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The Queen Cowns the Skies

After more than half-a-century of production, the final 747 took a unique, crown-shaped flight path from its production facility before entering the Atlas Air fleet

Issue: 02-2023By Ayushee ChaudharyPhoto(s): By Boeing, BoeingAirplanes / Twitter
Atlas Air takes delivery of final Boeing 747, ending the aircraft’s historic 54-year production run

Following a legacy of 50 years of production, the final 747, a 747-8 freighter, took off and departed Boeing with great fanfare. The final 747 left its birthplace in Everett, Washington, to join the all-Boeing fleet of Atlas Air, bringing its 747 fleet to 56. The final 747 took a unique, crown-shaped flight path on its way to Cincinnati, Ohio before entering the fleet. “It is certainly a fitting start to the next chapter for the airplane known far and wide as the Queen of the Skies,” stated the manufacturer.

Boeing employees who designed and built the first 747, known as the “Incredibles,” returned to be honored at the Everett factory where the journey of the 747 began in 1967. “This monumental day is a testament to the generations of Boeing employees who brought to life the airplane that ‘shrank the world,’ and revolutionised travel and air cargo as the first widebody. It is fitting to deliver this final 747-8 Freighter to the largest operator of the 747, Atlas Air, where the ‘Queen’ will continue to inspire and empower innovation in air cargo,” said Stan Deal, President and Chief Executive Officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

The 747 has played a key role in Boeing’s history of aerospace leadership. After entering service in 1970, the iconic plane transformed global travel. As the world’s first jumbo jet, the 747 laid the foundation for every twin aisle plane that followed—earning a place in the hearts of many airline operators, crew, passengers, and aviation enthusiasts around the world.

The first Boeing 747 rolls out of the Everett factory on September 30, 1968

“We are honored to continue our long history of flying this iconic aircraft for our customers around the world. Atlas Air was founded over 30 years ago with a single 747-200 converted freighter, and since then, we have spanned the globe operating nearly every fleet type of the 747, including the Dreamlifter, Boeing’s 747 Large Cargo Freighter, for the transport of 787 Dreamliner parts. We are grateful to Boeing for their shared commitment to safety, quality, innovation and the environment, and for their partnership to ensure the continued success of the 747 programme as we operate the aircraft for decades to come,” said John Dietrich, President and Chief Executive Officer, Atlas Air Worldwide.

As the first twin-aisle airplane and “jumbo jet,” its development solidified Boeing’s role as an industry leader in commercial aviation. The airplane’s core design with its distinctive hump and seating in the upper deck has delighted generations of passengers and operators alike. Boeing continued to improve on the original design with models like the 747-400 in 1988 and the final 747-8 model that was launched in 2005. Across all the models, the jet has delivered unmatched operating economics and efficiency to travel and air cargo markets, Boeing highlighted.


At 250 ft 2 in (76.2 m), the 747-8 is the longest commercial aircraft in service. At typical cruising speeds, the 747-8 travels roughly the length of three FIFA soccer fields or NFL football fields, per second.

The final airplane is a 747-8 Freighter. This model has a revenue payload of 133.1 tonnes, enough to transport 10,699 solidgold bars or approximately 19 million ping-pong balls or golf balls.

The 747 has played a key role in Boeing’s history of aerospace leadership and as the world’s first jumbo jet, it laid the foundation for every twin aisle plane that followed

The massive airplane required construction of the 200 million-cubic-ft (5.6 million-cubic-meter) 747 assembly plant in Everett, Washington, the world’s largest building (by volume). The fuselage of the original 747 was 225 ft (68.5 meters) long; the tail was as tall as a six-story building. The cargo hold had room for 3,400 pieces of baggage and could be unloaded in seven minutes. The total wing area was larger than a basketball court. Yet, the entire global navigation system weighed less than a modern laptop computer. Its wingspan is 212 ft (64 meters), and it has 6-ft-high (1.8-meter-high) “winglets” on the wingtips. The 747-400 also is produced as a freighter, as a combination freighter and passenger model, and as a special domestic version, without the winglets, for shorter range flights.


Production of the 747, the world’s first twin-aisle airplane, began in 1967 and spanned 54 years, during which a total of 1,574 airplanes were built. The 747-400 rolled out in 1988. The 747 was the result of the work of about 50,000 Boeing people. Called “the Incredibles,” these were the construction workers, mechanics, engineers, secretaries and administrators who made aviation history by building the 747 — the largest civilian airplane in the world — in roughly 16 months during the late 1960s.

(Above Left) The first 747 takes off on its first flight February 9, 1969;
(Above Right) A Boeing 747-100SP is in front and a Boeing 747-100 is in back.

The incentive for creating the giant 747 came from reductions in airfares, a surge in air-passenger traffic and increasingly crowded skies. Following the loss of the competition for a gigantic military transport, the C-5A, Boeing set out to develop a large advanced commercial airplane to take advantage of the high-bypass engine technology developed for the C-5A. The design philosophy behind the 747 was to develop a completely new plane, and other than the engines, the designers purposefully avoided using any hardware developed for the C-5.

The 747’s final design was offered in three configurations: all passenger, all cargo and a convertible passenger/freighter model. The freighter and convertible models loaded 8- by 8-ft (2.4- by 2.4-meter) cargo containers through the huge hinged nose.

Indian airline, Air India Limited was one of the first airlines to operate the 747, introducing the aircraft to its fleet in 1971. The 747 served Air India for over four decades, becoming a mainstay on long-haul routes and playing a crucial role in connecting India to the rest of the world.

(Above Left) Air Force One, a modified Boeing 747-200B, delivered to the US Air Force on August, 23, 1990;
(Above Right) A Boeing 747-400 Freighter takes off. The first 747-400 Freighter rolled out of the factory on March, 8, 1993.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had also modified two 747-100s into Shuttle Carrier Aircraft. The next version, the 747-200, held approximately 440 passengers and had a range of about 5,600 nautical miles (10,371 kilometers). In 1990, two 747-200Bs were modified to serve as Air Force One and replaced the VC-137s (707s) that served as the presidential airplane for nearly 30 years. The 747-300 had an extended upper deck and carried even more passengers than the -200.

In August 1999, major assembly began on a militarised 747-400 freighter to be used as a platform for the US Air Force’s Airborne Laser (ABL) programme. It rolled out on October 27, 2006, and was eventually designated YAL-1. On February 11, 2010, the flying test bed destroyed a ballistic missile off the coast of Southern California. The programme was canceled in 2011, and in 2012, YAL-1 was flown to the US Air Force “bone yard” near Pima, Arizona, to be scrapped.

Another variant, the Dreamlifter — a specially modified 747-400 — transported the large composite structures, including huge fuselage sections of the 787 Dreamliner, from partners around the world. The fourth and final Dreamlifter entered service February 16, 2010.

(Above Left) 1,000th Boeing 747, delivered to Singapore Airline in 1993;
(Above Right) A 747 being built inside Boeing’s Everett factory.

The longer range 747-400 airplanes (also known as 747-400ERs) were launched in late 2000. The 747-400ER (Extended Range) family is available in both passenger and freighter versions. The airplanes were the same size as current 747-400s and had a range of 7,670 nautical miles (14,205 kilometers) as opposed to the 747-400 range of 7,260 nautical miles (13,450 kilometers). It incorporated the strengthened -400 Freighter wing, strengthened body and landing gear, and an auxiliary fuel tank in the forward cargo hold, with an option for a second tank. When the 747-400ER’s full-range capability is not needed, operators can remove the tank (or tanks), freeing up additional space for cargo.

In November 2005, Boeing launched the 747-8 family — the 747-8 intercontinental passenger airplane and the 747-8 Freighter. These airplanes incorporate innovative technologies from the 787 Dreamliner, including the General Electric GEnx-2B engines, raked wingtips and other improvements that allow for a 30 per cent smaller noise footprint, 15 per cent reduction in-service carbon emissions, better performance retention, lower weight, less fuel consumption, fewer parts and less maintenance.

The 747-8 Freighter first flew on February 8, 2010. The airplane was 250 ft, 2 inches (76.3 meters) long, which is 18 ft, 4 inches (5.6 meters) longer than the 747-400 Freighter. The stretch provided customers with 16 per cent more revenue cargo volume compared with its predecessor. That translates to an additional four main-deck pallets and three lower hold pallets.

(Above Left) On December 6, 2022, the final ‘Queen of the Skies’ rolled out of Boeing’s Everett factory;
(Above Right) Flight plan of the final 747 showing a crown, along with the aircraft model name.

The passenger version, the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental, served the 400- to 500-seat market and took its first flight on March 20, 2011. The cabin’s sculpted ceilings, bigger overhead and side stow bins, a redesigned staircase and dynamic LED lighting all add to an overall more comfortable passenger experience. With 51 additional seats and 26 per cent more revenue cargo volume than the 747-400, Boeing delivered the first 747-8 Intercontinental to an undisclosed Boeing Business Jet customer on February 28, 2012. Launch customer Lufthansa took delivery of the first airline Intercontinental April 25, 2012.

On June 28, 2014, Boeing delivered the 1,500th 747 to come off the production line to Frankfurt, Germany-based Lufthansa. The 747 is the first wide-body airplane in history to reach the 1,500 milestone.

Air China, Asiana Airlines, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Mahan Air and Rossiya are among the airlines still flying the 747. According to FlightRadar, 93 per cent of all 747 flights in November 2022 were dedicated cargo flights, while just 5.9 per cent of 747 flights carried passengers. Given its perfect location as a stopover between Asia and North America, Anchorage sees nearly double the amount of 747 traffic than the next highest city. In November 2022, there were 4,101 747 take offs and landings at Anchorage, all of them cargo flights. 21 separate airlines operated 747 flights through Anchorage during November, with Atlas Air in the lead by far with 847 flights. Lufthansa operates the greatest number of 747 flights per day at 26. The airline offers daily service from Frankfurt to 10 cities: Bengaluru, Chicago, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Miami, Mexico City, New York, São Paulo, Tokyo, and Washington.