Boeing Delivers Final 747 to Atlas Air

 - January 31, 2023, 5:30 PM

Boeing delivered the final Boeing 747 ever built to cargo carrier Atlas Air during a ceremony Tuesday afternoon at its assembly plant in Everett, Washington. The delivery of the jumbo jet, a 747-8 Freighter, marked the end of a 53-year production run that saw 1,574 aircraft go to more than 100 customers and log more than 118 million flight hours.

Dubbed the "Queen of the Skies," the 747 revolutionized air travel as the world’s first twin-aisle airplane and enabled more people to fly farther, faster, and for less cost than ever before. Marked by its distinctive hump in the front section of its fuselage, the airplane helped Boeing cement its reputation for engineering excellence and penchant for innovation.

The “father” of the 747, chief program engineer Joe Sutter, already had epitomized those qualities during his time with the 707 and 737 programs in the late 1950s and early 1960s. After Sutter joined the 747 program in 1965, his team of some 4,500 engineers took less than two and a half years to design and build the first four-engine 747-100. The Pratt & Whitney JT9D-powered airplane flew for the first time on Feb. 9, 1969, won certification in December of that year, and entered service with launch customer Pan Am in January 1970.

The first jumbo jet stretched 231 feet long and featured a 20-foot-wide cabin. It could fly more than 4,600 nm and carry more than 360 passengers. At the time of the 747’s conception, Boeing’s existing production facilities could not accommodate the huge airliner. The solution to that problem took the form of a new plant some 30 miles north of Seattle, in Everett, Washington, directly adjacent to Paine Field. Spread across 98.3 acres, the structure would become the largest free-standing building in the world by volume.

Although known as the means to introduce international travel to the middle class, the 747 also has served as Air Force 1 since 1990; as the shuttle carrier aircraft, ferrying the space shuttle from landing sites back to Kennedy Space Center; and in the form of the Dreamlifter, an extensively modified 747-400 that carries aircraft subassemblies too large for standard shipping containers and other big cargo airplanes.

The last version, the 747-8, stretches more than 250 feet and can fly some 467 passengers to a range of 7,790 nm. Unfortunately for Boeing, the GEnx-powered 747 fell out of favor with the industry’s lack of appetite for a four-engine airliner and the Covid pandemic only served to accelerate the program’s cancellation in July 2020, even as its cargo version benefitted from a robust air freight market.

Largely a reaction to Airbus’s launch of the A380, the passenger version of the 747-8—the Intercontinental—drew orders for just 48 copies, 19 of which operate with Lufthansa. The cargo variant attracted orders for 109. Its European rival ended production of the A380 after 15 years in late 2021, when Emirates Airline took the last of 254 ever built.