After more than half a century, Boeing rolled its last 747 out of a Washington state factory on Tuesday.
The jumbo jet — which has taken on numerous roles as a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft capable of carrying nearly 500 passengers and as the Air Force One presidential aircraft — debuted in 1969. It was the largest commercial aircraft in the world and the first with two aisles, and it still towers over most other planes.
The 747’s design included a second deck extending from the cockpit back over the first third of the plane, giving it a distinctive hump that made the plane instantly recognisable and inspired a nickname, the Whale. More elegantly, the 747 became known as the Queen of the Skies.
It took more than 50,000 Boeing employees less than 16 months to churn out the first 747.
Production of the 747, the world’s first twin-aisle airplane, began in 1967 and spanned 54 years, during which a total of 1,574 airplanes were built.
At 250 ft 2 in (76.2 m), the 747-8 is the longest commercial aircraft in service. At typical cruising speeds, the 747-8 travels roughly the length of three FIFA soccer fields or NFL football fields, per second.
The final airplane is a 747-8 Freighter. This model has a revenue payload of 133.1 tonnes, enough to transport 10,699 solid-gold bars or approximately 19 million ping-pong balls or golf balls.
“For more than half a century, tens of thousands of dedicated Boeing employees have designed and built this magnificent airplane that has truly changed the world. We are proud that this plane will continue to fly across the globe for years to come,” said Kim Smith, Boeing Vice President and general manager, 747 and 767 Programs.
Over the past 15 years or so, Boeing and its European rival Airbus released new widebody planes with two engines instead of the 747’s four. They were more fuel-efficient and profitable.
Delta was the last US airline to use the 747 for passenger flights, which ended in 2017, although some other international carriers continue to fly it, including the German airline Lufthansa.
The final customer is the cargo carrier Atlas Air, which ordered four 747-8 freighters early this year.
Boeing’s roots are in the Seattle area, and it has assembly plants in Washington state and South Carolina. The company announced in May that it would move its headquarters from Chicago to Arlington, Virginia.
The move to the Washington, D.C., area puts its executives closer to key federal government officials and the Federal Aviation Administration, which certifies Boeing passenger and cargo planes.
Boeing’s relationship with the FAA has been strained since deadly crashes of its best-selling plane, the 737 Max, in 2018 and 2019. The FAA took nearly two years — far longer than Boeing expected — to approve design changes and allow the plane back in the air.