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Jumbo Jet

Boeing 747: The jumbo jet turns 50 years old

Jumbo Jet

© [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons


50 years ago, the first Boeing 747 took off into the skies. The "queen of the skies" quickly became the dominant passenger aircraft in the world. The jumbo jet radically changed business at Lufthansa too. Although, it isn't particularly polite to label a queen with the name of an elephant. Nevertheless, contemporaries thought the new Boeing aircraft type 747 was so gigantic that the nickname "jumbo" quickly spread to become the norm. On the 9. February 1969, the four-motor jet lifted off from the Boeing premises and circled above the North American Seattle for a good hour. Decades followed in which the huge aircraft with the characteristic bump dominated all flying between the continents. Even the rise of the German Lufthansa, which is currently celebrating 100 years of passenger transport, is closely connected to the "queen of the skies".


The giant jet is extremely popular with pilots. "It's the best aircraft in the world, that's actually what we all say", says Lufthansa Captain Barbara Kuhlenkamp, who has spent more than 5,000 hours flying in the Boeing. "The 747 was designed 50 years ago and the significant features are still present. Everything has been designed for 3-fold and 4-fold safety demands so that it can be flown from within the mother's womb".


According to the 747 founding myth, developing the giant aircraft only took four years from the first draft till the maiden flight, half of the normal necessary time. Panam-manager Juan Trippe had urged the US corporation to build a long-haul aircraft at least twice as big as the Boeing 707 which was used until then. More than 50,000 Boeing staff were involved in the process who were later highly acclaimed as "the unbelievable ones". To build the revolutionary aircraft, the largest factory hall in the world was constructed at the same time.


The leading aeronautical engineer Joe Sutter followed the maiden flight from the ground and remembers the landing in his memoirs: "This moment was the greatest thrill of the day. All my worries disappeared and I knew we had a good aircraft". The gigantic wings with a span of 60 meters proved as particularly difficult during construction and the engines seemed too weak in the beginning to lift a weight of 330 tonnes. Sutter overcame the challenge and died in 2016 as a highly celebrated national hero in the age of 95.


Depending on the seating, the first 747-100 could transport between 366 - 550 passengers, later on, there were even versions with up to 660 seats. As a useful comparison: The Boeing 707 previously offered seats for a mere 150 passengers. Although only few airports were capable of dealing with such large groups, the Jumbo jet established itself quickly as the norm. No one wanted to do without the Jumbo jet, which enabled much cheaper ticket prices than before. Lufthansa built a massive maintenance hall in Frankfurt and ordered new passenger boarding bridges and supply bridges for the giant jet.


Lufthansa was among the first and indeed the last buyers of the jumbo jet. They currently have 32 aircrafts in the fleet and fly to 23 destinations. The crane airline has taken 81 queens of the sky from Boeing, including 19 extended 747-8 types, the last model of the legendary aircraft. meanwhile, Boeing now sells the four-engine, gas guzzling aircraft only in the freight version. Last year, there were 18 new orders and otherwise only 24 non-processed orders in the books.


As with the even bigger Airbus jet A380, the 747 no longer meets the economic demands of the airlines, which prefer twin-jet aircraft like the A350 or Boeing 777 and 787 for long-distance flights. Meanwhile, even the significantly smaller sales hit Boeing 737 is being tailored for long-haul flights. However, even without the jumbo jet, Boeing is able to rake in record profits. Only few 747s will be added to the 1,548 already sold, even though US President Donald Trump has ordered the next president's aircraft "Air Force One" based on the 747. The Emperor of Japan and the Sultan of Brunei also appreciate the queen of the skies as their government jet.


 (, dpa)

Feb 4, 2019

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