I hope everyone had a good week and are ready for the New Years celebrations. Another year has come and gone and we are all still alive and well….we should all say thank you. Today we want to talk about an airplane often referred to as the Queen of the sky. All of the carriers have moved away from the four engine 747 and instead have opted for the B-777 ER., a nice airplane but 14 hour flights are not for me.
On Tuesday, the last Boeing 747 to carry passengers for a U.S. airline will fly from Detroit, Michigan to Seoul, South Korea, then return on Wednesday, bringing an end to 47 years of U.S. passenger service. A couple more sports charter flights and a farewell circuit to Delta’s biggest hubs await the airplane, which will finally fly to the Arizona desert on December 31 to retire, probably forever.
The age of dependable jet travel was still relatively new, and flying was all but reserved for the upper classes. The 747—enormous, fast, glamorous (early 747s had piano bars or lounges), graceful in the air and on the ground—was a sign that things really were changing for the better, that the giddy post-WWII techno-optimism could still be realized. For a generation of flyers, the iconic jumbo jet became the very incarnation of the romance of flight, and a potent symbol of America’s technological and economic dominance.
The jumbo jet quickly became the new standard: Airports planned around them, passengers loved them, other companies schemed (unsuccessfully) to build their own. The 1973 oil crisis and later, airline deregulation, largely brought an end to glamor and luxury—no more piano bars—but the 747 still evoked the old romance in a way no other modern airliner has since. Boeing refined its flagship continuously, resulting in both wildly popular follow-ons (747-200 and -400) and rare oddballs (747SP, air-to-air tankers, Dreamlifters, etc). Meanwhile, for 30 years, the 747 remained the largest airliner available.
In the 1990s, European arch-rival Airbus decided that the Boeing jumbo jet’s reign was over. The result was the A380, which became (and still is) the largest airliner around, so big that airports again needed to extend runways, strengthen taxiways, and build new double-decker gates to handle them. Unwilling to concede the market, Boeing updated the 747 with the latest in engines, electronics, and passenger comfort, and lengthened it further to fit more people. The 747-8i (for passengers) and 8F (for cargo) were designed to keep the 747 enshrined as Queen of the Skies.
But both Boeing and Airbus misread the market, and neither the new 747s nor A380s have sold well. Smaller twin-engine airplanes—Boeing 777s and Airbus A350s—can now carry passengers for much lower costs (two engines are cheaper than four), and are easier to reliably fill with customers. Among passengers, the romance of flight has largely been replaced by irritation, and a long flight is now something to endure rather than anticipate.
Here are some related articles that you may find interesting:
Have a good weekend/New Years, be safe, and we will continue next year with more articles about aviation, airliners, and aviation pioneers.
December 29, 2017