Who Was Rowland Brown And What Was His Connection To The Boeing 747?

The Boeing 747 is undoubtedly one of the most revolutionary commercial planes in history. While we have covered several aspects regarding the history of the jumbo, we thought we’d take a deeper look into its development. One man that had a major contribution is Rowland “Row” Brown. Despite being a low-profile engineer, he was integral to the success of the jet.

Pan Am 747
The Boeing 747 conducted its first flight on February 9th, 1969. Photo: Getty Images

The question

This 747 became the world’s first widebody jet when it was introduced in the 1970s. It’s well-publicized that Pan American World Airways founder Juan Trippe had an important part to play in the brainstorming process of the Queen of the Skies. The pioneer asked his friend, Bill Allen, the president of Boeing, to produce a model much larger than the 707 to match passenger demand. The two went back and forth on the design of the plane, which was initially going to be a double-decker edition of the 707.

Trippe felt that the most efficient way of transporting 400 travelers was simply to stack one single-aisle cabin on top of the other. Initial concepts were going down this route. Joe Sutter, who was assigned to be the chief engineer on the 747 program in the middle of the 1960s, was against this idea. He was worried about the aspect of evacuation on the top deck in an emergency. Moreover, he was concerned that the cargo hold would be too small compared to the size of the plane.

Pan AM 747
The type was introduced on January 22nd, 1970 with Pan American, marking a new era in commercial aviation. Photo: Getty Images

The answer

Clive Irving highlights in an article on HistoryNet that Brown, head of the program’s configuration group, solved both of these issues seamlessly for Sutter. He looked at dozens of configurations before placing two standard cargo pallets side by side and drew a circle around them. This move created a vast cargo hold and a main deck just under 20 feet in width. Additionally, to solve the evacuation issue, he drew two aisles. These simple but effective moves pushed the direction of the cabin in the right direction, assisting the birth of the commercial widebody.

Moreover, the distinct hump that came synonymous with the 747 was formed to anticipate its final role as a cargo-only mode. A nose design that would see it open for loading with a flight deck above was conceived. Successive variants would have an upper deck that extends to cover nearly half go the lower deck’s length.

Virgin Altantic, Boeing 747, Dining Experience
The jumbo helped to bring air travel to many new passenger segments around the world. Photo: Getty Images

Looking back

Brown’s actions would prove to be valuable in the design of the Boeing 747. It would be these key decisions that would help the Queen become an absolute legend in the industry.

“Sutter [and] Brown quickly rejected what everyone expected they would build: a plane somewhat wider than current models, with a full-length, double-deck interior. Instead, they conceived a super-wide, single-level fuselage broad enough to hold rows of 8-by-8-foot shipping containers or spacious rows of seats separated by twin aisles. To make all this fit, the cockpit was kicked up into the rafters. Hence the now-famous hump,” The Seattle Times shares.

“The dimensions were staggering: 2 ½ times larger than any commercial plane ever built. But Sutter and his team plunged ahead,”

Brown has been reported to be a profoundly private person, keeping out of the public eye. This factor may contribute to why his involvement in the 747 program isn’t often emphasized. However, it’s important to note his role in the project, as the plane could have gone down another route if he didn’t solve the issues at hand.

Cathay Pacific 747 driven into hangar
Over 1,500 units of the 747 have been produced since 1968. Photo: Getty Images

Additional offerings

Outside of Brown’s team, there were of course further valuable contributions. After Trippe accepted that the double-decker 707 wasn’t going to come into fruition, he informed Boeing that every aircraft that he took on from them turned out to be too small in their first incarnations. By then, the 747 drawings were coming to a conclusion, but Trippe affirmed that the fuselage should be enlarged by 80 inches. This move would add three seat rows in the cabin.

The extension would add 7,500 pounds to the jet. Nonetheless, despite the extra weight, Sutter went ahead with the request.

The revered Ed Wells also offered his expertise. The Boeing legend, who was integral in the B-17 program, sensed that the 747 could also be later stretched. So, he recommended increasing the wing area from 5,200 square feet to 5,500 square feet. This decision would lighten the wing loading, allowing the stretch, and making the 747 an easier aircraft to land without its high cruise speed of Mach 0.855 giving way.

Getty BOAC first class 747 cabin
Rowland Brown’s department was responsible for sizing the plane according to its intended passenger and cargo load. Photo: Getty Images

The reign is coming to an end

It has been such a challenging year for aviation, and one of the most significant casualties when it comes to the industry is the 747. The jumbo is being retired at a rapid rate amid fleet airline restructuring.

Furthermore, Boeing has been planning the end of the family’s production as the final 747-8 may roll out in the next few years. So, it would soon be a truly unique experience to see a passenger variant of the 747 in the skies this decade.

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The plane nonetheless represents a revolutionary period in both the aviation scene and the wider society. It has provided countless memories across the globe and will leave a legacy that won’t be forgotten for generations. While we wave goodbye to the Queen, it’s crucial to acknowledge those that helped to launch it over five decades ago.

What are your thoughts about Rowland Brown’s contributions to the Boeing 747 project? Do you have any fond memories flying on the jumbo over the years? Also, are you sad to see the plane disappearing from the air at such a quick rate? Let us know what you think of the aircraft and Brown’s involvement in the comment section.