During December 1965, two airline industry executives reputedly had this conversation:
Pan Am President Juan Trippe: “If you build it, I’ll buy it.”
Boeing President William Allen: “If you buy it, I’ll build it.”
And the rest of the story is airline history.
Boeing 747 History
The first Pam Am contract was for 25 747s at $20 million for each plane. It took five years and then a day’s delay because of mechanical difficulties for the inaugural 747 commercial flight. But, on January 22, 1970, Pan Am flew its first 747 from New York’s JFK to London’s Heathrow with 335 passengers on board and 20 crew members.
During early 2023, Atlas Air will receive the last 747 delivery. A freighter version of the aircraft, the Atlas version could carry 19 million ping pong balls.
The First 747s
Prominently displaying its massive nose, the 747 was on the cover of Pan Am’s 1970 February time table:
Also initiating 747 jumbo jet service, TWA and American scheduled their first flights during February and March:
The plane’s revolutionary design included five movie screens, 11 restrooms, and an upper deck that originally had been where the crew could relax. Quickly, though, the airlines realized they could make it an elite space with a bar and lounge.:
Perhaps the upper deck (and fliers’ attire) would most astound us today:
Do look at the size of a seat that now has shrunk to an average of 16 inches:
Bottom Line: Transportation Infrastructrure
Because the 747 affected where and how we fly, it changed our transportation infrastructure,
Illustrating a quest for efficiency through size and versatility, the Boeing 747 had the technology for a military plane, a freighter, and a passenger jet. Eliminating the need to refuel, it shifted where airlines flew. With Gander, Newfoundland the perfect example, it erased what had been major airports. Elsewhere new terminals (like what TWA built at JFK) reflected the need for larger boarding areas, check-ins and lounge areas. Correspondingly, ground crews had to expand as did catering trucks.
And, beyond the capital it required, the plane displayed how airlines competed before and after the industry deregulated in 1978. Before 1978, since federal regulators set prices, competition focused on meals and the amenities a 747 could offer. Then, after 1978, the huge aircraft had cost cutting potential. In addition, with its ability to load through a hinged nose and accommodate full pallets, as a cargo jet, the 747 took supply chains to new heights.
So yes, the 747 was more than an airplane. Recognizing its impact and the first generation luxury that air travel no longer proivdes, we can sadly say good-bye to the 747.
My sources and more: Starting with CNN and NPR, then Axios and Airways Magazine I happily absorbed the whole 747 story, Then, by adding this 2007 Smithsonian article and this history from Northwestern we got the whole picture.
Our featured image shows the 26 airlines’ flight attendants that flew the first 747s.