Back in the early 1960s there were not many in the aviation industry who seriously thought that Boeing’s plans to build a ‘giant’ four engined aircraft capable of carrying up to 400
passengers, would catch on.
Well, it paid off thanks to the hard work of Joe Sutter and his team and Pan Am’s insistence on having an aircraft in their fleet which could carry double the number of passengers as the venerable B707 did.
50 years down the line
Boeing looked seriously at Pan Am’s request at that time because they had just lost the contest to Lockheed to supply the U.S. Air Force with a Cargo Experimental-Heavy Logistics System (CX-HLS) aircraft. Lockheed won the deal and gave the military the C-5 Galaxy transporter which is still in service today with the U.S. Air Force.
For many, including myself, this has been a 50-year love affair with this remarkable aircraft. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first flight on 9. February 1969, we can look back on the development for the “Queen of the Skies.”
Countless numbers and variants of the Jumbo Jet have since then been developed and delivered to airlines around the world. After half a century production of the passenger version has now almost come to an end, with two passenger 747-8Is which were originally slotted for delivery to a Russian carrier, now being prepared as the new U.S. Air Force One presidential aircraft. Figures show that around 1,550 of these giants have been delivered and that today there are still 600 listed as either being serviceable or parked in the desert somewhere.
The freighter lives on
The first Jumbo was the 747-100 which took to the skies in 1970 for Pan Am and shortly afterwards for Trans World Airlines (TWA).
In 1974 the first Jumbo Freighter - the B747-100SF was delivered to Flying Tiger Line. In total 24 were built and were capable of carrying a payload of between 80-90 tons. A world record those days.
On a personal note - I was with Beirut-based Trans Mediterranean Airways (TMA) in the early 1970s and was proud to have been one of the few chosen to qualify as a loadmaster on the Jumbo freighter. There were no motorized pallet transport systems on the upper deck those days. It was all hand work. Training was carried out at American Airlines in the USA who also had the -100F in service for a while.
B747-8F continuous the Jumbo tradition
The B747F has since then developed into a highly reliable cargo aircraft. The B747-200F of which 73 were built followed carrying 101 tons. The -300 version was also offered as a combi aircraft, of which some are still in operation and the -400F of which 166 were pushed down the production line, carries 113 tons and as the ERF version had a payload of 124 tons. There are still quite a few B747-200 and B747-400 freighters operating across the globe. However, they are quickly being replaced by the more fuel efficient two engined B777F which can carry almost the same payload over longer distances.
It’s the B747-8F which we’ll thankfully still see in the skies for the next decade or two. The first aircraft was handed over to Cargolux in 2011 and since then 110 have been ordered, with 24 still to be delivered to carriers such as AirBridgeCargo and UPS.
It is pretty sure that once those aircraft have been delivered, that the B747 production line will be closed for ever.
Boeing has designed many different aircraft over the past five decades, but none so graceful and loved by the public and the aviation world - as the Queen of the Skies.
I still love her and although 50, she still looks 20!
John Mc Donagh