75th Anniversary Snapshot: Long live the ‘Queen of the Skies’

Being so much bigger than any other commercial airliner that had flown before it, the 747 still turns heads today, nearly 50 years after it took its first flight. The team that designed and built the world’s first jumbo jet at Boeing were nicknamed “The Incredibles,” not only for the sheer audacity of the vision but also for the 28-month timeframe they were given to take the 747 from drawings to delivery. Even a few Boeing engineers at the time had doubts that the four-engined widebody could leave the ground until it finally did in February 1969, lifting off majestically from Paine Field in Everett, Wash.

This artist’s conception of the initial Boeing 747, appearing in the November 1967 issue, is believed to be the first image of the jumbo jet published in Air Transportation magazine, more than a year before its maiden flight.

The 75th anniversary of Air Cargo World happens to coincide with the twilight of what became known as the “Queen of the Skies.” On Nov. 7 of this year, United retired the last passenger 747 aircraft in regular service by a U.S.-based carrier. While some other 747-400s are still flying passengers today, and will continue for many years to come, the retirement of the 747 fleet in the United States prompted many elegies for the world’s most easily identifiable airplane, as it is rapidly being replaced by more fuel-efficient, twin-engine airframes.

Looking through our archived issues of Air Cargo World, the earliest image we could find of the 747 was an artist’s rendering in the November 1967 issue of ACW’s predecessor magazine, Air Transportation. The article, seen at left, described the expected new categories of jet-propelled cargo aircraft that were entering the market in the 1970s, and named the 747 – still more than a year away from its maiden voyage – as the largest of the eagerly anticipated top-tier of new widebody freighters, which also included the Lockheed L-1011 and the McDonnel-Douglas DC-10.

In 1970, a two-page ad for Continental Airlines began appearing in several issues, promoting its 747-200F aircraft as “The Ultimate Container” for its ability to handle the relatively new unit load devices (ULDs) that were then becoming standardized.

Nearly half a century after its debut, the 747 is still being built, as can be seen in this 2015 image of a 747-8 freighter under construction in Boeing’s cavernous Everett factory.

On the cargo side, of course, the 747 story is still unfolding, with Boeing’s Everett factory still cranking out a new 747-8 freighter (right) every two months. In fact, the aircraft’s signature feature – the streamlined hump behind the cockpit – was created specifically to accommodate cargo, not passengers. By moving the cockpit to the top of the fuselage, the aircraft could be modified with a nose-loading door for easy access to pallets, ULDs and oversized cargo that could fit in no other aircraft of the time.

With some of the older 747-400s and an increasing number of the newer 747-8s still flying cargo around the world, the unmistakable 747 silhouette will likely remain a common sight in the sky for another generation. Long live the Queen.

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