Diagrams of Boeing 747

Diagram of Boeing 747 variants.
At the top: 747-100 (dorsal, cross-section, and front views). Side views, in descending order: 747SP, 747-100, 747-400, 747-8I, and 747LCF. (Source: Julien.scavini)

It was conceived on a fishing trip between the CEOs of PAN AM and Boeing. When finally created in 1969 it was the biggest airliner in the world, first wide bodied and ‘two tier’ passenger aircraft and it ushered in a new age of travel. Nick named the ‘Jumbo Jet’ and the ‘Queen of the Skies’, it has flown the equivalent of half the world’s population and racked up over 42 billion nautical miles (the equivalent of 101,500 trips from earth to the moon and back). The latest 747, given the nomenclature dash eight hundred, recently flew 8 mph short of going supersonic. The original design has latest the test of time, though improvements in range, speed, acoustic efficiency, aerodynamics and capacity have been made over the years. Despite its global success it now appears that the days maybe drawing in for this queen.

Boeing earlier this year announced that from September 2016 they will be reducing production of the 747 to just six per annum. The Seattle-based manufacturer currently has just 20 orders for 747s, two of which are replacement for the US president’s official flight. Competition from more efficient twin engined planes has reduced the attraction of the 747. Unlike the Jumbo, the new era of long distance, twin engined, smaller planes means they can land usually at more destination airports without being restricted to hub airports (such as Heathrow), unlike the 747.  The current desire of the same hub airports to become cleaner and quieter is also placing pressure on 747s to be phased out by their operators. As well as targeting noise the airports are targeting NOx pollutants, from 2017 it will cost around £3,650 in environmental tariffs compared with just over £1,000 for a 787 to land at Heathrow.

British Airways at one time was the the biggest operator of 747-400s but now but has started retiring its fleet in favour of more fuel-efficient planes: A380s now, the upcoming A350, and Boeing’s own smaller 787 Dreamliner. However BA have stated that they won’t phase all their 747s out in the near future. They have been the back bone of the BA  long haul fleet and they still have 42 operating.

The 747’s main rival the Airbus A380 is also not fairing so well against the newer twin engined planes. Since launch about 317 A380s have been ordered but now interest is dwindling. Boeing claims the wide-body, or twin-aisle, sector of the aircraft market will be of dwindling importance, with the A380 unlikely to succeed in the same manner as the 747, despite their bias Boeing are probably correct.

Five famous 747s in history

We look back at 5 iconic 747’s in history below:

The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) were two extensively modified Boeing 747 airliners that NASA used to transport Space Shuttle orbiters. One is a 747-100 model, while the other is a short range 747-100SR. The SCAs were used to ferry space shuttle orbiters from landing sites back to the launch complex at the Kennedy Space Center. The orbiters were placed atop the SCAs by Mate-Demate Devices, large gantry-like structures that hoisted the orbiters off the ground for post-flight servicing and then mated them with the SCAs for ferry flights.

The Boeing 747-8 is a wide-body jet airliner developed by Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Officially announced in 2005, the 747-8 is the third generation of the 747, with lengthened fuselage, redesigned wings, and improved efficiency. The 747-8 is the largest 747 version, the largest commercial aircraft built in the United States, and the longest passenger aircraft in the world. The 747-8 is offered in two main variants: the 747-8 Intercontinental (747-8I) for passengers and the 747-8 Freighter (747-8F) for cargo.

Air Force One is the official air traffic control call sign of a United States Air Force aircraft carrying the President of the United States. In common parlance the term refers to those Air Force aircraft specifically designed, built, and used for the purpose of transporting the president. Since 1990, the presidential fleet has consisted of two Boeing VC-25As, which are specifically configured, highly customized Boeing 747-200B series aircraft. The Air Force plans to procure the Boeing 747-8 to be the next version of Air Force One

British Airways Flight 9, sometimes referred to by its callsign Speedbird 9 or as the Jakarta incident, was a scheduled British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Auckland. On 24 June 1982 the aircraft flew into a cloud of volcanic ash thrown up by the eruption of Mount Galunggung, resulting in the failure of all four engines. The reason for the failure was not immediately apparent to the crew or air traffic control. The aircraft was able to glide far enough to exit the ash cloud, and all engines were restarted  allowing the aircraft to land safely

This is the first 747-121 built, registration N74701 and named ‘City of Everett’. RA001 (Boeing’s variable number for her) was first presented to the world on September 30, 1968, and she has lived outdoors ever since. She made over 12,000 test flights as Boeing’s sacrificial lamb during her glory days as the demonstration plane for the 747 program, and later as a testbed for other technological upgrades including the Boeing 777 engine. She was never destined to fly for a glamorous airline like Pan Am.