A Phenomenon: the Boeing 747 Series 8

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(Photos: Boeing)

Earlier this year, Air France announced the retirement of its entire fleet of Boeing 747’s. This follows 46 long years of profitably flying what the British nicknamed the “Jumbo” jet. The name stuck, but the sense of safety and security aboard the four engine majestic airliner, considered the safest and most comfortable commercial jet ever manufactured has seemingly worn away. In an age of Extended Twin Engine Operations (ETOPS) first ushered into prominence by the late Trans World Airlines back in 1985, with the advent of a Boeing 767 flight across the Atlantic, four engine airliners have become redundant. While the Airbus A330-600 remains, one may argue that Airbus’ four-engine wide-body A380 has been a hit with Emirates Airlines,  with an initial order for 58 aircraft extended to 80. However, 18 months have passed without a single new order, and it seems all but certain that Airbus will discontinue the A380 and reallocate company resources on the newly-touted A350 twin-engine wide-body aircraft. Fuel efficiency has pitted the A350 against Boeing’s venerable 777 and 787 Dreamliner Series; both airplanes borrowed a page from the playbook of McDonnell Douglas (absorbed by Boeing in 1997) to stretch an already successful plane by sections and re-engineer the fuselage and power plants.

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Delta Air Lines recently announced the retirement of its fleet (inherited with its merger of Northwest Airlines), parking two of fourteen of the airliners. United Airlines is following this pattern of continuing 747 service for a limited period of time. British Airlines has only 18 of an original 53 in operation.

“The Jumbo Jet” came into existence as part of a dangerous gamble between Pan American World Airways Founder Juan Trippe and Boeing CEO William Allen. At the time, four engine Douglas DC-8’s and Boeing 707’s plied the skies to Europe with a fuel stop in Gander or Amsterdam. Traffic projections in the early to mid-1960’s held that passenger count would increase at a clip of 8-percent year-over-year. The 747 held more passengers than two 707’s combined, was just as fast and more fuel efficient (with no fuel stop required). Pan Am had always maintained a resident engineer at Boeing, and contributed significantly to both the 707 and 747 program with data and testing that went into the building of the massive jet.

It was only fitting that Pan Am took the first deliveries of an initial order for 25 jets barely a year after Juan Trippe and William Allen retired. Both men bet the existence of their companies on the success of the plane, and fortunately the Boeing 747 was a success, thwarted by the energy embargo of the early 1970’s. Now comes an wholly re-designed 747 that has adopted many of the same dynamic features of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, from engines to avionics, cabin and cargo re-design and more.

Lufthansa has been the major passenger customer, with a number of Freight airlines delaying replacement of their older Boeing 747-Series 400 models, not yet due for expensive D-Checks, at a time when crude oil prices remain low. It seems fairly predictable that the Boeing 747-Series 8 Freighter models will remain a staple to continue the Boeing factory assembly line a bit further. As an aside, Air Force One will be replaced with two brand new Boeing 747-Series 8 aircraft.  One thing is certain. What a remarkable aircraft the 747 was in 1969 and today!

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