations of the 737 also on the list:

https://www.airsafe.com/events/models/rate_mod.htm

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
1 year ago

*Fatal crash rate

*the list being top 5 least crashy planes

Drunken Master Paul
Drunken Master Paul
1 year ago

and don’t forget this jazz

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/images/273242main_EC01-0129-17_full_full.jpg

It carried the flippin’ Space Shuttle!

Jacob Rippey
Jacob Rippey
1 year ago

It’s tragic that such a majestic aircraft has hit the end of the line. Fun fact: I work at a hangar on the North Runway at Sky Harbor. Most of the time, the North Runway sees nothing more than CRJ’s, narrow-body aircraft, or the occasional 777. From time to time, I get a call from Phx PD to shut the hangar doors due to Airforce One coming. Let me tell you… you can tell when that thing lands as it shakes the windows of the building and the pictures on the wall go a bit crooked. We’d often stroll out to get a better look. The livery on Air Force One in-person is spectacular. Makes one wonder what will replace the soon-to-be replacements for the president’s executive jet.

Jacob Rippey
Jacob Rippey
1 year ago

It doesn’t necessarily shout “USA” but it is certainly classy. I believe it was Jackie Kennedy who designed the livery.

Scott Baysinger
Scott Baysinger
1 year ago
Reply to  Jacob Rippey

Raymond Loewy designed the livery. Jackie provided”input”.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago

And Nancy Reagan designed the interiors of the current planes – I’d assume she worked with a professional designer, but they’ve never mentioned a name. Oscar de la Renta did some interior decorating here and there over the years, and he was her favorite fashion designer, so he might be a possibility

FndrStrat06
FndrStrat06
1 year ago

That class makes Air Force One as universally recognizable as it is.

It’s sad to see the end of production, but one of those last 747s is a new Air Force One, so it’ll still fly the skies for awhile yet.

40
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x