End of the Boeing 747: Last “Queen of the Skies” delivered

Status: 02/01/2023 09:17 a.m

The two-story Boeing 747 once made history as the world’s largest passenger jet. The aircraft is now being retired after more than 50 years. The final 747 was officially handed over at a farewell party.

By Ralf Borchard, ARD Studio Washington

January 1970: Pan Am Airlines flies the first Boeing 747 from New York to London. January 2023: The last 747 is delivered as a freighter for the US airline Atlas Air. In between lies more than half a century of aviation history.

The Boeing historian Michael Lombardi describes it in an interview with the broadcaster CBS: “This plane represents the point in history when for the first time every human being on planet earth can board and fly an airplane.”

Why? Because flying before the age of the jumbo jet was extremely expensive, with around 450 seats in the first double-decker long-haul aircraft, prices fell so sharply, at least in economy class, that the flight across the Atlantic was also possible for a middle-class family moved. Flying became a mass business. In other words, it was democratized. “You could say the world shrank,” said Lombardi.

The first Boeing 747 takes off from Boeing Field in Seattle, USA. Around a year later, the first example went into scheduled service with the US airline Pan Am.

Image: dpa

Boeing heyday in the 80s

But the jumbo jet was not a success story from the start. The development costs for the later “queen of the skies” almost drove Boeing to ruin at first, there were engine problems on the maiden flight, and in the 1970s the oil crisis caused the first slump in orders. Its heyday came in the late 1980s thanks to the 747-400, which featured more efficient engines built from lighter materials.

Unaffected by these fluctuations, the most famous 747 was probably “Air Force One”, the service aircraft of six US Presidents to date. Barack Obama in particular became enthusiastic. On leaving the presidency, Obama praised the crew, saying, “You’re always on time, never lost my bags. I always knew I had to take my shoes off when boarding, so I’m really going to be Air Force One miss.”

The Boeing 747 has been the official aircraft of six US Presidents. Seen here on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

Image: AFP

Too big, too heavy, too expensive

Now the Boeing 747 is no longer built – it is too big, too heavy, too expensive. Twin-engine jets have overtaken the four-engine jumbo jet. But the 747 with the characteristic humped silhouette will remain in the sky, as Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr promised at the farewell party: “At Lufthansa we are currently trying to upgrade the 747-8 again, to keep this amazing aircraft well into the next one to fly into a decade.”

The most spectacular sight of a 747? Probably the one when she piggybacked the space shuttle Endeavor. The craziest jumbo jet? Maybe that of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden. For their 2016 tour, the band flew around the world in a specially repainted 747 – and lead singer Bruce Dickinson, a trained pilot, was allowed into the cockpit himself. “Honestly, it’s such a beautiful plane,” he enthused. “It’s a great machine.”

The space shuttle Endeavor flies over California’s Mojave Desert on a modified Boeing 747.


End of the jumbo jet era – last Boeing 747 delivered

Ralf Borchard, ARD Washington, February 1, 2023 at 8:31 a.m

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