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A 747 stamp on the factory doors in Everett, Wash. (Photo: Boeing)

Opinion: The Boeing 747 Changed the World Like None Other

This week we faced some sad news. It was slipped to us right before the start of the holiday weekend and it didn’t get much attention outside of the aviation community, but for us, the news hit home hard. It wasn’t anything we weren’t expecting. We knew it was coming, but finally hearing the news was a blow nonetheless.

This past Thursday it was reported that Boeing was finally pulling the plug on its Boeing 747 line of aircraft. While production of the 747-8 variant is expected to continue for roughly two more years to fill existing orders, the program is effectively shutting down. The announcement came at the heels of a similar moment from Airbus, some of the last Airbus A380 parts were making their way to the assembly line.

The era of four-engine jumbo jets is ending but for the A380 it’s nothing more than a blip on the radar, it’s really not that big of a deal. It’s not a revolutionary aircraft and it really hasn’t had as lasting of an impact as the 747. This is why hearing the news that it’s a wrap for the Boeing aircraft is a particularly strong punch in the cut.

Impact on Aviation

The Boeing 747 is the reason commercial aviation is where it is today. The project came about at Pan Am’s request and when it was unveiled to the world by Boeing there was nothing else like it.

It was a huge aircraft with nearly vertical interior walls, high ceilings, and tons of space. A significant departure from the small flying tubes that the world was used to.

The 747 forced the aviation world to get and think big. Its sheer size allowed it to carry more passengers than ever before. It forced airport authorities to build out airports to be larger to carry more passengers. It revolutionized aircraft engineering forever. Pratt & Whitney got creative with the engine design with the JT9D turbofan and this innovation has led to every passenger jet being powered by turbofan engines of a similar design.

Boeing’s creation pushed the limits of aviation and the world followed. Sure one could attribute some of the more significant changes like pressurized cabins and jet engines to the Boeing 707 which made the ride significantly more comfortable but the 707 didn’t really drive global change as we saw with the 747.

Impact on People

The change the 747 had on the world is what makes it great. Overnight it cut the cost of flying in half. It helped drop prices and made intercontinental flights available to the masses. It became easier to vacation around the world because it was considerably more affordable. The 747 bred globetrotters who carried on their wanderlust to the corners of the globe, all enabled by the jumbo jet. It ushered in the golden age of global tourism for the masses.

It became an efficient and accessible people mover that touched many places across the globe. The aircraft truly shrank the world like no other could at the time. The -400 variant that was created was nicknamed “Longreach” by Qantas. Cathay Pacific, one of the key customers for this variant, helped connect the U.S. to Asia.

We probably wouldn’t have extended range aircraft of this nature if it weren’t for the trail blazed by the 747.

Freighter for years to come

It even has a lasting legacy as a freighter and that’s where we will see it for years to come. The iconic front-loading nose that pivoted upwards was a feature unique to the aircraft and was what made it such a good option as a freighter. This was Boeing engineer Joe Sutter’s incredible foresight, he believed that if the plane were to fall out of favor for passenger flights it could always be a freighter. Something that never materialized with the A380.

With over 50 years of production and nearly 1,500 aircraft, it will be sad to see the last 747 roll off the assembly line. It broke records and established standards that we take for granted today but seemed out of reach only a short while ago. It has cemented its position in the world as a cultural and revolutionary icon that the A380 will never be able to match. While the A380 has its place in the world as the giant aircraft that had its own set of innovations it really hasn’t revolutionized aviation as the Boeing 747 has.

Hemal Gosai
Hemal Gosai
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