NEW YORK: The Boeing 747, the original jumbo jet that was the favourite American presidents and key to affordable mass market air travel in the United States, passed into aviation history last week.
Nearly 50 years after the debut, the 747 took its final commercial flight with an American carrier on Tuesday, December 19 on Delta Air Lines’ Seoul-to-Detroit route.
It “made flying available for everyone,” said Boeing Chief Company historian Michael Lombardi said of the iconic jet. “The 747 gave wings to the world.”
Aerospace consultant Michel Merluzeau said the plane changed travel. “All of a sudden, you could go from Singapore to London in less than 24 hours. It made everything more accessible.”
Delta’s send-off for the storied aircraft includes special flights on Wednesday for employees and top customers. Ticket prices for these “farewell tour” flights have soared owing to demand from nostalgic consumers.
The 747 will still be in the skies for Lufthansa, British Airways and Korean Air Lines.
And Boeing also will still build the jet as a freight carrier and for a few unique clients, including the US president, who has used a specially-outfitted 747 as Air Force One since 1990.
But the American aerospace giant has been shifting to more fuel-efficient models for commercial travel.
“The 747 was a major milestone in the history of flight,” said Bob van der Linden, curator of the aeronautics department at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
“It’s big, very comfortable, beautiful, it has a staircase on it,” van der Linden added. “It’s a symbol of economic power.”
Nicknamed the original “jumbo jet” because of the huge hump, the plane is able to carry upwards of 600 passengers.
Its origins date to the early 1960s when Boeing’s then chief Bill Allen was approached by Juan Trippe, head of now-defunct Pan Am Airlines, to build a bigger plane to address the growing problem of airport crowding.
Boeing originally considered a double-decker aircraft, but the companies concluded that it would be difficult to evacuate passengers in case of an emergency, opting instead for a twin-aisle “wide body” design.
Since its debut in February 1969, more than 1,500 of the 747s have been delivered, and 500 are still in service, according to Flight global Ascend.