The Boeing 747 Celebrates 50 Years In Service

One of the most majestic jets to ever fly in our skies and to capture the world’s imagination is the Boeing 747.

And now we can celebrate together as the mighty 747 turns 50.

A BA 747 taking off.

Where was the 747 born?

Originally, in 1969 the 747 was conceived to be a new military freighter for the US airforce. You can see that it has all the hallmarks, multiple big engines, cockpit and flight deck elevated on a 2nd level, and on some prototypes, an opening nosecone (which would come back in a big way for the 747-8 freighter).

The Boeing 747 Celebrates 50 Years In Service
The Boeing 747 prototype with ballast tanks to simulate weight.

The final design that was offered to market came in three variants. All passenger, all cargo, and a third mix that allowed seats to be slid out and replaced with large cargo ‘pods’. This pod design would later come back for a possible ‘cargo class’ for Qantas.

The aircraft was so tall at the time that as it was under construction, test pilots would wheel around in a mock-up wagon three stories above the ground. Boeing was forced to build a vast new factory that could fit up to three 747s side by side.

The Boeing 747 Celebrates 50 Years In Service
The Boeing 747 factory. Source: Boeing

The first test flight took place on February 9th, 1969.

The 747 enters the market

After it’s first flight from New York to London, the 747-100 aircraft became instantly successful. Many airlines wanted a ‘Queen of the skies’ as their flagship and it was a sign of prestige to acquire one. In a recent article, we wrote how pivotal the 747 was for Singapore Airlines.

“The 747 quickly became the icon of commercial aviation.  It was the first airplane with two aisles. Most who fly have no idea what airplane they are on, but the 747’s size and its distinctive hump make the plane readily recognizable” – Mike Lombardi, Boeing’s senior corporate historian, speaking to Airline Geeks

The 747 became the new staple of air travel, and by its first birthday, over 1 million passengers had flown on it.

The Boeing 747 Celebrates 50 Years In Service
A 747-400 with a 737. Source: Boeing

And it saved Boeing as well. The company had strongly believed that the Concorde was the future of air travel, that faster was better than bigger, but had decided to bet $2 billion dollars on the slower 747. And it paid off in a big way, with a constant stream of orders that lasted up till 2017.

New Variants

From here, Boeing refined the design and shape of the 747. They created more commercial versions, such as the 747-400 and the 747-8.

The Boeing 747 Celebrates 50 Years In Service
The Boeing 747 on display at a show.

Iconic special variants were also constructed, such as the Space Shuttle carrier for NASA, the heavy Dreamlifter and of course, Air Force One. As we mentioned, Trump’s presidency is currently designing and choosing what the next generation of Air Force One will look like, strong favorite is the tried and true 747.

The Boeing 747 Celebrates 50 Years In Service
A 747 sits with a 707. Source: Boeing

The Future

What does the future look like for the Boeing 747? With many airlines slowly phasing them out, the Boeung 747 is finding its place in the world slowly shrinking. As planes have become more fuel efficient and their range extended, new options have opened up on the market place for smaller (easily filled) jets to take over 747 routes.

Qantas’ plan for new aircraft over the next decade. Notice they are replacing their 747 fleet with 787s Source: Qantas

But the Queen of the skies will always have a place in our hearts. If you have not flown on one, you can still catch them . But watch out, of 1,500 built, only 500 are still flying today.

Do you remember the first time you rode in a 747? Let us know in the comments below.