Aviation geeks have known this day was coming since July, but Boeing’s confirmation on Monday that it will end production of its 747 jumbo jet next year is still bitter news to swallow. The final aircraft to roll out of the mammoth factory that Boeing purposely built to manufacture the double-decker plane more than 50 years ago will be four 747-8 freighters ordered by Atlas Air.
Priced about $149 million each, the aircraft will do the heavy and critical job of flying air cargo around the world. Though the passenger version of the 747 with its staircase and oh-so exclusive upper deck rightly won the aircraft the title of Queen of the Skies, it’s perfectly fitting that the pioneering airliner will end on a freighter note.
Boeing developed the passenger version of the giant plane only after it lost a competition in 1965 to build a large military transport for the US Air Force. (Lockheed won that battle with its plan for the C5A Galaxy) Prodded by Pan Am, Boeing then redesigned its transport concept to carry people instead.
After it became a best seller with commercial airlines, the 747’s success as a freighter was due not only to its immense size (the 747-8 can fit 137.7 metric tons of freight), but also because its swing up nose allowed for easy cargo loading. Airbus tried to outdo Boeing with a cargo version of its even bigger A380, but it never found buyers.
Boeing has already ended production of its 747-8 Intercontinental passenger version, and both it and previous 747 versions are an incredibly rare sight in the skies these days. Airlines had already been retiring the aircraft over the past few years, but when the Covid-19 pandemic sharply curtailed air travel worldwide, the final few commercial 747 landed for good.
Boeing says it will deliver the last aircraft to Atlas Air in 2022. Since the first 747 flight on Feb. 9, 1969, Boeing has built 1,560 747 aircraft.
Main Image: SAM CHUI