The American aircraft manufacturer Boeing delivers the ultimate copy of its legendary 747

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Fifty years after its first flight, Boeing delivers the final copy of its 747 on Tuesday, turning a major page in civil aviation after the construction of 1,574 copies of this legendary aircraft nicknamed “jumbo jet”.

The American giant Boeing delivers, Tuesday, January 31, the ultimate copy of its legendary 747, the plane which democratized air transport, transported American presidents and has always been distinguished by its bump at the front of the fuselage.

Thousands of former and current employees, customers and suppliers of the aircraft manufacturer are due to attend the 9:00 p.m. GMT handover of the aircraft, a 747-8 freighter, to Atlas Air at the Everett plant, in the northwestern United States.

By ceasing to produce the plane more than fifty years after its first flight and the construction of 1,574 copies, Boeing is turning a major page in civil aviation.

Thanks to its size, range and efficiency, the 747 “enabled the middle class to venture outside of Europe or the United States with ticket prices that became more affordable, including during the oil crisis of the 1970s”, remarks Michel Merluzeau, aeronautical expert for the firm AIR. “He opened up the world.” Before being downgraded by more efficient and kerosene-efficient aircraft.

Four reactors, two bridges

The 747’s story begins in the 1960s, when air travel became more popular and airports had to deal with an influx of traffic. Encouraged by the Pan Am company, Boeing decided to build an aircraft that could carry many more passengers.

Its engineers initially imagine superimposing two fuselages, but are worried about the highest placed passengers in the event of evacuation.

“Instead of making the plane taller, they will make it wider,” says Boeing historian Michael Lombardi.

Nicknamed “queen of the skies” or “jumbo jet”, the 747 will be the first aircraft with two corridors.

The device, equipped with four reactors, was also designed from the start to transport freight: to facilitate the loading of large goods, it opens from the front.

The cockpit was therefore installed higher, with behind it some seats reserved for the privileged, creating this so recognizable bump.

The 747 would remain the largest passenger aircraft on the market until the arrival in the 2000s of the Airbus A380.

In the 1980s and 1990s, “it was really the workhorse of the system” connections between some large airports like New York, Paris or London, notes Michel Merluzeau.

It then suffered from the arrival of more innovative, more fuel-efficient long-haul aircraft that could more easily go from one point to another on the globe without going through “hubs”, such as the 787 “Dreamliner” and the 777 at Boeing, or the A350 at Airbus, which fill up more easily and at lower costs.

Air Force One in preparation

“Even if the 747 has been redesigned three or four times, the technological evolution has been quite limited in terms of avionics and engines,” said Michel Merluzeau.

For the last adaptation, the 747-8 launched in 2005, Boeing will have sold only 48 copies in passenger version and 107 copies in freight version.

Companies are gradually removing the aircraft from their fleet, such as Qantas and British Airways during the pandemic. In the United States, no company has flown it since the end of 2017.

Boeing announced in the summer of 2020 that it would cease production in 2022.

The plane will still fly in the sky for a few decades, especially in its cargo version.

“It is a unique aircraft for transporting large industrial parts such as engines for ocean liners or drills in the oil industry”, remarks Michel Merluzeau, highlighting its capacity to transport up to 132 tonnes.

They could be all the more in demand as some of the equivalent devices, built by the Ukrainian manufacturer Antonov, “were damaged by the war in Ukraine”, he underlines.

Plane of American presidents since 1990, the 747 will also continue to fly with tenants of the White House for a few more years as two copies are being modified to replace the Air Force Ones currently in service.

With AFP

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