NIGEL THOMPSON MARJORIE YUE Jets Factor
Concorde may have been the most glamorous passenger plane in the skies, but it’s the good old Boeing 747 that’s the real superstar at 38,000ft.
The mighty jumbo jet is a genuine game-changer that continued the commercial aviation revolution of bringing more affordable long-haul air travel to the masses.
It was unveiled half a century ago on September 30, 1968, and on February 9 the 50th anniversary of the first test flight will be celebrated.
It was a tremendous innovation with the double-decker “bubble” for extra seating upstairs, a twin-aisle wide-body fuselage typically carrying up to 416 passengers, which almost doubled the capacity of aircraft it replaced, and additional range.
It even required the construction of the world’s biggest building, at Everett, near Seattle in Washington State – for Boeing to manufacture it.
The story of this four-engine titan – the tail fin is the height of a six-storey office block – began in the 1960s when Pan Am asked Boeing to design an aircraft more than twice the size of the industry-standard Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 jets.
Called The Incredibles, 50,000 Boeing staff – engineers, mechanics, construction workers, secretaries – responded by creating the largest civilian aircraft in under 16 months.
New, powerful engines were needed too, with US manufacturers General Electric and Pratt and Whitney rising to the challenge. The order was for 25 and today 1,548 have been built, though many are being replaced with more fuel-efficient twin-engine aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and composite-material Dreamliner and Airbus A350.
It was an A-lister too, appearing in more than 300 films including Airport 1975, Air Force One, Die Hard 2 and the insanely fun Snakes On A Plane.
Its 224ft wingspan is over 100ft more than the distance of the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903.
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UNVEILED First look at the jumbo in 1968