Witnessed by thousands of former and current staff, workers, customers, and VIPs, Boeing said farewell on Tuesday to its icon of commercial aviation: the 747. In an hour-long event inside one of the huge assembly halls in Everett that had seen so many 747’s for over half a century, the final aircraft was handed over to cargo airline Atlas Air. Boeing bids farewell to the last 747.
While a little sadness was inevitable, the prevailing feeling was that of pride for what the 747 has meant to Boeing. It was a huge gamble that almost marked the end of the company, but former CEO Phil Condit hailed the handshake between Pan Am’s Juan Trippe and then-President Bill Allen some sixty years ago to buy that aircraft if the other would buy it. The 747 history was only summed up by one word, said Condit: incredible. It was a reference to the “Incredibles”, the team that built the first 747. In the presence of the family of the ‘father’ of the 747, the late Joe Sutter, tribute was paid to him too.
Current Boeing Commercial Airlines President and CEO Stan Deal thanked Condit for all his efforts for the 747 program. He presented him with a tiny piece of metal that was left over from the production of the final aircraft 1574 that was standing outside on the apron in full splendid.
In an event that also featured famous actor John Travolta, former Vice President of Product Strategy, John Roundhill, noted that there was no doubt in the 1970s that the 747 had reshaped commercial aviation: “It entered its place in the history books, but I had so much ahead of it. The 747 program clearly created a change for communities of people around the world. All of a sudden, people could fly in an incredibly roomy airplane that gave them an impression of their living room taking off with 360 of their closest friends.”
Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr had flown on his airline’s 747-8i to San Francisco the attend the celebration. “Our soft spot with Lufthansa is that we fall in love with Boeing designs very easily. And when we get excited, we sign to be the launching customer. We did it with the 737, and after that, we were the launching customer for the 747-400 and for the Freighter. And then you convinced us and we convinced you to move the dream on with the 747-8. We just love that airplane, as an operator, our customers love the airplane, our crews love the airplane, and even our controllers love it.” Spohr said that Lufthansa will continue to operate the 747-8i well into the next decade.
Atlas Air President and CEO John Dietrich personally took delivery of the last 747 after the giant doors of the assembly hall were slowly opened. He noted how important the 56 747s in the UPS fleet are as the type forms the backbone of the fleet. “We all share a deep admiration for today’s guest of honor, the awe-inspiring Queen of the Skies. Our company’s history and success is directly linked to the 747 platform. We became and still are the largest 747 operator and operated over 100 different tail numbers.”
On the delivery flight on Wednesday, the last aircraft will draw a special figure in the sky in the form of a royal crown and 747 logo. “Today, we heard many stories today but we look forward to the stories that have yet to be told”, said Dietrich.
Boeing President and CEO David Calhoun said the story of the 747 is second to none. “I want to thank every one of you who touched this airplane. Touched it, thought about it, and helped the people who touched it. I can’t tell you how important it is to all of us and it spells legacy.” He honored the former leaders at Boeing who had the vision to develop the 747 and even the 777. “The leaders of Boeing, who inspired us and who were never afraid and I look at people who look at me to do special things. Our commitment as a leadership team is to maintain this innovation culture forever.”
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
In 2022, he has gone full-time freelance. Richard has been contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He is also writing for Airliner World and Aviation News. From January 2023, he will add a part-time role with Dutch website and magazine Luchtvaartnieuws. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.