• Boeing 747 - Cargo Carrier Made Good

    A Cargo-Carrier Made Good - How the Boeing 747 Superseded the Supersonic

    By Susie Robertshaw

    As Ed van Hinte of 'Works That Work' magazine points out, the Boeing 747 is an iconic plane. "Ask anyone to name the first type of airplane that springs to mind, and the answer is likely to be the Boeing 747 jumbo jet" [1]. From its genesis in 1970 until the 2007 introduction of the Airbus A380, the 747 was the largest passenger carrier around. It has proven to be a real game changer in the field of commercial aviation. Passenger planes now are such an ubiquitous part of our way of life that we do not tend to realize that there are in fact only 25,000 of them in the world. Of these, around 1,500 are Boeing 747s. The demand for international vacations is such that these planes have to be durable and capable enough to travel thousands of miles each year and work round the clock - flying so high and so fast that it boggles the mind. However, the Boeing 747 admirably rises to this challenge, carrying people to their destinations quickly, safely and comfortably. It's a feat of engineering which revolutionized the world of international travel - but nobody who was on its design team in the late sixties could possibly have predicted its success, or the iconic status it would grow to attain.

    A Revolutionary Plane

    Without the Boeing 747, travel could so easily have remained the preserve of the rich and adventurous. Those without the money or the willpower to make exhaustive and expensive journeys to foreign climes would have remained at home. The world would have stayed small, closed, and unavailable to the yearning masses. However, the Boeing 747 opened the world to everyone, and allowed the mass commercialization of air-travel. In the 1970s, when the first Boeing 747 touched down in Heathrow Airport, Britain's BBC excitedly announced that, "with operating costs dramatically reduced and larger passenger capacity, more people will be able to travel further afield. Travel experts predict that long-distance package holidays will now become more popular" [2]. They were quite right. In Britain and Europe especially, intercontinental travel became big business - and has remained so until this day. The Boeing 747 allowed more people to travel abroad for less, and utterly transformed the European way of life. So integral is the availability of international flight to the European consciousness that it has become enshrined within the European constitution. "A recent ruling from the European Court has expanded your rights to compensation if something goes wrong with your flight from covering only cancellations, to protect you in the case of delays as well" [3]. Borders have opened up, cultures communicate widely and freely, people can experience the vagaries and delights of the entire world like never before - and it's all down to the age of international travel for all which was ushered in by the Boeing 747.

    Pan Am Boeing 747-100

    Filling A Need

    Prior to the 747, the jetliner with the largest carrying capacity was the Boeing 707, which Boeing claim could seat "a maximum of 189 all economy" [4]. This was not enough for the Pan Am airline, who, as Panamair.org state, had experienced "a 15% increase in airline traffic" [5] and wanted to be able to fly more people to more places for less money. Boeing agreed to design a plane with double the carrying capacity of the 707, and Pan Am duly placed an order for 25 of the finished product - to be collected within a staggeringly short 28 months. The construction of such a vast airliner required the construction of what still remains, as CNN put it, "the world's largest building by volume" [6] - the Boeing Everett factory.

    The Lure of Supersonic Travel

    An order for the largest passenger plane in the world to be designed and completed within a mere 28 months may seem like a major task, but Boeing initially seemed somewhat blase about it. At that time (the late sixties) the interest of the aviation industry centered mainly around supersonic travel. Interest in supersonic travel still remains, but, as Business Insider point out, it's a tricky beast to master. While the technology exists to make planes go faster than the speed of sound, there are problems associated with it which make it difficult to achieve on a commercial level - "supersonic air travel depends on overcoming a lot of obstacles, from the pesky sonic boom to high cost, safety issues and insatiable fuel consumption" [7] (the latter being of particular concern in this age of declining fossil fuel stores). However, back in the late sixties the development of supersonic travel was still all the rage, with governments and companies eagerly pouring resources into supersonic projects. Unfortunately for the 747 team, headed by engineering chief Joseph Sutter, this left the 747 something of a neglected project. The plane was envisaged as a temporary fix to a people-carrying problem, which would soon be superseded by the supersonic era, and relegated to freight transport. As such, Sutter had trouble engaging company interest in his project.

    The Double Decker Problem

    However, while the 747 was still in development, the US government cancelled research into supersonic travel citing reasons of fuel and cost effectiveness. This led to more interest being diverted to the 747 project, with Pan Am (as Boeing's principal customer) showing a great deal of interest in and, indeed, influence over the design. Joseph Sutter, in his book "747: Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation" [8] relates a complex and frequently fraught design process in which debates raged about weight reduction, safety, comfort, and profitability. Many on the engineering team envisaged a double-decker design, something like a flying ocean liner. However, there were significant safety problems with this design, and it would make cargo-loading (which was still considered the 747's ultimate designation) a matter of some awkwardness. Instead, Sutter and engineer Martin Heinemann explored the idea of a wider fuselage. This would be heavier, but more comfortable for passengers and make it much easier to load cargo. This was a radical move, and Sutter was lucky that he had the courage of his convictions and enough strength of character to weather the inevitable outcry that came his way.

    The Tragedy of Clipper Victor

    The early mock-ups of 747s show a barn-like structure with seats that can be easily removed in order to accommodate cargo. This remained the model (with a few modifications for comfort) upon which the actual 747s - and, indeed, most of the jetliners which followed - were built, and it's a familiar format for today's air passengers. In 1970, the inaugural 747 - named the Clipper Victor - was unveiled by Pan Am to great jubilation from the wannabe globe-trotters of the world. Alas, the Clipper Victor would go on to be involved in the deadly Tenerife Airport disaster, which Business Insider describe as "The deadliest accident in aviation history" [9]. In this, two of the giant 747s collided due to problems with the weather, the control tower, communication issues and various other factors which tragically resulted in major loss of life. However, the 747's safety record is, on the whole, exceptional - with any accidents usually attributed to causes which have little to do with the plane itself.

    Boeing 747-8i

    A World-Changing Plane

    The Boeing 747 has opened up the world to the idea of vacations. Taking vacations to exotic climes is now considered a necessity rather than a luxury by many. Companies like Sears offer "Financing options" [10] to help pay for bed and board abroad - but flights costs are little issue thanks to the cheap operating costs of the 747 and its descendants. This plane designed for a fate hauling cargo has revolutionized aviation - and remains a model to which designers look to this day.

    [1] Ed Van Hinte, "The Unexpected Success of the Boeing 747", Works That Work, Issue 2

    [2] BBC 'On This Day', "1970: Heathrow welcomes first 'Jumbo Jet'", 22nd January 1970

    [3] Civil Aviation Authority, "Your Rights to Compensation for Flight Delays & Cancellations", Money.co.uk

    [4] Boeing.com, "707 Specifications"

    [5] PanAmAir.org, "Boeing 747-100 Jumbo Jet"

    [6] Thom Patterson, "Wow! Making planes in the world's biggest building", CNN, February 2014

    [7] Alex Davies, "The Return Of Supersonic Flight Will Revolutionize Travel", Business Insider, September 2012

    [8] Joe Sutter, Jay Spencer, "747: Creating the World's First Jumbo-Jet and Other Adventures in Aviation", Harper Collins

    [9] Patrick Smith, "How A Tiny Island Runway Became The Site Of The Deadliest Plane Crash Ever", Business Insider

    [10] Sears Travel, "Financing Options"

    Tags: boeing 747

    1. DominicS's Avatar
      DominicS -
      Great article and really informative!!

      Many thanks Susie!!

    1. drake4896's Avatar
      drake4896 -
      Thank you for this very informative article about the development and history behind the 747. I am brand new to using FS9 and I have recently retired and enjoying learning and flying this sim along with the addon FS Passenger.

      I also read your review of the CLS 747-200 payware and your noting the fact that the "Ready for Pushback" freeware 747-200 is better in terms of ability and realism. I have downloaded the airplane and its manual and saved them to USB for later use. I still have a lot to learn before flying this detailed aircraft.

      Thank you again for noting alternative freeware software in your article. It made it well worth the read by you doing so.

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