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As Boeing’s 747 retires, a look back at the jumbo jet’s 50-year reign

The first Boeing 747 rolled off the company’s Washington plant in September 1968.-/AFP/Getty Images

After fifty years, Boeing is ending production of the 747 Jumbo Jet with a final delivery on Jan. 31 to US cargo aircraft Atlas Air. Designed in the late 1960s to meet the demand for mass travel, the “Queen of the Skies” transformed flying into the first twin-aisle wide-body jet capable of accommodating 366 passengers. This capability has had the effect of reducing the cost of flying for consumers and has ushered in a new era of international air travel.

Here’s a look at the history of the 747:

1966 – Boeing begins construction of the Everett facility for the production of the 747 Jumbo Jet

The 747 superjet mockup is under construction at the Boeing plant in Everett, Wash.

Seeking to reduce seat cost by 30%, Pan American World Airways asked Boeing for a jet 2 1/2 times the size of its 707 airplane. To complete the deal, Boeing purchased 780 acres in the Everett area, Washington, and opened the factory on May 1, 1967, four months after the first workers arrived to begin construction of the 747. The facility is the world’s largest building by volume.

1969 – The 747’s maiden flight

A Pan Am Boeing 747 sits at Heathrow Airport, London, after its maiden transatlantic commercial flight from New York, January 22, 1970.Lawrence Harris/The Associated Press

The 747 first flew on February 9, 1969, but the airliner was not certified by the United States Federal Aviation Administration until December of that year. It finally entered service in 1970 with its first commercial flight between New York and London, operated by Pan Am.

1977 – Tenerife airport disaster

In 1977, two Boeing 747 airliners collided on the runway at Los Rodeos Airport in Tenerife, killing 583 people. TONY COMITI/Getty Images

On March 27, 1977, two 747 passenger planes were involved in the deadliest crash in aviation history. KLM Flight 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736 collided on the runway at Los Rodeos Airport on the Spanish island of Tenerife, resulting in 583 deaths and only 61 survivors.

1977 – NASA’s Space Shuttle carrier

Space shuttle Endeavour, atop NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, a modified 747 airliner. Handout ./Reuters

In 1977, NASA introduced Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, two modified 747 airliners capable of ferrying Space Shuttle orbiters. Both aircraft carried Space Shuttles from landing sites to the landing facility at Kennedy Space Center and were retired in 2012.

1980 – First woman to fly a Boeing 747

American pilot Captain Lynn Rippelmeyer, the first woman to fly a Boeing 747 across the Atlantic Ocean, in an aircraft cockpit, July 20, 1984.P. Shirley/Getty Images

In 1980, Captain Lynn Rippelmeyer became the first woman to fly a 747 when she was an officer with Seaboard World Airlines, and in 1984, she became the first woman to command a 747 transatlantic flight while at People Express Airlines.

1988 – Boeing introduces the 747-400

The first 747-400 was introduced in 1988, followed by the 747-400ER in 2002. The aircraft had passenger seating capacity of 416 and 524, respectively, up from the 366 allowed on the original 747-100 model. In total, Boeing produced 694 models of the 747-400 aircraft.

1990 – Air Force One

A crowd of people stand on the runway at the Topeka airport as the new US Air Force One presidential plane climbs into Topeka, Kansas.Cliff Schiappa/The Associated Press

In August 1990, two modified 747 models replaced the aging 707 as the official aircraft of United States presidents. The two aircraft remain in use today, but the US Air Force recently announced that they will soon be replaced with two already produced 747-8 models.

2010 – Boeing introduces the 747-8

The first 747-8 made its maiden cargo flight on February 8, 2010, followed by a passenger flight on March 20, 2011. The newer model can carry 467 passengers and has a “nose swing” for cargo loading. A total of 155 747-8 models were produced, including 103 for cargo.

2016 – Ed Forza Uno

The aircraft of British heavy metal band Iron Maiden, nicknamed Ed Force One.Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of heavy metal band Iron Maiden, flew a specially liveried 747 dubbed “Ed Force One” during the band’s 2016 tour. “On the ground it’s majestic, it’s massive,” he said. “And in the air it’s surprisingly nimble. For this huge airplane, you can really throw it around if you have to.

2019 – Principle

During the recording Principledirector Christopher Nolan and his team bought and crashed a real 747 jet into a hangar to perform a stunt with no special effects.

2023 – Last production

The last Boeing 747-8 leaves the company’s widebody factory in Everett, Wash., before its delivery to Atlas Air.PAUL WEATHERMAN/AFP/Getty Images

On January 31, 2023, the last and 1,574th commercial Boeing 747 was delivered to Atlas Air, 53 years after the 747 first captured global attention with its inaugural Pan Am transatlantic flight. The latest 747 features a “Joe Sutter Forever Incredible” decal on the side, paying homage to an engineer considered one of the unofficial fathers of the airliner.

Inside the rise and fall of the Boeing 747

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