Queen of the Skies to end reign as Boeing winds down 747 output

SEATTLE Boeing Co is winding down production of the 747 jumbo jet, which democratized global air travel in the 1970s but fell behind modern twin-engine aircraft.

Chief Executive Dave Calhoun told staff on Wednesday that Boeing will stop building the iconic jet in 2022.

Here are some key facts and milestones regarding Boeing’s “Queen of the Skies,”

FABLED HISTORY

The 747 had its maiden flight on Feb. 9, 1969, and entered service with Pan American World Airways in January 1970. It allowed more affordable air travel due to its size and range.

Dubbed “the Incredibles”, some 50,000 mechanics and engineers built what was then the world’s largest civilian airplane in roughly 16 months.

The current version is the 747-8, a 410-seater with a range of 8,000 nautical miles (14,815 km), launched in 2005.

The 1,500th 747 was delivered to Lufthansa in 2014, becoming the first wide-body jet to reach that milestone.

HUMP-TOPPED BEHEMOTH

The 747 is the world’s most easily recognized jetliner with its humped fuselage and four engines.

The fuselage of the original 747 was 225 feet (68.5 meters) long, its tail as tall as a six-story building, and its wing area larger than a basketball court.

With an 8-foot-wide hinged nose able to swallow outsize cargo, the freighter version can carry more than 128 tonnes.

A British Airways 747 boosted by strong tailwinds broke the subsonic speed record for a transatlantic crossing between New York and London in February, completing the trip in just under five hours, according to Flightradar24.

KEY EVENTS

Passengers included John Paul II who staged the first visit to Ireland by a pope in 1979, arriving on an Aer Lingus 747, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who returned from exile to Iran on an Air France jumbo during the same year’s Islamic Revolution.

The 747 has known its share of tragedy in a career spanning the end of the Cold War and the rise of attacks on aviation.

In 1983, a Soviet fighter shot down a Korean Air Lines 747 that was off course and in 1988, Pan Am flight 103 was blown up by a bomb over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.

The 747 has a good safety record but in 1985 it suffered the worst-ever single-plane accident when a Japan Airlines 747 suffered massive decompression, killing 520 people after a faulty repair.

FADING GLORY

Modern twinjets are displacing older four-engined jets like the 747 and the soon-to-be-axed Airbus A380. Boeing had already told suppliers that the last 747-8 would roll off assembly lines in around two years.

Boeing said in 2016 it could end 747 production amid falling orders and pricing pressure, while major U.S. carriers like United Continental Holdings Inc and Delta Air Lines Inc have already said goodbye to their 747s.

The jet bounced back from near death to mark its 50-year flying anniversary in February 2019, propped up by a cargo market boom fueled by online shopping.

But its extended lifespan was cut short by weak demand exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and U.S.-China trade tensions.

FINAL ORDER

The last order for a passenger version came in 2017, when the U.S. government asked Boeing to repurpose two 747-8 jetliners for use as the U.S. president’s Air Force One transport plane. After customisation and installation of classified systems, the two aircraft are due to be delivered by December 2024, painted red, white and blue.

SPACE SHUTTLE

NASA once used a modified 747 to carry the 68-tonne Space Shuttle piggyback style from landing sites back to the launch complex at the Kennedy Space Center.

Billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit uses a modified 747 nicknamed Cosmic Girl as the centerpiece of its high-altitude launch system for its satellite-carrying LauncherOne rocket.

Another modified variant is the Dreamlifter which transports sections of the 787 Dreamliner between factories in Everett, Washington and Charleston, South Carolina.