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Boeing 747

7th April 1971: One of the first Boeing 747 aircraft used by BOAC airlines for the London to New York service. See more classic airplane pictures.
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The gigantic, efficient and ubiquitous Boeing 747 transport is a symbol of the most important aspects of progress in civil aviation: the democratization and globalization of travel. At this instant, thousands of airline terminals around the world are crowded with millions of people representing every nation, all taking advantage of the availability of long-distance travel via flight.

Although modern, the Boeing 747 also symbolizes another era, when individuals like Juan Trippe of Pan American Airways and Bill Allen of Boeing could decide to undertake a venture of giant size and great risk -- and do so on their own, certain that their decisions would be approved by their boards of directors.

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Thus it was on December 22, 1965, that Trippe and Allen signed a letter of intent committing $525 million for 25 aircraft, launching the largest airliner in history, the Boeing Model 747. The initial specifications called for a gross weight of 550,000 pounds, room for up to 400 passengers, a cruise speed of Mach .9, and a range of 5,100 miles.

It was a fantastic challenge, one whose failure had the potential to ruin both airlines. It was fraught with hazard, for new engines had to be designed and built, as did a huge new factory that became the largest building in the world in terms of volume. Even the world's airport runways, taxiways, and terminals had to be redesigned to handle the aircraft.

Jack Waddell was pilot on the first 747 flight, on February 9, 1969. As all test pilots must do, he publicly called the giant new airplane "a pilot's dream." There would be delays in getting the 747 into service, primarily due to problems with the Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines, but it was soon apparent that the Boeing 747 was the new world standard in transportation.

Fast, comfortable, and reliable, Boeing 747s began racking up one record after another. By 1975, it had carried its 100 millionth passenger, signifying the beginning of the revolution in air transport. That revolution was confirmed by the year 2000, when 3.3 billion passengers had been carried, and 747s had flown over 33 billion statute miles.

Keep reading to see specifications of the Boeing 747.

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Development of the Boeing 747 was a joint effort by Pan American Airways and Boeing. Today, at least 70 airlines operate 747s worldwide.
Development of the Boeing 747 was a joint effort by Pan American Airways and Boeing. Today, at least 70 airlines operate 747s worldwide.

Initial concerns over the possibility that pilots might have trouble handling so large an aircraft quickly dissipated, and to become a Boeing 747 captain became the dream of every airline pilot. The classic airplane proved to be very adaptable to airline needs, and Boeing was quick to customize new models of the basic airplane to meet specific requirements for freighters, conĀ­vertibles (freighter/passenger combinations), long range, or high density.

The Boeing 747 also served well in the military role, as the National Emergency Airborne Command Post, as Air Force One, and soon, as the platform for an antiballistic missile laser system -- the ABL. More than 1,200 747s have been built, and it will be in production for many years to come.

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The basic soundness of the design has enabled it to be improved and enlarged over time so that the current Boeing 747-400 can carry up to 524 passengers over distances as far as 8,400 miles. With new, fuel-efficient engines and a two-pilot digital flight deck, the 747-400 has the lowest operating cost per seat mile of any commercial jetliner. As might be expected, the cost of the 747 has climbed over time, from original estimates of $18 million per copy to $25 million to more than $200 million today.

The only way that the manufacturer of an airplane costing $200 million dollars can earn money for its stockholders is for the aircraft to be so reliable that it can fly 16 and more hours per day; the Boeing 747 is capable of that. One amazing aspect of the jet revolution is that jet engines are so reliable that corrosion is a greater problem than wear as a determinate of engine life.

Once virtually unchallenged in the marketplace, Boeing and the 747 are facing increasing competition from Europe's Airbus Industrie, which is planning a large aircraft with a 1,000-passenger capacity. Boeing will respond with a larger version of this classic airplane, confident that the plane's cost and performance will allow it to retain its position as the world's premier large airliner.

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