Today marks one of the most auspicious landmarks in the history of commercial aviation. Today, Boeing’s Seattle factory rolled out the 1,500th production model of the most successful airliner in travel history- the Boeing 747, usually known as the Jumbo Jet.
The first production model of the plane was delivered as far back as 1968. With it’s four engines and distinctive, dolphin styled silhouette, the Jumbo Jet became the backbone of the world’s aviation network almost overnight. Not until 2008 was its size exceeded in commercial service by the rival Airbus A380- itself ironically nicknamed the ‘Super Jumbo’ in many quarters.
This most recent 747 has been delivered to the German national carrier, Lufthansa. But, despite the plane’s extraordinary longevity, it now seems obvious that this recent delivery might be one of the last of the type.
Simply put, the 747 is gradually succumbing to more advanced, cost effective rivals. In general, the days of large, four engine jets is coming to a close, with the exception of the A380 and it’s smaller fleet mate, the A34o. Twin engine rivals such as the A330 and, ironically, the Boeing 777 and even the new 787 Dreamliner, are now seen as being very much in the ascendant.
Whether or not you are a fan of mass market air travel, it has to be conceded that the 747 has had a truly amazing safety record. Only twenty two of the planes in all have come to grief, some of these on the ground.
Probably the two most famous incidents were the infamous collision on the ground at Tenerife between a 747 belonging to Pan American, and another owned by the Dutch carrier, KLM, in March of 1977. The resulting, horrific fireball killed a total of 583 passengers and crew across the two flights.
More notorious still was the bomb induced destruction of another Pan American Jumbo, Flight 103, above the Scottish town of Lockerbie on December 21st, 1988. The circumstances behind that bombing- which resulted in some 270 fatalities on the flight-remain controversial to this day.
That accident went a long way towards finishing off Pan American, one of the most famous names in aviation history.
The 747 was the plane used to introduce the transatlantic services of the fledgling Virgin Atlantic and, despite the move towards the newer, more technically advanced jets being produced both by Airbus and Boeing itself, the 747 still remain a mainstay of airlines such as British Airways and KLM. The latter airline uses a number of these in a joint passenger/cargo role, mainly on routes to and from Amsterdam to the Far East.
Love it or loathe it, this extraordinary airplane has proven to be a true survivor. The aviation world will surely be a sadder place without it.