Jumbo History: When Did The Boeing 747 First Fly?

Many people, both among avgeeks and the general public, consider the Boeing 747 to be among the most iconic airliners of all time. A key factor in this is its longevity. Indeed, the jumbo has been flying for over five decades across all variants, inspiring generation after generation. But when exactly did the ‘Queen of the Skies’ first fly?

Pan Am 747
It has been more than half a century since Pan Am commercially launched the 747. Photo: Getty Images

The first test flight

The 1960s were a ground-breaking time for the development of aerospace technology in the US. Indeed, before the decade had drawn to a close, NASA had landed the first men on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission (July 1969). However, this was also the decade in which one of the world’s most legendary airliners came to life.

The Boeing 747 came about after Pan Am requested an airliner two-and-a-half times the size of its existing 707. The carrier placed a 25-aircraft order for the 747 in 1966, and, two years later, in September 1968, Boeing revealed the first 747 at its Everett factory in Washington State. It was the world’s first twin-aisle airliner, and paved the way for future widebodies.

But when did this prototype aircraft first take to the skies? In the end, its groundbreaking maiden voyage took place the following year, on February 9th, 1969. This momentous date saw the prototype jumbo be flown by test pilots Jack Waddell and Brien Wygle.

Boeing 747 Rollout
Boeing’s first 747 at its public unveiling in Everett. Photo: Scandinavian Airlines via Wikimedia Commons

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Of course, as was typical for jetliners of its time, the 747 also required a flight engineer to present in the cockpit. Jess Wallick filled this role for a flight that, apart from a minor flap issue, demonstrated that the 747 was an aircraft with impressive handling abilities.

The first commercial flight

With the 747’s first test flight having been such a success, its entry into commercial service was highly anticipated. This took place less than a year after the jumbo’s prototype had completed its maiden test voyage from Everett, on January 22nd, 1970. However, the plane’s introduction did not go as smoothly as its launch customer, Pan Am, would have hoped.

Specifically, an engine issue with the planned 747 for the inaugural service from New York JFK to London Heathrow forced an aircraft swap, delaying the service by several hours. The return leg also suffered a four-hour delay due to a faulty compressed air bottle. Nonetheless, the Queen of the Skies had finally arrived on the scene.

Pan Am 747
The 747’s maiden arrival at Heathrow generated huge interest in the aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

The maiden voyages of later variants

Since the Boeing 747-100 entered passenger service over 51 years ago, several other variants have followed. Their first commercial flights took place in the following years:

  • 747-200 – 1971 with Lufthansa.
  • 747SP – 1976 with Pan Am.
  • 747-300 – 1983 with Swissair.
  • 747-400 – 1989 with Northwest Airlines.
  • 747-8 – 2012 with Lufthansa.

Today, more than half a century after its first flight, the Boeing 747 is sadly becoming an increasingly rare sight. Nonetheless, its five decades of operational history have built an incredible legacy for the aircraft. Whether in service or not, it will surely continue to be widely revered for many years to come.

When was your first flight on a Boeing 747? On which variant and airline as your maiden experience of the ‘Queen of the Skies’? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!