The Boeing 747, often referred to as the “Jumbo Jet,” was a remarkable commercial jetliner for its time. The world’s first ever wide-body airplane produced, the so called “Queen of the Skies,” boasted an upper deck, and a passenger capacity that remained unrivalled for decades.
The 747-100 first entered service in 1970 with, the now defunct, PanAm. The -200 model followed in 1971, featuring more powerful engines and a higher MTOW (Max Take-Off Weight). Boeing followed this up with the shortened 747SP (Special Performance), which featured a longer range, and entered service in 1976.
Boeing then launched the -300 model in 1980, which resulted from studies to increase the capacity of the 747. The -300 featured fuselage plugs and a stretched upper deck. This variant, along with the -100, -200, and SP, were collectively referred to as the 747 “Classics.” It was now time for a more significant upgrade.
The most common version, the 747-400, entered service in 1989. This variant featured, along with the stretched upper deck of the -300, more fuel-efficient engines, and was the first to feature a 2-crew glass cockpit, eliminating the requirement for a flight engineer, and is also the most common variant in service. The -400 has a longer wingspan than the classics and was fitted with winglets, which reduced drag, and is the most common aesthetic feature used to distinguish the variant from the -300.
The 747-400 dominated the long-haul market for years to come. It was operated by almost every major airline in the world, dominating every major international airport. It wasn’t until the late 2000’s that the -400 had to face competition, after the larger Airbus A380 entered service. Boeing eventually responded by launching a new larger, more fuel-efficient variant.
The third generation 747-8 was launched in 2009, with Lufthansa, and entered service in 2012. This variant boasted a composite fuselage, as featured on the 787, and more fuel-efficient engines. It also featured an increase in capacity, thanks to the stretched fuselage and upper deck. Sadly, it failed to capture the market and was unable to match, let alone surpass, the success of the -400.
The four-engine 747’s time is coming to an end, with an increasing number of airlines retiring the type in favour of more efficient twin engine aircraft. The latest passenger variant, -8, failed to attract as many sales as Boeing had hoped, having earned less than 50 orders from mainly 3 airlines, as the quad can no longer compete with the likes of the 777, 787, and Airbus A350.
Despite this the 747 enjoys a great reputation as one of the most successful airliners in history. As we see an increasing number of smaller, twin engine aircraft in its place, the industry will always remember the beauty and grace with which the Boeing 747 adorned our skies.