1969 First 747 Flown - History

1969 First 747 Flown - History

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1969 First 747 Flown

On Februay 9th, 1969 the first Boeing 747 took off on a test flight. The initial version of the plane was 231 feet long and weighed 710,000 lbs when fully loaded. The initial 747 was designed to carry 374 passenger over 5,700 miles.

Boeing began conceiving the plane in 1963. It was initially planned to be a plane that would be 150% larger than the 707. It developed its unique second deck in the front due to the potential military needs of a plane that could load large items.

The Launch customer for the plane was Pan Am that bet heavily on the plane. It ordered 25 aircraft in 1966 for $525 Million. Boeing promised to deliver the plane in 1969. The fact that Boeing did not have a factory large enough to build the plane forced the manufacturer to build a new plant to manufacture it. The first planes were delivered on time. ON January 22, 1970, Pan Am flew its first commercial flight of the 747-100 Washington Dulles to Paris. As of 2019 1,546 747's had been built. The newest variant the 747-8 is still in production today.

A review of the Development of Boeing 747 (Jumbo Jet)

On January 22, 1970, Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) flew the first commercial flight on a brand-new airliner – Boeing 747. With that flight and the decades of operations to follow, this airliner redefines the whole airline industry. In this report, we’ll study the project that was undertaken to build the Boeing 747.

In this sheet, we review the key points related to this challenging and historically significant project.

Photo: Boeing 747 (Jumbo Jet) on taxi

First Boeing 747 ever built being restored to former glory

SEATTLE -- Parked outside the Museum of Flight is the very first 747 jumbo jet to take flight in 1969.

The jet changed the face of civil aviation forever. ਊt one point, it was the largest commercial jet flying.

"The airplane had a lot of publicity and there was a great deal of conversation about it.  There were skeptics that said nothing that big can fly," said Brien  Wygle, the co-pilot on the first test flight for the jet.

The plane took off from Paine Field in Everett in front of the world press.

"There was enormous pressures, Boeing had put a fortune into the airplane and it had gone well over budget. Pan Am was waiting for it," Wygle said.

Its first flight lasted about an hour and a half.  They had a minor glitch and had to cut the flight short.  However, the aircraft had proven its worth.

First 747 gets a makeover

"When we landed and taxied in and shut down, it was with great relief but also a great deal of elation and joy and satisfaction on where we were," Wygle said.

This particular jet stayed in service until the mid 90&aposs as a test aircraft.  Its last mission was to test the engines that would later be installed on the Boeing 777.

Since 2012, a crew of volunteers have been working on restoring the aircraft to its former glory.  It has a brand new paint job and the interior is getting a makeover.

"It needed a lot of cosmetic work and needed a lot of work to try and represent, simulate some of the test environments the plane saw throughout its life," 747 Crew Chief Dennis Dhein said.

The museum hopes to have the plane complete and ready for folks to board sometime in late October.

The first commercial flight

With the 747’s first test flight having been such a success, its entry into commercial service was highly anticipated. This took place less than a year after the jumbo’s prototype had completed its maiden test voyage from Everett, on January 22nd, 1970. However, the plane’s introduction did not go as smoothly as its launch customer, Pan Am, would have hoped.

Specifically, an engine issue with the planned 747 for the inaugural service from New York JFK to London Heathrow forced an aircraft swap, delaying the service by several hours. The return leg also suffered a four-hour delay due to a faulty compressed air bottle. Nonetheless, the Queen of the Skies had finally arrived on the scene.

The 747’s maiden arrival at Heathrow generated huge interest in the aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Historical Snapshot

The 747 was the result of the work of some 50,000 Boeing people. Called "the Incredibles," these were the construction workers, mechanics, engineers, secretaries and administrators who made aviation history by building the 747 &mdash the largest civilian airplane in the world &mdash in roughly 16 months during the late 1960s.

The incentive for creating the giant 747 came from reductions in airfares, a surge in air-passenger traffic and increasingly crowded skies. Following the loss of the competition for a gigantic military transport, the C-5A, Boeing set out to develop a large advanced commercial airplane to take advantage of the high-bypass engine technology developed for the C-5A. The design philosophy behind the 747 was to develop a completely new plane, and other than the engines, the designers purposefully avoided using any hardware developed for the C-5.

The 747's final design was offered in three configurations: all passenger, all cargo and a convertible passenger/freighter model. The freighter and convertible models loaded 8- by 8-foot (2.4- by 2.4-meter) cargo containers through the huge hinged nose.

The 747 was truly monumental in size. The massive airplane required construction of the 200 million-cubic-foot (5.6 million-cubic-meter) 747 assembly plant in Everett, Wash., the world's largest building (by volume). The fuselage of the original 747 was 225 feet (68.5 meters) long the tail as tall as a six-story building. Pressurized, it carried a ton of air. The cargo hold had room for 3,400 pieces of baggage and could be unloaded in seven minutes. The total wing area was larger than a basketball court. Yet, the entire global navigation system weighed less than a modern laptop computer.

Pilots prepared for the 747 at Boeing training school. The experience of taxiing such a large plane was acquired in a contraption called "Waddell's Wagon," named after Jack Waddell, the company's chief test pilot. The pilot sat in a mockup of the 747 flight deck built atop three-story-high stilts on a moving truck. The pilot learned how to maneuver from such a height by directing the truck driver below him by radio.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration later modified two 747-100s into Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. The next version, the 747-200, holds approximately 440 passengers and has a range of about 5,600 nautical miles (10,371 kilometers). In 1990, two 747-200Bs were modified to serve as Air Force One and replaced the VC-137s (707s) that served as the presidential airplane for nearly 30 years. The 747-300 has an extended upper deck and carries even more passengers than the -200.

The 747-400 rolled out in 1988. Its wingspan is 212 feet (64 meters), and it has 6-foot-high (1.8-meter-high) "winglets" on the wingtips. The 747-400 also is produced as a freighter, as a combination freighter and passenger model, and as a special domestic version, without the winglets, for shorter range flights.

In August 1999, major assembly began on a militarized 747-400 Freighter to be used as a platform for the U.S. Air Force&rsquos Airborne Laser (ABL) program. It rolled out on Oct. 27, 2006, and was eventually designated YAL-1. Boeing was the prime contractor for ABL, which was designed to provide a speed-of-light capability to destroy all classes of ballistic missiles in their boost phase of flight. Boeing provided the modified aircraft and the battle management system and is the overall systems integrator. ABL partners were Northrop Grumman, which supplied the chemical oxygen iodine, or COIL, high-energy laser associated lasers, and Lockheed Martin, which provided the nose-mounted turret in addition to the beam control/fire control system. On Feb. 11, 2010, the flying test bed destroyed a ballistic missile off the coast of Southern California. The program was canceled in 2011, and in 2012, YAL-1 was flown to the U.S. Air Force &ldquobone yard&rdquo near Pima, Ariz., to be scrapped.

Another variant is the Dreamlifter &mdash a specially modified 747-400 &mdash that transports the large composite structures, including huge fuselage sections of the 787 Dreamliner, from partners around the world to Everett, Wash., and Charleston, S.C., for final assembly. The massive cargo is loaded and unloaded from a hinged rear fuselage. The fourth and final Dreamlifter entered service Feb. 16, 2010.

The longer range 747-400 airplanes (also known as 747-400ERs) were launched in late 2000. The 747-400ER (Extended Range) family is available in both passenger and freighter versions. The airplanes are the same size as current 747-400s and have a range of 7,670 nautical miles (14,205 kilometers) as opposed to the 747-400 range of 7,260 nautical miles (13,450 kilometers). It incorporates the strengthened -400 Freighter wing, strengthened body and landing gear, and an auxiliary fuel tank in the forward cargo hold, with an option for a second tank. When the 747-400ER's full-range capability is not needed, operators can remove the tank (or tanks), freeing up additional space for cargo.

In November 2005, Boeing launched the 747-8 family &mdash the 747-8 Intercontinental passenger airplane and the 747-8 Freighter. These airplanes incorporate innovative technologies from the 787 Dreamliner. In fact, the designation 747-8 was chosen to show the technology connection between the 787 Dreamliner and the new 747-8, including the General Electric GEnx-2B engines, raked wingtips and other improvements that allow for a 30 percent smaller noise footprint, 15 percent reduction in-service carbon emissions, better performance retention, lower weight, less fuel consumption, fewer parts and less maintenance.

The 747-8 Freighter first flew on Feb. 8, 2010. The airplane is 250 feet, 2 inches (76.3 meters) long, which is 18 feet, 4 inches (5.6 meters) longer than the 747-400 Freighter. The stretch provides customers with 16 percent more revenue cargo volume compared with its predecessor. That translates to an additional four main-deck pallets and three lower hold pallets.

The passenger version, the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, serves the 400- to 500-seat market and took its first flight on March 20, 2011. The cabin&rsquos sculpted ceilings, bigger overhead and side stowbins, a redesigned staircase and dynamic LED lighting all add to an overall more comfortable passenger experience. With 51 additional seats and 26 percent more revenue cargo volume than the 747-400, Boeing delivered the first 747-8 Intercontinental to an undisclosed Boeing Business Jet customer on Feb. 28, 2012. Launch customer Lufthansa took delivery of the first airline Intercontinental April 25, 2012.

On June 28, 2014, Boeing delivered the 1,500th 747 to come off the production line to Frankfurt, Germany-based Lufthansa. The 747 is the first wide-body airplane in history to reach the 1,500 milestone.

1969-1971 - Boeing 747 | world fleet information center

I collected all the important milestones of the mighty   BOEING 747  in the past 50+ years. I tried to do my best to recall every important moment of more than fifty- year. I hope my efforts serve your reading enjoyment.

Corrections, additions are warmly welcome. [email protected]
Dates are in yyyy.mm.dd. format.

747 milestones | 1969- 1971

January 1969 C ompany press release came out about names of the first flight crew of maiden flight (Jesse Wallick, Jack Waddell, Brian Wygle - the three W's)

1969.02.09 Maiden flight of first 747 N7470 at Paine Field, Everett. Take off from RWY16 at 11:34 AM LT, landing at 12:50 PM LT.

1969.02.15 Second flight of the 747, lasted 138 minutes.

1969.02.17 23 minutes test flight of RA001 for 25 degrees flap setting and main landing gear check.

1969.02.18 RA001 performed 3h 6m flight time by 2 test flights.

1969.02.24 RA001 flap testing.

1969.02.25 124 minutes of static pressure and airspeed survey flight on RA001. The first flight over the heavily populated area while en- route from PAE to SEA.

1969.03.29 VMU (Velocity Minimum Unstick) test performed by first 747 at Moses Lake Grand County airport.

May1969 JT9D engine received its FAA certification

1969.05.08 roll out of the first TWA 747: MSN 19667 N93101

1969.06.03 N731PA debuted at the 28th International Aeronautical and Space show at Paris Le Bourget. The crew of this historic flight were: P.J. De Roberts, Don Knutson PIC,  S.L. Wallick. The flight took 9h 18m.

1969.06.07 N731PA flew back Paris LBG- Washington- Seattle route flying 11.495 miles.

1969.07.16. roll out of the first Lufthansa 747 MSN: 19746 D- ABYA

1969.11.04 According to a Boeing press release the five test planes flown 628 flights and logged 1010 flight hours.

1969.12.12 N733PA First 747 delivery to Pan Am. N733PA delivered PAE- NAS- JFK, took off from PAE at 12:37 PM and landed at JFK 9:30 PM at JFK , PIC : Robert M.Weeks.

1969.12.30 The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration certifies the 747- 100 for commercial service. The five test planes have flown� flight hours by 1013 flights including 539 hours of FAA demonstration.

1970.01.11 N735PA First Atlantic crossing with commercial airline crew and final proving demonstration for FAA personnel on route JFK- LHR.

1970.01.15 Evacuation test of B- 747 performed at Pan Am Roswell training base with 362 passengers and 19 crew members. People had to evacuate the plane in 90 seconds by 5 of the 11 emergency doors.

1970.01.22 747 enters commercial service with Pan American World Airways on a New York- London flight. N735PA was allocated for this milestone flight but PAA002 delayed due to technical problem. The c aptain of the flight was Bob Weeks. N735PA left its gate at 7:25 PM 21/0170 but taxied back to gate after overheat detected on #4 engine. Passengers disembarked, the plane changed to N736PA. Finally, PAA002 took off with 361 passengers and 18 crew members on board at 01:52 AM 22/0170 and landed at LHR after 6h 16m flight time at 08:05 AM (13:05LT). The spacious age began. Ticket prices: 375$ for one- way first- class, 210$ for one- way economy class.

February 1970 End of static tests on mockup as its wings deflected 26 feet upward and strained.

March 1970 Peak production rate of seven 747 a month is reached.

1970.04.11 T he first 747 landing at Hong Kong Kai Tak airport (Pan Am) . A former airport where the usual wide- body traffic consisted Boeing 747. (65- 75%)

1970.07.16 Millionth passenger carried on 747s.

1970.08.27 Roll out of the first 747- 200B. MSN: 20356 N611US

1970.09.06 The first hijack and hull loss of a 747. N752PA Pan Am's Clipper Fortune is blown up by terrorists in Cairo nobody is injured. Pan Am Flight 93 was carrying 152 passengers and 17 crew, o f which 85 were US citizens.The flight was from Brussels, Belgium, to New York, with a stop in Amsterdam. The two hijackers bumped from the El Al flight boarded and hijacked this flight as a target of opportunity. The plane first landed in Beirut, where it refueled and picked up several associates of the hijackers, along with enough explosives to destroy the entire plane. It then landed in Cairo after uncertainty whether the Dawson's Field airport (where additional 3 planes hijacked) could handle the size of the new Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Flight director John Ferruggio, who led the plane's evacuation, is credited with saving the plane's passengers and crew.The plane was blown up at Cairo seconds after it had been evacuated. This was the first hull loss of a Boeing 747.

1970.10.11 N611US First flight of the first 747- 200B.

1970.10.19. Roll out of the 100th B- 747 MSN. 20207 N601BN for Braniff

1970.11.12 N611US 747- 200B sets world heavyweight record, taking off from Edwards AFB, CA, at 820.700 lb (372.269 kg) gross weight, 500.700 lb (227.117 kg being fuel, flight- test equipment and payload).

1970.12.23 7 47- 200B certified by FAA

January 1971 The 747 worldwide fleet accumulates 72 million miles in the first year of operation, carried 6 million passengers on 15,5 billion pax miles. Arrivals and departures averaged 2900 / week.

1971.02.11 N601BN  Boeing delivers 100th 747 to U.S.- based Braniff Airlines.

1971.02.12 Boeing 747 equipped with fail- operative triple- autopilot system certificated for operation in Category IIIA conditions, with runway visual range only 700ft (213m).

1971 .02.14 PH- BUA 747- 200 enters commercial service with The Netherlands' KLM - - Royal Dutch Airlines AMS- JFK route

September 197 1 End of fatigue tests on #2 mockup.

1971.10.14 N1794B F irst 747- 200F Freighter roll out , MSN: 20373 later D- ABYE for Lufthansa

Twin or Single Deck for the Boeing 747?

Initial designs of the 747 called for a twin-deck aircraft, with two decks running the full length of the fuselage. This gave a very effective increase in capacity, however, the ability to evacuate two decks of passengers was found to be not possible within the recommended 90-second limit. Boeing opted for a single main deck which was then widened from the standard economy configuration of the day of three and three with a single aisle to a twin-aisle layout with seating in three four three.


The Boeing 747 was one of the most ambitious projects ever taken on by the aerospace company. More than twice as big as the Boeing 707, the four-engine jumbo-jet was originally able to carry more than 400 passengers and had a range of more than 5,000 nautical miles, making the plane very popular for overseas travel. To manufacture the 747, the company built a huge production facility at Paine Field in Everett. Later variants extended the plane's range and had more powerful and fuel-efficient engines. For more than 50 years the 747 was known as the "Queen of the Skies," and it revolutionized air travel. But as airlines found newer planes to be more economically viable, the demand for the huge plane fell, and in 2020 Boeing announced that the last four 747s would be delivered in 2022.

The Jet Age

Boeing entered the jet age in 1958 with the launch of the Boeing 707. Pan Am inaugurated 707 service on October 17, 1958, with a transatlantic flight between Baltimore and Paris, attended by friends of Pan Am founder and president Juan Trippe (1899-1981). Pan Am began scheduled 707 service between New York and Paris the following week, and the new jets were able to cut flight times in half and carry more passengers than other commercial aircraft then in use.

Additional carriers soon began using 707s, along with Douglas DC-8s, but the 707 quickly became the popular choice for travelers around the world. Airlines enjoyed its use for transcontinental and transoceanic travel, but soon found a need for smaller jetliners to serve regional airports and fly shorter domestic routes. Boeing began work on the smaller 727, which entered service in 1964.

As more jets took to the skies, airport congestion greatly increased. Boeing's design teams looked into stretching the 707 so that it could carry 250 passengers (compared to 140 passengers carried in the original model), but the engineers had their doubts whether this could be viable. A longer 707 meant longer landing gear (to prevent the tail from scraping the ground during takeoffs) and this meant a massive redesign. Given that, a new model seemed to be a better solution.

Enter Juan Trippe

It was at this point that Juan Trippe offered up a bold suggestion. At the time, Pan Am was Boeing's most influential customers, and at a meeting with Boeing's sales team, Trippe asked if the company could build a jet more than twice the size of a 707 that could carry more than 400 passengers. When Boeing CEO Bill Allen (1900-1985) heard about this idea, he called Trippe to ask him if he was dreaming. Trippe told him he was very serious.

Trippe envisioned a double-deck seating arrangement and insisted that the plane had to be designed for cargo nose-loading. Trippe believed that the future of aviation was in supersonic transport (as did Boeing) and saw this new model as a stopgap that could be used until SSTs became the standard. He felt that the large jets could then be converted into cargo carriers, hence the need for easy front-end loading.

Trippe also had one more stipulation -- the new plane had to be deliverable within three years. This meant that Boeing would have to design the largest plane in the world within a very short time, and then build a factory large enough to accommodate it, which Boeing did not have. The task seemed almost impossible, yet the company took the risk. In 1966 Pan Am signed a $550 million contract for 25 planes, at the time the most expensive single order ever placed by an airline.

Building a Team

Jack Steiner (1917-2003), Boeing's vice-president of product development, was given the job to oversee the plane (now assigned with model number 747) in its planning stages, and Mal Stamper (1925-2005) was named general manger when the project went into full design. Joe Sutter (1921-2016) transferred from the 737 program to become the 747 project's chief engineer. Sutter worried that he might have trouble manning the 747 program. At the time, most engineers were working on the SST program, which Boeing executives felt had a higher priority. Nevertheless, Sutter gathered what he considered to be a great team, given the circumstances.

Almost immediately, the design team expressed concerns over Trippe's request for a double-decked seating arrangement. This limited the cargo-carrying capability, but more importantly, it hindered evacuation procedures in case of a ground emergency. FAA regulations required that all passengers be able to evacuate within 90 seconds, and having two decks made this a logistical nightmare, especially with the upper deck being so high off the ground.

Cabin Layout

Boeing decided instead to plan for a wide-body design, but this meant that they had to convince Trippe, who was known to be very autocratic. Sutter asked systems engineer Milt Heinemann to go to a meeting with Pan Am in New York to explain their design change. Before he left, Heinemann cut a piece of clothesline to 20 feet, the width of the wide body cabin.

In New York, he arrived at the Pan Am board room early, stretched the cord across the room, and discovered that it was exactly 20 feet wide. Trippe and his executives arrived, and they weren't happy when Heinemann explained why Boeing felt that a single-deck cabin was the right choice. But once Heinemann used the cord to illustrate how the passenger deck would be as spacious as the Pan Am board room, Trippe and his men were impressed.

Trippe agreed to the change, but requested that Boeing create mock-ups of both the single and double-deck versions. Fortunately, work on both of the plywood mock-ups was already underway at Renton. When Trippe and his executives visited the site a few weeks later, they liked the roomy wide-body version, and also saw how high off the ground the double-deck version would be. All agreed that the single-deck, wide-body plane was the way to proceed.

One distinctive feature that came about during the design of the wide-body version was the "hump" at the top of the fuselage. To meet the requirement for loading cargo through the front, the nose section would have to be hinged to raise up and out of the way. The meant that the cockpit had to be built atop the fuselage, and its bulge had to be extended back for aerodynamic reasons.

During the walkthrough of the wide-body mock-up, Trippe noticed this wide open area aft of the cockpit, and asked about its use. Boeing engineers pointed out that because the 747 would be going on very long flights, the area could be used as a rest area for flight crews. Trippe nixed that idea immediately, and stated that he wanted that space for use by passengers. This area became the bar and lounge, one of the 747's most memorable features.

Big Nest for a Big Bird

As design continued apace, the Boeing Company scrambled to find a location to construct a facility large enough to build the jumbo jet when the time came. A few sites outside of Washington state were considered, but an in-state location seemed much more optimal. One option was a large tract of land next to McChord Air Force Base in Pierce County, but there were concerns that the Pentagon would not allow use of the runway.

Instead, Bill Allen made the decision to build the plant near Paine Field in Everett, but this site also had some drawbacks. In order to build the planes, the company needed to bring in parts and materials by rail, but the closest line was 5 miles away. The spur line that was eventually built had a very steep grade, rising 500 feet form sea level.

Another problem involved a man who refused to sell his home, which sat right in the middle of the construction site. Although his property was appraised at less than $5000, the homeowner held out for six weeks until Boeing paid him $50,000. Then they found out he was separated from his wife, and the company had to spend two more months finding her to get her signature on the deed.

Construction of the facility began in the summer of 1966, but once the seasons began to change so did the weather. At one point it rained for 67 consecutive days, and mudslides at the site became a big problem. Snowstorms hit during the winter months, adding to the misery. By the time workers arrived to start constructing 747 mockups, the building walls still weren't completed.

In the end, construction workers hauled out more soil than the amount excavated during the construction of Grand Coulee Dam. Small hills were flattened and ravines were filled in, and on top of this level tract sat the largest enclosed space ever built under one roof. The completed structure was so large that clouds would sometimes form near the ceiling.

Safety First

Most of the engineers worked at the Renton site while the Everett plant was being completed, but by the summer of 1967 they were working at the Everett facility. Much of the design work was far along, but as with any large-scale engineering project, tweaks and changes were still being made.

Early on, it was determined that the currently available commercial jet engines weren't strong enough to power such a large aircraft. Boeing, Pan Am, and Pratt & Whitney teamed up to create a new engine, the JT9D, a high-bypass-ratio turbofan, which was first tested by the end of 1966.

New technologies were used in the wing design and in the landing-gear layout, but probably the most important aspect that affected every component of the aircraft was the focus on safety features. Everyone at Boeing understood that the crash of a 747 would be far more deadly than any other plane crash and could damage the company's reputation far worse than the crash of any of its other jet airliners. Because of this, the utmost attention was given to fail-safe features, real-time fault analysis, and redundant systems.

Meanwhile, Boeing's sales team was busy lining up customers for the new jet. Initially, many airlines didn’t seem to express much interest in such a large aircraft, but were the concerned that their competitors might buy more 747s than they did. This was especially true among foreign carriers that didn’t want to see Pan Am gain a stronger hold on international routes.

By the time the 747 was ready for its public debut, 26 airlines had placed orders for the new jet. When the 747 was rolled out September 30, 1968, it was christened by 26 flight attendants, then called stewardesses, one from each of those airlines. The 26 women then lined up for photos in front of the big jet.

The rollout received a tremendous amount of press coverage. For the first time, many people got to see just how massive the plane was. When the giant doors of the Everett plant were opened and the plane came into view, the crowd gasped. At 231 feet in length, with a 196-foot wingspan, the 747 was far larger than any plane they had seen before.

Up in the Air

After the rollout the plane was towed back into the building so that work could continue in preparation for its first flight. From the start of the project, Mal Stamper wanted the plane to fly on December 17, 1968, the 65th anniversary of the Wright brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk. Even though the engineers were working around the clock, they had to tell him that the date was impossible.

The 747's first flight was on February 9, 1969, with pilot Jack Waddell (b. 1923) at the controls, assisted by co-pilot Brien Wygle (1924-2020) and flight engineer Jesse Wallick (1934-2016). After taking off from Paine Field, the 747 ascended to 15,000 feet and the crew performed a series of tests, including sideslips and a simulated loss of hydraulic power. After more than an hour and a quarter aloft they safely brought the plane home.

The rest of the year was spent doing rigorous testing on all of the plane's components. Along with lab tests, more than 1,400 hours of flight was logged on five 747s, in 1,013 trips aloft. The FAA certified the 747 on December 30, 1969, and the first one entered service on January 22, 1970, on Pan Am's New York-to-London route. At this point, Boeing's outlook for the future should have been bright. But it wasn't.

The Boeing Bust

Before the 747 even took to the air, trouble was brewing within the company. Development costs for the 747, as well as the 737 model, were way over budget, and the company was billions of dollars in debt. Making matters worse, the market for airliners had become saturated, and orders were dropping off. By 1970, the company had begun laying off tens of thousands of employees, and things only got worse from there.

Boeing's SST program, which had been under government contract since 1966, was in deep trouble. Cost overruns were mounting and the project was so far behind in schedule that SST prototypes hadn't even been built. Congress debated whether or not to continue on with the program, and by 1971 it was canceled.

Because Boeing was the region's largest employer, the downturn had ripple effects in the local economy, and unemployment rates soared. Seattle unemployment went as high as 13.8 percent, compared to a national average of 4.5 percent, and Boeing's payroll bottomed out at 38,690 workers, down from a peak of 100,800 employees in 1967.

Production did continue on the 747s that had already been sold, but only a handful of new orders came in during the next few years, none of which were from American carriers. The 1973 oil crisis only exacerbated the problem, given the amount of fuel that a 747 burned. But Boeing was able to weather the crisis, and by the mid-1970s, business began to pick up again.

A Versatile Plane

Many passengers who flew aboard a 747 loved the experience. The plane was much roomier than other jets, and some airlines took advantage of the available space to customize the planes quite luxuriously. Some added pianos and couches to the lounge, others added extra windows. Pilots enjoyed the plane too, and found it very maneuverable and easy to fly.

Airline companies began offering up suggestions for changes they'd like to see, to which Boeing responded with new variants. The 747-200 had more powerful engines and greater range for long-haul routes. A shortened 747SP (special performance) variant was launched in 1976 and had even greater range. Later versions had roomier cockpits, lighter construction materials, and newer engines. In 1989 the 747-400, which had better fuel efficiency and a range of more than 7,500 nautical miles, entered service and became the most popular model of the almost 700 planes that had been delivered over the previous 20 years.

The United States government also requested variants for their own use. Some were built for the military, but the most noteworthy 747s built for the government were the two planes that replaced the aging 707s that served as Air Force One -- the "flying White House." Two modified 747s were also built for NASA to carry "piggyback" the Space Shuttle orbiter.

End of an Era

In terms of size, the 747 had no competing aircraft until the launch of the Airbus A380 in 2007. But by this time, fuel-efficient two-engine aircraft, such as the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A330 became more cost-effective. Airlines were also foregoing the spaciousness of commercial-class travel, and packing in more seats. When the Boeing 777X entered service in 2020, it could be configured to carry more passengers than the original model of the 747, but within a much smaller fuselage.

By the mid-2010s, orders for new 747s had dropped so much that Boeing announced that it might end production of the Jumbo Jet within a few years. The final decision to do so came earlier than planned when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020 and caused many airlines to retire their existing 747 subfleets. In January 2021 Boeing confirmed that the final four 747s would be delivered to Atlas Air in 2022.

Of the 747s still in the air as of 2021, most are used to carry freight, either by cargo airlines or by the cargo divisions of passenger airlines. A few passenger airlines in Asia are still flying 747s, but those days are numbered. And in 2024, Air Force One will be replaced with a Boeing 747-8, once Boeing completes work on the plane's modifications.

Snohomish County Community Heritage Project

Boeing 747 prototype, flight attendants from purchasing airlines, Everett, 1968

SAS chief flight attendant Wiveca Ankarcrona sits in engine of prototype Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, Everett, 1968

Boeing 747 prototype taking to the air for first time, Everett, February 9, 1969

Boeing Airplane Company Collection, Courtesy UW Special Collections (TRA1482)

Boeing 747 roll-out celebration, Everett, September 30, 1968

Boeing Airplane Company Collection, Courtesy UW Special Collections (TRA1499)

Nose view, Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet prototype, ca. 1969

Boeing Airplane Company Collection, Courtesy UW Special Collections (TRA1449)

Boeing 747 City of Everett early flight, ca. 1970

William McPherson Allen (1900-1985)

Juan Trippe (1899-1981), founder, Pan American Airways

Left to right, Juan Trippe, founder of Pan Am Bill Allen, Boeing Company president Pan Am president Najeeb E. Halaby Jr Pan Am board member Charles Lindberg, on stairs to Boeing 747, ca. 1970

Boeing 747 assembly plant, Everett, ca. 1969

Pan Am Boeing 747 advertisement (Peter Max, 1970)

Advertisement, Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, 1971

NASA Boeing 747 carrying Space Shuttle, ca. 1977

Boeing Airplane Company Collection, Courtesy UW Special Collections (TRA1482)

The Boeing 737 is the most widely used passenger plane in the world. It’s the one Ryanair flies and you can see it on every continent around the world. While the 747 upper deck may feel like an exclusive and tiny space, which in contrast to the main deck it is, it’s actually about the same size as an entire Boeing 737.

If you haven’t gone upper deck, you must. There aren’t that many years remaining to experience it, particularly with airlines pulling the plane out of the skies due to hard times…

*Rescheduled* 747 First Flight Anniversary

Check out a free screening of Boeing First Flights: The Jet Age, which features a panel of the first crew of the 747 recounting the design and development of the Queen of the Skies. 747 Former Marketing Manager and Boeing Vice President Peter Morton will take questions following the screening.

2:45 PM
William M. Allen Theater

Join us for a discussion with Jay Spenser, former Museum of Flight curator and author of 747: Creating the World’s First Jumbo Jet. Jay co-authored this book with Joe Sutter, who is widely considered to be the “father” of the 747. Jay will speak about Sutter, as well as the design and development of the Queen of the Skies. Free with Museum admission.

Sunday, April 28

Upper Deck Access

10:30 AM - 4:30 PM
Aviation Pavilion

Public tours and access to 747 upper-deck lounge (reservation required). Buy admission online for Sunday, April 28, and choose 747 First Flight Anniversary add-on under Available Options before checkout. Ages 10+ only.

Additional Reservations are Now Available!

The Boeing 747 first took flight on February 9, 1969, and we’d like to invite you to join us as we celebrate this history-making 50th anniversary event with two days of activities. Walk on board the very first 747, named the City of Everett, and see how the plane looked as it was flown for the very first time.

To take our celebration up a notch, we will offer exclusive access to our jumbo jet’s upper-deck lounge for a lucky few. This area of the plane is usually closed to visitors, but during our anniversary celebration you may get to walk up the spiral stairs to experience the most talked-about cabin of the Jet Age.

After visiting the Queen in her hangar, enjoy music from 1969, mingle with Pan Am flight attendants, and chat with aviation experts about the history of the 747.

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED. Reserve a place in line when purchasing your online admission limited availability. Tickets may also be available at the Museum depending on availability. First come, first serve.

NOTE: Stairs to the upper deck of the 747 are steep and for the safety of all, children under 10 years old will not be allowed.

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