The Boeing 747 – The Plane That Changed The World

It has been 50 years since the Boeing 747 conducted its first-ever passenger flight. The Queen of the Skies took off with Pan American World Airways in January 1970 and went on to rule the airline industry for decades.

Pan Am 747
The 747 became a household name in aviation following its debut. Photo: Piergiuliano Chesi via Wikimedia Commons

It is fitting that the jumbo jet was introduced with Pan Am. The two American companies were iconic brands in the middle of the 20th century. The plane has left a legacy that has gone on to be talked about till today.

The 747 is the world’s most recognizable aircraft and is still in operation across the globe. In fact, it continues to be the trusted transporter for the president of the United States. The White House has entrusted the 747-200B model to take on the role of Air Force One.

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However, the aircraft was able to change the aviation industry across the board since its introduction in the 1970s. The jetliner set the standard for a new generation of flying.

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Enter widebody

The jumbo jet could have looked entirely different before it was introduced. According to CNN, Pan Am founder Juan Tripp envisioned it to be a double-deck version of the single-aisle Boeing 707 model.

Nonetheless, Boeing managed to sway his mind and the final design saw the first plane developed with almost vertical sidewalls and a high ceiling. This gave a whole new feeling of space for travelers, who could also be grouped into partitioned cabins with galleys and lavatories splitting each section. This build became the norm going forward, especially for long-haul services.

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Getty BOAC first class 747 cabin
It was quite a unique experience to travel on early 747 operations. Photo: Getty Images

Airport overhauls

The 747 can typically seat 366 passengers in three travel classes. However, with its upper deck, long build, and wide design, even the early models such as the -100 and -200 took capacity to a new level.

Hundreds of fliers were starting to regularly depart and land at one time. Therefore, airports had to swiftly keep up with the new demand. Lounges, check-in counters, and terminals all saw upgrades in the decades that followed the introduction of the jet. Before this, several hubs were designed to cater to a privileged few.

The price is right

With several more passengers being able to fit on one aircraft, more people could easily access travel by air. Moreover, Airline Ratings reports that the 747-100 used 33 percent less fuel than the 707-320C it would replace.

Ultimately, this helped airlines maintain an economic business model as they could make a profit on regular services, which was an everyday struggle previously. Additionally, with the cost being fair for both operators and customers, new passenger segments started to fly for the first time.

Pan Am Boeing 707 and 747
The 747 physically dominated over 707. Photo: Getty Images

Opening up the skies

With the gates now open for millions, the 747 was easily able to connect people and businesses across nations. Bill Gates called the airliner “the world first world wide web” for its ability to knock down barriers between people and countries. Ultimately, lifestyles and economies were helped to be shaped by the plane.

Back-up plan

With the aviation industry going through a transition period in the 1960s, Boeing wanted to future-proof the 747. At the time, supersonic travel was expected to be the next big thing. Therefore, there were some concerns about the future of standard jets.

To ensure that jumbo stayed in use, the manufacturer engineered also designed it to be a freighter. The main deck of it was sized about 20 feet wide so it can handle two standard cargo units. To assist with the loading process, the nose of the cargo model opened up and pivoted upwards.

British Airways 747
British Airways still holds 31 of the jumbos within its fleet. Photo: Getty Images

Engineering feats

Engine specialist Pratt & Whitney changed the shape of jet engines going forward with the introduction of its JT9D turbofans for the plane. This engine differed from earlier power plants by placing a huge fan at the front of the aircraft.

This engine was much quieter and more powerful than previous builds. It also had greater fuel efficiency and created a buzzing noise when it departed runways. This was much preferred to the screeching sounds that many previous models made.

Altogether, the 747 took the capabilities of the jet engine to even greater heights. There is no doubt that millions have fond memories of the jumbo jet over the last half a century thanks to its pioneering ability to connect passengers across the globe.

Today, over 1,500 have been built and just under 500 of them are still in use. Even though airlines are looking at newer aircraft models for operations, there is nothing like the experience of the Queen of the Skies.

Do you have any fond memories of the 747? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.

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Blasst

It will be a sad day when all of them are gone from the skies;( One typo for you Sumit: “The main deck of it was sized about zero feet wide so it can handle two standard cargo units.” Zero feet wide?:)

Bipin

I recently flew in a Lufthansa 747-800 from Bangalore to Frankfurt. As I walked in the terminal after disembarking I could see the aircraft up close and in its entirety. I couldn’t help be in awe of this magnificent machine in all its glory. Its hump was unmistakeable and the… Read more »

James

My first ever flight, back on 2001, was on board a Boeing 747-400. I was 9 year old. It was a short haul flight, CGK – SIN. 747 will forever be in my heart…

Sam

I would hate to see her out of service, but 50 years…so impressive. We will probaby see the 747 in service for another 10 years. The only equipment I see ending her reign is the 777X which will probably be in service for 50 years as well.

Nicholas Leavsley

I think the 747 Is the most safest aircraft in the world look at it’s safety record compared to today the modern aircraft of Boeing I don’t trust none of them I have flown 10 times on the 747 I love that aircraft why scrap a safe aircraft it’s crazy… Read more »

Christian

Well said. Thanks for the write up.

Ashok

The take up of the memorable 747 is so overwhelming. It, s heaped nose means that it, s flying high to conquer the world like a furious eagle. Me a pro photographer and love so much that this wonderful craft did carry my Koda chrome transparencies. An event never to… Read more »

Patrick Rodrigues

I practically grew up on this aircraft. My dad was a 747 pilot for British Airways, and I always remember being overwhelmed by the sheer size of this beauty. Such an iconic plane and it looked terrific side by side the Concorde. It puts the A380 to shame! Queen of… Read more »

Anson Goater

I spent 13 years as a 747 captain. It was without a doubt the best airliner that I had the pleasure to fly in 40 year career as a pilot.

Cris Tan

My deduction is of the models only the 747-300 n 747-400 were the best thus making the B744 modelwas most loved world -wide.

EDWARD Brunyansky

It was my favorite to fly on and lot better than the Concorde. When I got my father to finally to fly he flew on it several times in first class. My first airlines I worked for was Eastern airlines and we used the L1011. But until we got them… Read more »

Ludger

The best ever Aircraft. Nothing to beat the 747

Jay Deshpande

I used to spot many British Airways 747s when I was a little boy, at Heathrow Terminal 4(where BA operated 1986-2008). I’ve also flown on many BA Jumbos and a couple of KLM Jumbos. I will truly be heartbroken when all of the 747s are gone. She inspired me to… Read more »

Rudy Leyk

It still is the queen of the skies and although the Airbus 380 is bigger, it looks f*t compared to the sleek design of the 47. And its usefulness could come again because it replaces three aircraft in the sky and that was the original problem. Way too many planes… Read more »

Mark

In 1985 and 1986 was privileged enough to fly on two CAAC B747sp aircraft from Sydney Aust to Guangzhou China return.This aircraft made a long haul flight fun.Thems the days.

Chow M Z

Undeniably, from the outside, the B747 is most recognisable by its hump at the front. However, an easily overlooked icon is the spiral staircase that connects the main deck with the upper deck. The spiral staircase was present only in the B747-100, B747-200 and B747SP series. Perhaps due to space… Read more »

Emmy

I’ve never flown and if I’ve seen one then it’s probably the ones I see miles away in the sky leaving white like smoke lines marking their path.

Anuranjan A.G

I was just booked a flight for experiencing one of last remaining Air India Boeing 747. I travelled from Mumbai to Jeddah in 747. It was a great experience. It’s totally a different feeling. Memories with the queen of the skies that never forget.

Anuranjan AG

I was just booked a flight for experiencing one of last remaining Air India Boeing 747. I travelled from Mumbai to Jeddah in 747. It was a great experience. It’s totally a different feeling. Memories with the queen of the skies that never forget.

Aylis Zeeb

PanAm makes the going great! Loved the advertising. Luxury and comfort with eloquent and graceful staff. The good times and great memories, no doubt!!

Dick

Joined Northrop as photographer and early assignment documented construction of bldg ( Plant 3 ) where fuselage of 747 was built and the fuselage construction. Early flights almost empty. Stewards took Polaroid pics and the lounge-,,bar in the back was great with couches and table lamps. 1st class across country… Read more »

Malcolm

My first international flight was JNB – HKG and it was in a Boeing 747 – 300. What an experience! The size of the plane compared to my normal Boeing 737 trips was overwhelming. I have since travelled on virtually every version of all planes built by Boeing and Airbus.… Read more »

Peter De Laet

I always was exited to climb the stairs to the upper deck. Quiet, comfy , open bar during all the flight..

Kabiru Riruwai

The only machine that I will ever cherish is the Queen of the skies the Jumbo Jet, I humbly ask these guys in Seattle to please allow the B747’s another 50 years in service it won’t disappoint at any time, I still remember my days at Okada Airlines we use… Read more »

Kabiru Riruwai

I won’t ever forget our B747-200 (5N-EDO) at defunct Okada Airlines a very promising and reliable machine, please allow the Queen of the skies stay.

Steve Williams

Steve Williams

Paul Johnson

Funny how these so called 4 engine flops have the most amazing safety records. A380, zero accidents resulting in fatalities to date (touch wood) yet they are being chucked on the scrap heap for fun. Sickening really and I suspect these “commercial and economical” decisions will be regretted in future… Read more »

Michael J Bullough

I still remember the good days of air travel. Nothing better than trans pacific in Pan Am 747 SP. Especially when in Business or 1st class.

Oladele

Very interesting experience. I once sat at the side where I was looking at the wing through the window from Boston to Paris, the wing was so wide in area and giving feeling of a field moving with us.

R Massey

The 747 was literally the aircraft on every major milestone in my life. My first transcontinental flight was on a SIA Megatop 747 from BOM to Manchester in the 90s. When I emigrated for the first time in my life, it was another SIA 744 that carried me to the… Read more »

Robert

It feels so safe flying in one. You will always feel the difference when you fly in it after using a different aircraft.