Boeing’s 747 is finally heading for retirement

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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.


  • Cotour

    “Thus, the 747’s active life was about twice that of Concorde.”

    Comparing apples to apples the 747 has flown about 3.5 BILLION people plus the varying configurations involving moving cargo and “stuff”, the Concord has flown about 2.5 MILLION people, period.

  • Gealon

    I still don’t see the 747 actually being retired for some time. I avoid planes like the plague, knowing how truly fragile they are, but if I was forced to fly, it would only be on 747. The design is old and with that age has evolved into one of the safest (relatively speaking) aircraft in the sky. It’s four engines provide worlds more redundancy then the newer two engine design. And then there’s sheer size, when you arrive in a 747 you are noticed. Look at the DC-10, once the world’s most avoided aircraft because of it’s engine mount design, now another of the safest and numerous, serving both passengers and cargo. Older designs work for a reason, they have been around long enough to shake out the bugs and don’t use trendy battery technologies with a penchant for setting themselves on fire.

    If you want safety and dependability, go 747 or go home and wait another decade or two for ‘Scarebus’ and the others work out the rest of the bugs out of their planes.

  • Edward

    The article made a point of using JAL’s divestment from the 747 as evidence of the end of the usefulness of the plane. However, JAL had a bad experience with one of its 747s, and it is still recorded as the deadliest single-plane accident ever (the worst involved a pilot-error collision between two 747s, demonstrating the popularity of this plane).

    JAL should not blame the plane for this accident, however. It turns out that the direct cause of the accident was a repair that violated Boeing’s approved repair methods. It seems that Boeing has been more careful with its repair methods than a customer who hurt the plane’s good name.

    The article also pointed out that there was a gung-ho and can-do spirit in America during the 1960s. This spirit prevented Boeing from giving up on a seemingly hopeless financial situation and persevering through the troubled times. A famous movie once described this spirit with the phrase, “Failure is not an option!”

    The can-do spirit would have overcome the perceived difficulties with the airplane and designed the next generation with modern technology. Instead, the talk is of resignation and retirement.

    These days, American leadership looks at a situation, decides that it is too difficult to pass legislation that the president wouldn’t sign anyway, and lets said president dictate his will upon a population that he treats as pee-ons.

    And an author and once-great company easily give up on the most successful and prestigious commercial aircraft and “one of the greatest machines of all time.”

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