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Thu, Feb 02, 2023

Final 747 Delivered to Atlas Air

In the Long Shadows of Past Successes

On Tuesday, 06 December 2022, Boeing completed production of its 1,574th and final 747. Subject aircraft—a 747-8F freighter, registration N863GT—was delivered to cargo airline Atlas Air, the world’s largest operator of 747s, on 31 January 2023. The delivery marked the final chapter in an aeronautical saga that spans upwards of five-decades, one-hundred-plus customers, 54 airlines, 118-million flight hours, 23-million flight cycles, and an estimated four-billion passengers.

The archive of the 20th Century’s breathtaking aeronautical achievements and legendary characters contains few tales so compelling, unlikely, and world-changing as the conception, design, and development of the 747. Born of Pan Am boss Juan Trippe’s desire for a jet airliner more than twice the size of Boeing’s iconic 707, the 747 occasioned the second of two instances in which Boeing’s management, led by William M. Allen, bet the company’s continuing existence on the success of a new and revolutionary airplane design.

At a time when aviation industry pundits vehemently and vociferously asserted that long-range subsonic airliners would imminently be supplanted by supersonic transports such as Aérospatiale/BAC’s nascent Concorde, Allen green-lit the 747, trusting in forward-thinking experts the likes of Joe Sutter—a visionary engineer described by Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine as the "father of the 747"—who led the fraternity of nearly 4,500 Boeing engineers by which the 747 was envisioned, designed, and actualized.

In homage to Mr. Sutter, the forward starboard fuselage of the final 747 bears a decal reading Forever Incredible.

In addition to Boeing executives and representatives of Atlas Air, the delivery/farewell ceremony—held at Boeing’s cavernous, Everett, Washington wide-body assembly facility—was attended by members of the Boeing, Sutter, and Trippe families.

Speaking at the event, Boeing Commercial Airplanes senior vice president and general manager of airplane programs Elizabeth Lund remarked: "Whether it is Air Force One or another special-purpose airplane, we have seen how the 747 changes lives. We've read stories of families that flew to safety from war-torn countries onboard 747s to start a new life, people who were able to find new hope for their businesses because of international air freight carried onboard the 747, and deliveries of life-saving equipment and food supplies made available because of the 747.”

Notwithstanding the farewell ceremony and the maudlin excesses of its attendees, two additional 747s—a pair of new 747-8-based VC-25Bs ordered by the U.S. federal government to serve as the primary and backup Air Force 1 aircraft—remain to be completed. Slated for delivery in late 2026, the jets are currently two years behind schedule.

The VC-25B delays speak to the tumult occasioned by the failures of Boeing’s embattled 737 MAX program, the quality shortfalls of the company’s 777 and 787 programs, the as-of-yet unresolved deficiencies by which the KC-46 and T-7A military programs are plagued, and the worrying fact that Boeing failed to meet recent earnings expectations.

Concluding the ceremony, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun circuitously alluded to his company's woes, stating: “If ever a company needed to stand-tall on its legacy, it’s the Boeing company.”

Boeing confirmed in 2020 that it would wrap 747 production in 2022, thereby freeing up resources and manufacturing capacity essential to the production of newer, more fuel efficient aircraft such as its 777 and 787 models. Notwithstanding the myriad and sound reasons for which the 747 has begun its long, stately departure into history’s dusty vastness, the world’s skies will be poorer for the eventual absence of the airplane renowned aeronautical engineer Hendrik Tennekes called “… the commuter train of the global village.”



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