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February 9, 2019 -- On February 9, 1969, the first Boeing 747 took to the air. The “Queen of the Skies” was the first wide-body “jumbo jet” capable of carrying more than 400 passengers, driving down the cost of flying for millions of people around the globe.
Everything about the wide-body “jumbo jet” set precedents. Boeing’s prototype 747, the RA-001, was born in a custom-built assembly plant in Everett, Washington -- the biggest building by volume ever constructed.
The design grew from a U.S. Air Force contract for a large transport aircraft, capable of hauling 52 tonnes of cargo 8,000km (5,000 miles). The cockpit was placed in a hump above a flip-up nose door big enough to drive a tank through. In 1965, Lockheed’s design won the competition and became the C-5 Galaxy.
Boeing engineer Joe Sutter was then tasked by Boeing’s president Bill Allen to work on a new project -- a giant airliner inspired by the military cargo blueprints, and demand from Juan Trippe, the president of Pan Am, for a plane twice the size of the first-generation jet airliner, the 200-seat 707.
With Sutter heading the design team the prototype took to the air in just 16 months, assembled by 50,000 construction workers, mechanics, and engineers known as “The Incredibles.”
Sutter and his team kept the high flight deck, the nose door, and the Pratt & Whitney “high-bypass” engines proposed for the military freighter -- high-bypass creates much more thrust for the amount of fuel burned. Sutter realised that more passengers per flight meant the cost per passenger would fall, and fuel-efficient jets would be cheaper to run.
Pan Am took delivery of its first 747-100 on January 15, 1970. Since then, Boeing has built over 1,500 747s, and about 500 still fly today.