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After 45 years of service, Boeing’s 747, the world’s first jumbo jet, is finally facing retirement as airlines consider more modern planes for their fleets.
The plane that so audaciously changed the shape of the world is now on the wrong side of history. Airlines are retiring older 747s – JAL no longer flies them – and Boeing’s attempt at catch-up, the latest 747-8 model, has had technical problems and is selling only very slowly. The air above my garden will not be troubled by 747s for very much longer.
The article gives brief but detailed outline of the 747’s history, and why passengers and pilots still love it. I love it because of this:
The 747 was America at its proud and uncontaminated best. ‘There’s no substitute for cubic inches,’ American race drivers used to say and the 747 expresses that truth in the air. There is still residual rivalry with the upstart European Airbus. Some Americans, referring to untested new technologies, call it Scarebus. There’s an old saying: ‘If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going.’
A comparison to the European Concorde is illuminating. The supersonic Anglo-French plane was an elite project created for elite passengers to travel in near space with the curvature of the Earth on one hand and a glass of first growth claret on the other. The 747 was mass-market, proletarianising the jet set. It was Coke, not grand cru and it was designed by a man named Joe. Thus, the 747’s active life was about twice that of Concorde.