back to article Boeing bids the 747 a final, ultimate, conclusive farewell

After what is actually a longer farewell than Elton John's five-year final tour, Boeing is finally, for real this time, saying goodbye to the 747 as it delivers the last one to the world's largest 747 operator, American cargo airline Atlas Air. The Atlas Air 747-8 freighter takes the total number of manufactured 747s to 1,547 …

  1. Flak

    The end of an era

    I still love seeing 747s (and Airbus A380s) - absolute giants and marvels of engineering - and the amazement has not really lessened over time. In fact, understanding some of the physics, the appreciation grows.

    Sorry that there won't be any more made.

    1. blackcat Silver badge

      Re: The end of an era

      The 747 always looked better with the cockpit WAY up in the air and the very swept windscreen. The A380 just looks chubby. Saying that the A380 was so much quieter and nicer to fly on.

      1. 20TC

        Re: The end of an era

        The high cockpit on the 747 made it possible to 'easily' have the front cargo door which is why the freighter version is popular.

        Conversely the 'middle' cockpit on the A380 made a bit of a wiring nightmare for a front cargo door therefore weakened the A380-"F" position.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: The end of an era

          The A380 was never designed with freight in mind (in fact the decision was explicitly to not have a freight version) and it couldn't really be converted into a freighter either as neither floor was strong enough, and the top floor couldn't just be left out to increase outsize load capacity either. The 747 was actually designed as a freighter first and passenger jet second. The expectation was always that F versions would far outnumber the passenger versions. This came true, though the reason why wasn't quite what Boeing initially planned. At the time they were also heavily invested in the Boeing 2707 (supersonic passenger jet, planned to compete with Concorde). When this fell through much more emphasis was put on the 747 program and started the ball rolling for the development of wide-body twins like the 777.

          1. anothercynic Silver badge

            Re: The end of an era

            Sorry to have to correct you, but yes, Airbus *did* have a freight version in mind when the plane was designed. But the decision was taken to stop work on the freight version when it became clear that the passenger version was running horribly late (thanks to various things, like the mis-matched cable runs, the additional weight, etc etc). Fedex was one of the great proponents of the A380F, as was UPS, and both cancelled their orders when it became clear that Airbus wasn't going to work on an F version for a long while yet. And when all those orders disappeared, along went Airbus's desire to dig into building one. The primary problem with the A380 was the middle and the upper floor, not the cockpit position in particular. Strengthening both would have reduced the total freight it could carry (because of increased weight) and the economic case for it disappeared.

            And no, the 747 was *not* designed as a freighter first. Juan Trippe (PAN-AM's famous leader) didn't ask for a freight plane, he wanted passenger jets that doubled the capacity of the existing 707s. But Joe Sutter, the 'father of the 747', said that it would make sense to use the broad design cues of the CX-HLS project (which Boeing lost to Lockheed and which Lockheed developed to the C-5A Galaxy) because keeping the cockpit up and out of the way would make the plane ideal for freight also, and that the area behind the cockpit could be used for other things, like a lounge, which PAN-AM did have originally. But when you then realise that you can shove more self-loading freight up in there, why not! Initial design studies had some versions of the 747 with the cockpit in various locations, including the "ant eater", which did what the Airbus Beluga and Beluga XL (based on the A300 and the A330 respectively) do now, i.e. a lowered cockpit. The B777 shows that even with the cockpit in the way, you can still load big things for the vast majority of cargo cases, and the 747 DreamLifter (designed and built by Evergreen) didn't use the nose either, but rather had the *tail* hinged for those 787 fuselage sections coming from Italy and Japan.

            That said, the 747 was revolutionary. It made modern air travel possible because of scale of economy, and it makes outsized air freight possible in a way that 'normal' air freight (of which the majority is transported in the belly cargo holds of the world's passenger airliners) can't. The older 747s and the modern B777F are close in total weight capacity they can lift, the modern 8F is more a step change in fuel economy (given it uses the GE-nx) than total volume being lifted. :)

            The old bird will be missed by those who flew them. It was nice to see a Magma 747 BCF on the tarmac in virtual touching distance the other week... if only the pesky apron staff hadn't been around... ;-)

            1. ravenviz Silver badge

              Re: The end of an era

              Joe Sutter, the 'father of the 747', said that it would make sense to use the broad design cues of the CX-HLS project Thunderbird 2 “ . There, FTFY.

            2. imanidiot Silver badge

              Re: The end of an era

              The A380 freight version would structurally have been so different it was doubtful it would even have been certified under the same type certificate as the passenger version. And the passenger version was designed in a way that it could never be converted to freight. By deciding to stop work on the freight version they did exactly what I stated, the passenger A380 was never designed for freight and the decision was made not to have a freight version or design the passenger for freight conversion... so thanks for confirming what I stated?

              And Juan Trippe was the originator of the passenger count requirement. Yes, he wanted double the passenger count for the 747, but another of the design cues from day one, in fact, a requirement from that very same Juan Trippe was that conversion from passenger to freight jet had to be possible (Because Trippe believed the 747 would be a stop gap until all passenger flights would be supersonic) and the width of the fuselage came from being able to carry 2 standard pallets side by side. Every 747 that ever rolled of the line could be converted to a freighter. IMHO that means it was designed as a freight plane capable of being used as a passenger jet, not the other way around because the structural requirements flow almost entirely from it's use as a freighter.

    2. A. Coatsworth Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: The end of an era

      One of the coolest things about the 747 is how bold the design looks, even after all thes years.

      With time, plane design seems to have converged to what is simpler, more efficient, more functional. This is of course good, but on the flip side has left us with very dull designs that are basically indistinguishable from one another. The 747 is immediatelly recognizable, and that adds in no small part to its charm.

      Same goes for the A380, at least in my opinion, although it will never have such a high status as the Queen.

    3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: The end of an era

      I took a flight on a 747 to India in 1972 to attend the Hans Jayanti festival, a religious meeting in New Delhi and Dehradun - it was a wonderful flight in such a comfortable plane flying out there and then back to London after a month in India - that introduced me to Indian food in the countryside - I still love Indian food but these days I'm just eating in a restaurant, not walking down the street with a bunch of cows - LOL, that was so nice!

      I was just a long haired, stoned and trippy, hippy in those days, I've flown professionally all around the world ever since and flights these days are not as quiet and pleasant as that 747 flight was!

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: The end of an era

        The father of an ex-colleague was the chief pilot for Air India back in the day and drove their first 747 home.

        I like the look of it, but it's never been my favourite to fly; I always found it noisy, and in recent years, cramped - at least in the cheap seats!

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

          Re: The end of an era

          I've borrowed a works vehicle a few times to get home, that might be stretching it.

          Fitting it in the garage might be difficult, but can't imagine leaving it in the street, although it might be difficult for a traffic warden to slap a ticket under the wiper.

        2. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: The end of an era

          You would've hated the old South African Airways 747SP (later leased to Namib Air, later Air Namibia, and used by them for years to fly to Frankfurt and Gatwick with) - The original seats were low-slung and in economy (even at my age at the time) it was excruciatingly uncomfortable. Pre-pandemic, the -400s that BA had were comfortable in World Traveller and World Traveller+ because they actually had a cabin uplift, which was so welcome. Firmer seats with legroom was something the South Africans didn't understand, I think...

  2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    "last December's announcement of number 1,547's completed assembly."

    Such a shame they couldn't push it to 1,747.

    1. Crypto Monad Silver badge

      I think 747+800 is actually perfect!

      (OK, officially the last model was 747-8, not 747-800)

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        747-8 may be technically true, but as the previous one was the 747-400 then you're right; 747-800 has a certain logical symmetry; and the 747+800 = 1,547 thing cannot be coincidence!!!

  3. Scott Broukell

    Bah! Bring back the Vickers Viscount / Vanguard that's what I say! Even the Avro Anson is a perfectly good airframe for short regional hops. Not a big fan of these new fangled jets (grumble grumble). Having said that, the BOAC booking website is a pile of old crock!

    1. anothercynic Silver badge

      I'll see your Viscount and raise you the VC-10. Now that was a sweet bird (although the Super VC-10 was even better). She was a damn sight quieter than the 707, and had some innovations that Boeing copied to make their 707s work better at H&H airports. Passengers loved the VC-10, but BA's management were suckers for Boeing planes and actively worked against Vickers on the improved versions.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

        Back in the day, in a different career, we burned a load of viscount seats that were covered in seagull shit from our disused hanger that was used as a dumping ground/salvage.

        Apart from the foam & fabric burning, we discovered that the frames were a magnesium alloy & gave off a very bright white light, I wouldn't want to be in one of those seats in the event of a aircraft fire, but probably past caring at that point,

        1. anothercynic Silver badge

          The same can be said for some other planes of the same era... Exotic magnesium alloys were all the rage then.


  4. MrBanana Silver badge

    Total distance?

    Only 1,547 built, less than I imagined. But I wonder what the total mileage was (and will be) amassed by this airframe.

    1. Paul Kinsler

      Re: Total distance?

      No idea, but apparently a 747 has a cycle limit of 35k. So if the average trip is (er, let me make up a number) 1000k, and there are 1.5k airframes, that makes a distance of 52 billion km; so, unless I've made some sort of error in assumption or calculation, is approximately twice as far a Vger 1 is from the Sun.

      This is likely wildly inaccurate, but indicates, at least, something of the order of "quite a long way".

  5. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

    44 passenger versions operating

    I thought there would still be more than that. Must mostly be the freighter versions I can see in airports then.

    I once had the chance to travel on the upper deck of one of these. Was on a waitlist for a flight back from SFO, finally got my boarding pass, and it's only when the stewardess directed me to the staircase that I realised I had been upgraded to Business! Quite an experience it was...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    long goodbye

    Boeing still has one more goodbye left in them, they have to refit a pair of 747s (-8s?) into VC-25Bs ("Air Force 1").

    Then ending of the 747 is getting to be like the end of the Lord of The Rings movies...

    Relevant 747 story: some years back, I was driving on interstate 35W in the Minneapolis area, and I started to notice crowds of people on the overpasses. Protests? Funeral procession? Eventually I remembered: Delta was flying their last revenue flight of a 747 into MSP that afternoon, and incoming flights were landing from the West. I had a meeting to get to, so I couldn't stop to join in the viewing.

  7. chivo243 Silver badge

    So long!

    Not sure which version of 747 I flew on as a 6 year old boy, but it was an adventure! My uncle worked for TWA at the time, and we flew from ORD to LAX to visit my aunt. I had all the goodies, playing cards, captains wings etc, but didn't get to visit the cockpit, grown man naked make me nervous anyway!

  8. Marty McFly Silver badge

    Missing from the video...

    All that was needed was a giant box following the 747. That is how it used to work in the old Detroit automobile plants. When an assembly line was closing, the last thing down the line was a set of big boxes for everyone to put their tools in. Made for a sad end-of-the-era.

    The 747 is only a couple months older than me, based on its first flight. I was a fan from a very young age because of that. Cheers!

  9. YetAnotherXyzzy Bronze badge

    One of my earliest memories as a child was my family moving to the Pacific Northwest because my father, a Boeing lifer, had been transferred to the still-just-a-project 747 crew in Everett. I remember how excited he was to tell us about different project milestones, and family days at the plant. Many years later, full circle, I found myself taking my stepdaughter to a factory tour and telling her about the grandfather she never knew.

    My father is long gone, but darned of every time I see a 747 I think of him. Rest in peace.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Quarter of a million miles

    I estimate I’ve travelled at least 250,000 miles on a 747. Round the world both directions, Aus to UK a dozen or more times. Upstairs or down it was always a roomy aircraft and mostly very reliable. However Qantas did squeeze a bit too much life out of their last units, the Sydney, Perth route was especially known for mechanical cancellations.

    Passenger or freight, I shall continue to look out for them.

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Quarter of a million miles

      Qantas was doing you a solid, saving you from having to go to Sydney

  11. David Flanders

    My favourite memory in a 747 is the first time I flew to the US (Heathrow to Newark) on a Virgin Atlantic flight - my wife and I got invited to sit in the cockpit for take-off and landing - behind the driver and next to the flight engineer.

    The cockpit was so used compared to the passenger cabin - all the flight time and the crew touching the surfaces etc. And the crew escape hatch right above the entry door.

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