Nearly 55 years after Boeing started production of its jumbo 747 jet, the last model of the iconic airplane left the company’s factory in Everett, Wash., closing a chapter in aviation history.
“For more than half a century, tens of thousands of dedicated Boeing employees have designed and built this magnificent airplane that has truly changed the world,” Kim Smith, Boeing’s vice president and general manager for 747 and 767 programs, said in a statement after Tuesday night’s rollout.
Workers and VIPs gathered at the Boeing plant to watch the plane, wrapped in a green protective skin, emerge from the giant assembly building. The 747-8 will go on to other facilities for painting and fitting-out, with delivery to Atlas Air scheduled in early 2023. Atlas plans to operate the cargo freighter as well as the second-last 747 to be delivered for Kuehne + Nagel, a Swiss logistics company.
Back in the 1960s, Boeing engineer Joe Sutter designed the 747, the world’s first twin-aisle airplane, to carry 400 passengers or more on long-haul flights. Production began in 1967, and the first plane entered service with Pan Am in 1970.
For decades, the 747 was celebrated as the “Queen of the Skies” — and it played supporting roles in movies ranging from “Airport ’77” and “Air Force One” to the 2020 sci-fi movie “Tenet.” More than 1,500 of the planes were produced.
But as the aviation industry came to focus on fuel efficiency and point-to-point route planning, the business model for the passenger 747 became obsolete. In recent years, the 747 has increasingly been used for cargo rather than passengers, and the baton has been passed to other wide-body jets such as the 767, 777, 787 and 777x.
Sutter’s grandson, Jon Sutter, told Leeham News that the rollout of the last 747 was “a sad occasion,” but took solace in the fact that he could see his grandfather’s influence “in every other plane out there.”
Although it’s the end of the production line for the 747, it’s not yet the end of the line for the planes. Existing 747s, including the one that rolled out on Tuesday, are expected to stay in operation for decades. “”We are proud that this plane will continue to fly across the globe for years to come.” Boeing’s Smith said.
And the 747s are due for another turn in the spotlight a few years from now: Two 747 jets that had been built for a now-defunct Russian airline are currently being converted for presidential Air Force One service, with delivery set for the 2026-2028 time frame.