In the skies of Washington state 50 years ago, the Boeing 747 held its first turns. The debut flight – despite a slight problem with one of the wing flaps – was considered a success, and the course of air travel history has changed forever.
The original Jumbo Jet, the Sky Queen, Boeing with bubble top: in the seventies the sheer size of the 747 made long-distance travel a viable option for the masses for the first time. Since that February morning in northwest America (which the aircraft, the RA001, can now be seen at the Museum of Flight in Seattle), more than 1,500 aircraft were built, tirelessly serving the world's airlines.
"It is not difficult to consider the advent of the 747 as the most crucial turning point in the history of civil aviation," writes author and pilot Patrick Smith in his book Cockpit Confidential.
But here, half a century later, the 747 is disappearing from the skies, as Qantas, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa eliminate them in favor of new airplanes; but still the production plant continues, with new variations and a greater desire for the jet as a cargo aircraft.
There is, however, no denial that the sun is establishing one of the most emblematic aircraft ever developed. His front and wobbly tail became the casual model for many an air travel imagination, though no other airplane resembles it. It carries a romance like no other.
"The airplane looks less like a passenger plane than with a transatlantic in the classic QE2 mold," says Smith. "[It] is without a doubt the most impressive and inspiring work of art – call it industrial art, if you must – ever produced by commercial aviation. "
In addition to its pin-up potential, the 747 has meant a lot to many passengers over the years.
"There's always love, happiness and enthusiasm in the cabin," says first senior officer Bernice Moran, who flew with the 747, which she describes as "beautiful, graceful" for Virgin Atlantic. "Because we fly on our leisure routes, it's always so special to see families and newlyweds on the plane. Any passenger I've spoken to in the last 12 years felt blessed to fly in such an iconic aircraft."
Bernice said she first saw a 747 as a child when she arrived at Dublin airport, near where she grew up. "Sometimes I'm disbelieving that I got that 300-ton jet to fly," she says. "It's one of the planes that most pilots would dream of flying and I was lucky enough to fly."
How long does the 747 take?
Although many remain in the heavens today, hundreds more have been discarded. Qantas will eliminate its remaining 747 by 2021, while British Airways said it will bid farewell to its last 747 until 2024, both hailing a new era of airplanes such as the 787 Dreamliner and the A350. Virgin Atlantic is also expected to replace its 747 with the Airbus A350-1000.
Singapore Airlines was one of the first operators to stop flying in 747 with its latest jumbo jet making its final flight in 2012.
Demand for the 747, which has been adjusted and updated several times since its first flight in 1969, has dried up. Only 18 orders were received last year and Boeing is expected to be required to call jumbo jet time in a short time.
That said, it was only in 2017 that the US government asked Boeing to redirect two 747-8 aircraft to be used as Air Force One. Aircraft are expected to be delivered by the end of 2024.
Where do the unwanted 747s go?
The "cemetery" in Alice Springs. Photo: Steve Strike
With airlines keen to keep their fleets as modern and fuel-efficient as possible, and air forces eager to take advantage of new technologies, the life of an aircraft is shorter than you realize. Where do they go when they are retired? Chances are they will end up in one of the world's aircraft cemeteries.
There are dozens of facilities around the world where retired airplanes are held in storage or for their parts to be removed and reused or sold. The earliest of these cemeteries, or "boneyards" in US jargon, were established after World War II when the military saw themselves with huge surpluses of aircraft.
Largest of them is the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Ariz., Where nearly 5,000 were left to collect dust.
Aircraft Cemeteries can also be found beyond the US coasts at Alice Springs Airport, Northern Territory, Australia; Manas International Airport in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Teruel airport in Aragon, Spain; and the Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees airport in France.
The Telegraph, London