The last 747: Boeing workers reflect on an iconic plane like no other

Dominic Gates, The Seattle Times on

Published in Business News

On Tuesday, Boeing will wave a final goodbye to the 747 jumbo jet.

In the years after its launch, the 747 elevated the Puget Sound region to the world’s premier airplane manufacturing site and boosted Boeing to preeminence in aviation. It made international air travel routine.

A diverse cross-section of the Boeing workers who helped bring this transformative piece of engineering to life tell their stories below. They reflect upon their affection for the jumbo jet that changed their lives, and aviation.

Almost exactly 54 years after the first flight, thousands of current and former employees and guests will attend a bittersweet ceremony in Everett, Washington, on Tuesday before cargo carrier Atlas Air flies away a 747 freighter model, the 1,574th and last “Queen of the Skies” ever built.

The final airplane will depart from outside the grand assembly plant purpose-built for the 747 in the late 1960s on what was then undeveloped land, the building not even complete as the first plane was assembled.

In time, that building would house more jet programs and grow to be the largest by volume in the world. Boeing Everett at a recent peak in 2012 provided more than 40,000 highly paid jobs.


The late Joe Sutter, chief engineer on the original program, led a team that designed, built and delivered the four-engined jetliner in such record time that they were nicknamed “The Incredibles.”

Sutter was given the task to design a new jet in August 1965. The first test plane rolled out of the newly built factory in September 1968 and had its first flight the following February. The first production plane was delivered to Pan Am on Jan. 22, 1970.

In this first widebody jetliner, economy passengers were seated 10 across and filed in along two aisles. It could carry 420 passengers, three times as many passengers as the prior 707 jet.

Later models grew in capacity and range so that the final 747-8 passenger version can carry nearly 470 people on trans-Pacific and other longer-haul routes.


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