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The Rise and Fall of the Boeing 747



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Podcast Transcript

Launched in 1968, the Boeing 747 completely revolutionized industrial air transportation. It was greater than twice the scale of the subsequent closest passenger aircraft, and it introduced air journey to a a lot wider viewers.

Not solely did it assist democratize air journey, however the aircraft’s distinctive options additionally added a brand new aspect of fashion and luxurious to the jet age. 

Along with carrying passengers, it has additionally served as an necessary cargo plane, and it has even served as Air Drive One.

Be taught extra concerning the Boeing 747 on the 747th episode of Every little thing All over the place Every day. 


At this time, air journey is comparatively inexpensive, and it’s one thing that’s inside the grasp of many individuals. Even when it doesn’t look like it, air journey at the moment is less expensive and extra democratic than it was within the Fifties and 60s.

Again then, flying by air was comparatively costly, which is why so few individuals did it. Individuals who traveled by air grew to become often called the ‘jet set’, which grew to become a euphemism for the rich. 

Nevertheless, the ‘jet set’ is one thing you nearly by no means hear anymore as a result of everyone seems to be a part of the jet set. Airways like Ryanair, Southwest, Spirit, EasyJet and a number of different airways have made air journey out there for everybody. 

One of many first main steps in that transition of democratizing journey was the event of the 747. 

The origins of the 747 really started with a authorities contract for a big army cargo plane. 

In 1963 america Air Drive put out a request to plane producers for a cargo jet that was bigger than the C-141 Starlifter. The brand new mission was known as the CX-Heavy Logistics System, and the Air Drive required that the aircraft have a capability of 180,000 kilos, a high pace of March 0.75, and a variety of 5,000 miles or 9,000 kilometers. 

There have been additionally necessities for the scale of the payload bay, and the aircraft had to have the ability to be loaded from doorways in each the entrance and the rear. 

The Air Drive additionally requested that the variety of engines on the aircraft be restricted to 4. 

Along with designing an entire new aircraft, this might additionally require an entire new sort of engine. 

Ultimately, Boeing didn’t get the contract. It was awarded to Lockheed, and the cargo plane grew to become the C-5 Galaxy, which remains to be in service at the moment.

Boeing didn’t let the work they did on the CX-Heavy Logistics System go to waste. 

Even earlier than the Air Drive cargo aircraft contract, Boeing had been approached by the president of PanAm Airways, Juan Trippe, to create a passenger plane that may be 2.5x bigger than the present Boeing 707 and DC-8, which have been probably the most generally used passenger jets of the period. 

The 707 might, relying on the configuration, carry about 140 passengers. The DC-8 might seat about 189. 

Trippe thought {that a} bigger plane might relieve the airport congestion attributable to so many smaller planes, in addition to be extra cost-efficient for the airways. 

Boeing took most of the concepts from their CX-Heavy Logistics System bid and put it into this new plane which had been given the mannequin quantity 747. 

The preliminary plan was to place in two completely separate ranges for passengers. This concept was finally scrapped due to the problem in implementing the authorized requirement whereby all passengers had to have the ability to exit the plane inside 90 seconds. 

The double-decker idea was scrapped not solely due to the security situation however as a result of it will make it tough to make use of as a cargo plane. As an alternative, they went with a single passenger deck with a wider physique.

The requirement to place a hinge on the nostril of the plane to permit for front-loading from the unique Air Drive bid was nonetheless one thing Boeing nonetheless needed to pursue, in order that they put the cockpit above the passenger space and simply behind the place the hinge could be on a cargo model aircraft. 

That is why the 747 has its distinctive hump close to the entrance of the aircraft. 

Regardless of PanAm’s request for a big passenger jet, the administration at Boeing didn’t suppose that the 747 was going for use for passenger flight for very lengthy. Everybody assumed within the late 60s that the way forward for passenger air journey was going to be supersonic plane. 

Therefore, they thought most passenger 747s would most likely be transformed to cargo plane finally, in order that they needed to plan for that. 

The primary model of the 747 was the 747-100. If configured for one seating class, it might match 539 passengers. 

It had a wing span of virtually 60 meters or 197 ft. The highest of the tail stood 22.17 meters or nearly 73 ft. The size of the fuselage was 70.6 meters or 231 ft. 

It might take off with a maxim of 340,000 kilograms or 750,000 kilos, Fly at 991 kilometers per hour, or 616 miles per hour, and it had a most vary of 9,000 kilometers or 5,600 miles. 

By each measure I simply listed, it will be the biggest passenger plane on this planet by a large margin. 

To carry all of this, it required model new engines. These could be the brand new JT9D high-bypass turbofan engines designed and constructed by Pratt and Whitney. These have been the primary high-bypass jets utilized in industrial aviation, they usually have been radically extra gasoline environment friendly than something which had come earlier than it. 

PanAm, the airline that initially recommended the aircraft, had been concerned in the complete design course of. In 1966, they signed a contract for 25 747-100 plane at a value of $525 million {dollars}, which might be value over $4.8 billion {dollars} at the moment. 

With a buyer lined up and with a design in hand, the subsequent huge downside was the place do you construct such an enormous plane?

The reply was to assemble the biggest constructing on this planet by quantity, the Boeing Manufacturing facility in Everett, Washington. 

Building of the primary 747 required an entire new set of strategies that had by no means been used earlier than. They needed to develop a mock of the cockpit on the appropriate top to let pilots observe taxiing as a result of most pilots had by no means needed to taxi one thing this massive earlier than. It was known as  “Waddell’s Wagon” after the Boeing take a look at pilot who recommended it.

They needed to create a full-scale mock-up of the aircraft to check evacuations. 

They needed to do a lot of the development of the prototype whereas the Everett Manufacturing facility was being constructed, which meant engaged on the aircraft even earlier than the roof was completed. 

The engines proved an issue, as the event of the physique of the aircraft outpaced the engine development. Some early prototypes needed to have piles of bricks cling from the wings to simulate the burden of the engines. 

Lastly, nevertheless, all the things was in place to point out the prototype to the world. On September 30, 1968, the general public and the media have been proven the 747. 

Up thus far, Boeing had spent $1 billion {dollars} on the event of the aircraft, which is the equal of $8.5 billion at the moment. On the plus aspect, by the point the prototype was proven to the general public, 26 airways had positioned 747s on order. 

Over 50,000 Boeing workers have been concerned within the design and development of the 747. 

The primary take a look at flight befell on February 9, 1969. Apart from some minor issues with the flaps, all the things went nicely. The most important issues within the take a look at stage have been with the Pratt and Whitney engines. 

The 747 was proven to the general public on the 1969 Paris Air Present, and it acquired its FAA flightworthy certificates in December 1969.

With the ultimate kinks labored out, the primary 747s have been delivered to PanAm in January 1970. The primary plane, the Clipper Victor, was christened on January 15 by First Woman Pat Nixon, and the primary industrial flight befell one week later, flying from New York to London. 

Earlier than I discussed the long-lasting bubble on the highest entrance of the 747.  

When the primary 747s have been delivered, nobody was actually certain what to do with them, so the primary planes really used them as a lounge for first-class passengers. 

Qantas known as their lounge the Captain Cook dinner Lounge. Some airways had tables the place you might sit and discuss to passengers. United had a cocktail bar. American Airways even had a piano of their lounge. 

These lounges didn’t actually final very lengthy as a result of most airways realized they might make more cash by simply including extra seats within the bubble. 

On a private word, I as soon as sat within the bubble of a Singapore Air 747 on a flight from Taipei to Singapore 20 years in the past, and I nonetheless bear in mind it. Given the a whole bunch of flights I’ve taken around the globe, the truth that I can nonetheless keep in mind that flight actually says one thing. 

Most of the first 747s have been bought to nationwide flag carriers because the aircraft grew to become an immediate standing image. Nevertheless, most of those nationwide airways have been big cash losers, in order that they didn’t care an excessive amount of about profitability.

The recession of 1969-70 was an enormous shock to Boeing. From September 1970 to March 1972, they solely bought two 747s worldwide.

The oil embargo of 1973 triggered many 747 house owners to promote their planes for smaller ones, and most of the 747s have been transformed to cargo plane….which was precisely what Boeing initially predicted would occur. 

Ultimately, the oil embargo was lifted, and demand picked up once more. One of many main occasions which gave the aircraft a brand new lease on life was the deregulation of the airline business in america. This resulted in huge reductions in ticket costs and a correspondingly giant enhance within the variety of passengers. 

New variations of the 747 have been launched about each few years. The 747–200 was launched in 1971, the 300 in 1980, the 400 in 1985, and the 747-8 in 2005. 

Through the years, the 747 additionally used engines by Basic Electrical and by Rolls Royce.

There have been additionally minor fashions which have been developed in between the most important variations.

The 1,000th 747 was delivered in 1993, and the 1500th was delivered to Lufthansa in 2014.

In 2008 the 747 misplaced its title as the biggest passenger plane when Airbus launched the A380. 

Nevertheless, each the 747 and the A380 noticed declining curiosity from airways. 

Smaller plane noticed greater enhancements in gasoline effectivity and the space they might journey. The most recent model of the 747 can fly 30% farther than the primary model. Nevertheless, a brand new 737 can now fly 75% additional than it initially might. 

The variety of smaller planes which might make transatlantic crossings has grown significantly for the reason that launch of the 747.

4-engine plane just like the 747 simply can’t economically compete with the brand new two-engine plane just like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. 

On account of sagging demand, the Boeing company accounted in 2020 that they have been going to finish the development of 747 plane. The present 747-8s that had been ordered could be accomplished, however they might be the final ones. The entire last 747s have been for cargo use.

The ultimate 747 is scheduled to be delivered in October 2022. 

Given how lengthy 747s can stay in operation, it’s going to most likely be a long time earlier than the final 747 ceases operation. 

I’ll finish with one of the vital important and tragic days within the historical past of the 747 and in all of aviation. 

On March 27, 1977, two 747’s collided on the runway in Tenerife, Spain, within the Canary Islands. KLM Flight 4805, with 248 occupants, was accelerating down the runway whereas PanAm flight 1736 was nonetheless on the runway with its 396 occupants.

The PanAm plane occurred to be the Clipper Victor, the very first 747 to fly a industrial flight. 

There was a dense fog on the runway so the KLM pilot couldn’t see the opposite aircraft. Furthermore, there was a miscommunication with the management tower, and the KLM pilot thought he had permission to take off. 

The colliding planes resulted in 583 deaths. It was, and nonetheless stays, the worst accident in aviation historical past.

The following investigation discovered that the accident was on account of pilot error, and it resulted in substantial reforms in how pilots and flight controllers talk.

Nonetheless, the involvement of two 747s, the biggest passenger plane on this planet, resulted in what was maybe the worst plane accident that would even be attainable.

Whereas the Boeing 747 has now been phased out, it had a run of over 50 years of being probably the most iconic industrial plane on this planet. Whereas we would not see lots of its distinctive bubble tops at airports anymore, it nonetheless has a spot in aviation historical past for introducing the world to wide-body plane and long-distance passenger aviation.



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