The Boeing 747 … it’s a big deal


A Boeing 747-8 test plane in assembly in July of 2009. Photo by Jeff McNeil. Creative Commons 2.0.

By Matt Dean

The Boeing 747 is arguably the most iconic aircraft of all time. When the passenger  “Jumbo Jet” was first revealed in 1969, its immense size was gazed upon by the aviation world with low whistles and raised eyebrows. It didn’t take long for the general public to view the aircraft in the same regard.

Because it was designed to carry more passengers and more cargo farther distances than anything that came before it, airline demand for the “Queen of the Skies” was instant. The first commercial customer to receive a 747 was airline Pan Am, who put the plane in service in early 1970.

Like many successful airframes, a version of the 747 is still currently produced. While the technological difference between that first 747-100 and the up-to-date 747-8 is significant —  nearly 50 years of aircraft innovation — the characteristic physical feature of a half second deck on the forward part of the fuselage remains the same. A 747 is instantly recognizable by the second deck, but also by its four turbofan engines and a labyrinthine set of landing gears.

As an Arizona kid, the 747 held a certain mystical allure for me. The Queen of the Skies was primarily a transcontinental aircraft, so they were unlikely to be seen in landlocked Arizona (except for a brief time in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when America West flew a few 747s out of Sky Harbor).

There was, however, a real world glimpse of the Queen of the Skies for me in a photo album at my grandparent’s house. In 1975, my grandfather flew to Germany to visit my mom. The photo is of him going out on the tarmac to board what most certainly was 747-100.

That picture was proof a grounded rural boy could one day ride the Queen of the Skies. My opportunity to see one, much less be a passenger on one, didn’t come until 1997, when I boarded a 747-400 in L.A. for a flight to New Zealand. I was lucky enough again in 2005 to ride another 747-400 direct from Phoenix to London.

The versatility of the 747 is renowned. It’s served as a stallion for the now-retired space shuttle and a heavily modified 747-200 serves as Air Force One. There is one 747-100 that started its career with Delta Airlines and is now an aerial firefighting supertanker. That tanker helped fight the Wallow Fire in Arizona in 2011.

The original jumbo sized jet was designed to impress with beauty and size as well as with airlines and their expanding markets. The Boeing 747 is the classic jet airliner that will be remembered for generations.



Matt Dean is a Prescott native and a teacher for Prescott High School’s online program who enjoys spending time with his family and walks with the dogs. Contact him at Matt.Dean@PrescottSchools.Com.

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