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53 Years Ago: First Boeing 747 Takes Flight


Boeing 747
Photo by SAS Scandinavian Airlines

One of the most remarkable aircraft in aviation history had a birthday of sorts this week. The Boeing 747, which is featured on our Top 25 Planes of All Time list, made its first flight on February 9, 1969. The sortie lasted about 75 minutes. The four-engine, wide-bodied “jumbo” was the first among passenger jets to feature an upper deck, initially used as a lounge for first-class passengers.

Work that eventually led to the design for the 747 began in response to a March 1964 USAF request called the CX-Heavy Logistics System (CX-HLS), which specified nose-loading of large cargo. It was in this project that Boeing developed its four-engine design with the cockpit raised above the main deck to allow the nose to open for large cargo loads. Responses to the Air Force also arrived from Douglas, General Dynamics, Lockheed and Martin Marietta, and the high-wing Lockheed C-5 Galaxy was chosen in the end.

On the commercial side, Boeing developed a keen sense for opportunity, and competition with Douglas, in the wake of the 707’s success. Juan Trippe of Pan Am had already requested an airliner twice that size in hopes of reducing airport congestion, an interesting theory as we look back through hindsight today. Nevertheless, Trippe signed the contract for the first 25 747 aircraft on Boeing’s 50th anniversary at a ceremony in Seattle.

Following development talks with Trippe and others, Boeing decided freight-dog duty could be the 747’s business fallback plan, thanks largely to its CX-HLS project DNA. Back then, a popular assumption at the airlines was that supersonic airliners would eat up the best part of the passenger-hauling business, but freight rarely needed to be anywhere quite as quickly.

While (comparatively) ultra-efficient twin-engine and twin-aisle “widebodies” have finally eclipsed the 747’s reign as Queen of the Skies, that has taken more than half a century, and the 747-8F,still in production, remains a star in the freight-hauling business. So, the fat lady hasn’t quite begun to sing for the Queen just yet.

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Learn more about the amazing passenger jet here: Boeing 747: 50 Years, 50 Amazing Facts

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