Boeing's 747, the first jumbo jet, prepares for final send-off

Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

The Boeing 747, often referred to as the “Queen of the Skies,” changed air travel with its introduction over five decades ago. It will have its final commercial delivery in its freighter version on Tuesday to Atlas Air.

The 747 was the world's first twin-aisle wide-body jetliner, known for its instantly recognizable humped silhouette. The plane was created to meet the demands for mass travel, making flying more accessible to the middle class, particularly in the U.S. The jumbo also played a role in global events, serving as America's nuclear command post and being used for papal visits.

The 747's introduction more than doubled plane capacity, making it a game-changer for the aviation industry. The first 747 flight took off from New York on January 22, 1970, after a delay due to an engine glitch.

The story of the 747's creation has become a part of aviation myth, with the challenge being issued by Pan Am founder Juan Trippe to Boeing President William Allen to create something larger than the 707. Engineer Joe Sutter was put in charge and led the team, known as “the Incredibles,” to develop the 747 in just 28 months before its first flight on February 9, 1969.

Despite its initial problems and the near bankruptcy of Boeing, the 747 had its heyday in 1989 with the introduction of the 747-400. The plane was a perfect fit for the growing demand for trans-Pacific flights, due to its new engines and lighter materials.

The same advancements that allowed the 747 to take flight have now led to its end, as dual-engine jets can now achieve the same range and capacity at a lower cost.

The final delivery of the 747 leaves questions about the future of the Everett widebody production plant outside Seattle, while Boeing also struggles after the COVID pandemic and a 737 MAX safety crisis.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun has stated that there may not be a new airliner design from the airline for at least a decade. Despite the end of an era, the 747 will always be remembered for its contributions to the aviation industry, and for being a symbol of both war and peace.