In 50 years, the 747 has transported 5.9 billion people, or 80% of the world's population. But its creation represented a huge gamble for the aerospace giant.
It is no exaggeration to say that Boeing's future was at stake this Sunday morning at Everett's Paine Field exactly 50 years ago.
February 9, 1969 was the first flight of Model 1 of the 747, the largest commercial aircraft in the world, capable of carrying more than 400 passengers.
Boeing was heavily indebted, employing 50,000 people who called themselves "the Unbelievable" because of the arduous task, to build the plane in less than 16 months. Banks borrowed by Boeing for the project were worried.
On this winter day, hundreds of people at Paine Field – most of them Boeing personnel and management – applauded when the 747 landed after a 15-minute test flight over the peninsula Olympic.
The legend of the "Queen of Heaven" had begun.
Since then, Boeing has delivered 1,548,747 units. Planes transported 5.9 billion people, nearly 80 percent of the world's population, Boeing said.
The Boeing 747 makes its first flight on February 9, 1969. (Vic Condiotty / The Seattle Times)
Pan Am was the first airline to fly the jet plane. large print ads showing the nose of the gigantic plane that fills the page.
"The first is our name … where the most important is comfort," he said. "With two aisles everywhere. A two-story section at the front, with a living room upstairs … and three economic sections the size of a living room … and seats almost as big as those of the first class … you want to fly the plane that is a ship, the ship that is an airplane. "
From the beginning, the 747 had a mystique about it.
One of the many interior configurations available in the new Boeing Model 747 is shown in this life-size model of the company's Commercial Aircraft Division aircraft. Here is a possibility for the first class section. (Boeing)
In his memoir "Skyfaring: a trip with a pilot", Mark Vanhoenacker explains the attraction of the giant.
He writes that the usual upper deck of the 747 resembles an upper deck "reminiscent of a natural relationship – that of a bird's head, perhaps a swan, with a long body and wide wings".
He recalls: "Recently, I was driving on a 747 portion of the San Francisco tarmac that was closed for reconstruction. More than a dozen airport workers, though presumably already accustomed to seeing planes nearby, have nevertheless laid down their tools to photograph us. "
Joseph Frederick "Joe" Sutter was an American engineer for the Boeing Airplane Company and the head of the Boeing 747 design team under the direction of Malcolm T. Stamper, Project Manager 747. Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine described Sutter as the "father of 747". (Boeing)
There was a reason why Boeing's president, Bill Allen, was radiant that morning, 50 years ago, while he was using binoculars to watch the 747 since a 727 fugitive on that flight inaugural.
The bet had paid off.
Boeing did not just build a brand new plane. He had to build a new factory at his Everett site to outfit the 747 which, at 185 feet, was a half-long football pitch, with a 65-foot tail as high as a building of six floors and a span equivalent to that of a 20-lane highway.
Just the plant, still the largest in the world by volume, cost $ 200 million, Allen said in a 1975 interview.
That's about $ 1.4 billion in today's dollars.
Allen said that "if you include all development costs, it's close to $ 1 billion."
That's about $ 6.8 billion in today's dollars.
Juan Trippe, founding founder of Pan American Airways, gave Allen and Boeing the impetus to build the 747.
"The age of mass travel owes a lot to the foresight of Trippe," says a story in the press. International Air Transport Association (IATA) website. "The boss of Pan Am explained that the more he could fly, and the bigger the plane, the more he could lower Pan Am fares."
In 1965, Trippe asked Allen to consider designing and building a plane much larger than the entire market.
"The Boeing 747 was born with a legendary exchange:" If you build it, I'll buy it, "said Trippe, to which Allen replied," If you buy it, I'll build it "", according to IATA. .
On January 3, Delta Air Lines became the last American airline to a passenger 747From Atlanta to Pinal Airpark in Arizona, northeast of Tucson. In the middle of the barren air of the desert, in a site known as the cemetery of planes, the 747 will end its days by choosing parts.
The 747 is not finished yet. Freighter versions, known as the 747-8F, are still under construction to serve as freight jets for companies such as UPS, which has just ordered 14.
Mike Lombardi, Boeing's historian, explains that the 747's enduring legacy is directly linked to the time of its creation.
"The end of the 1960s was a period of real agitation. We had the Vietnam War, we had the problem of race, the people on the streets are revolting. Then two events happened: the 747 and the Apollo program, go to the moon, "he said. "Both showed that despite all the differences and troubles, we could come together and do something great. Boeing had built the largest aircraft in the world. It's still part of the company's DNA. "
Joe Sutter, the legendary Boeing engineer, nicknamed the "father of the 747" for leading the development of the aircraft, described the genesis of the aircraft in his book "747: Creating the first jumbo jet to the world and other adventures of a lifetime in aviation. "
"The global economy has plunged into recession. Orders from airlines have dried up, depriving Boeing of essential revenues for the development of 747 programs and other programs … The financial situation became so serious that … I had to abandon 1,000 engineers from my program! At that time, 4,500 people reported to me, of whom 2,700 were engineers. The others were managers, clerks and technicians … "
Sutter once told Boeing's president, Allen, and other leaders, that the 747 was already late and staff reduction was impossible. He was waiting to be fired. "And I had a family, a mortgage, college expenses, an old car down and not a lot of money in the bank."
But he was not fired and Sutter kept his crew of 4,500. The company has held up.
Sutter died in 2016 at the age of 95.
"I saw Boeing's new aircraft in the form of 75,000 drawings, 4.5 million pieces, 136 km of electrical wiring, 5 landing gear legs, 4 hydraulic systems and 10 million workers." Hours . "
He watched the landing.
"Many of the so-called experts said that the 747 was too big for the airline pilots to safely put back on the ground. How could the pilots judge the landings, said these critics, while the cockpit was three stories off the ground? … before my eyes, he descended on the runway with the majestic majesty of a liner.
The Boeing 747 made its first flight on February 9, 1969. William M. Allen, Chairman of Boeing's Board of Directors, checked the 747 from a 727 aircraft. (Vic Condiotty / The Seattle Times)
Pilot Jack Waddell, flight engineer Jess Wallick, center, and co-pilot Brien Wygle greet after the flight. The three wore shirts and ties rather than flying suits for the occasion. (Vic Condiotty / The Seattle Times)
Brien Wygle, 94, of Bellevue, was the co-pilot of this first flight. In addition to Wygle, the Waddell pilot and flight engineer Jess Wallick were the only ones on board the plane.
Sometimes during test flights, the crew wore a flight suit or protective jacket. The pictures of this day show the men wear coats and shirts, ties and raincoats.
"Jack suggested that we have an office outfit and that we have not put a lot of material to give the impression that there could be a terrible danger. The idea was to make it look easy, "says Wygle.
And that was, no more than 300 km / h, half its maximum speed, and no more than 15,000 feet.
Wygle is a sober man.
"When we got up in the air, we exalted ourselves a little in the cockpit. It was a great feeling, "he says.
NOTE: Due to weekend snow, the Saturday and Sunday events at the Aviation Museum commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the 747 have been postponed.
The Seattle Times commemorated Boeing's 100th anniversary with a special edition in 2016. Here's a recap of "Boeing: 100 years of flying" »
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