The Boeing 747 is a long-range, wide-body airliner that is often referred to as the "Queen of the Skies." It was the first of its kind when it was introduced in the 1970s and has since become an iconic symbol of air travel. With its distinctive hump-shaped upper deck and four engines, the 747 can carry up to 660 passengers and has a range of up to 8,000 nautical miles. It has been used by numerous airlines around the world and has played a key role in the globalization of air travel. Despite facing competition from newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft in recent years, the 747 remains a popular choice for long-haul flights and cargo operations.
The design of the 747 began in the 1960s, when the airline industry was experiencing rapid growth and there was a need for a larger, more efficient aircraft to meet the demand for long-haul flights. At the time, Boeing was the dominant player in the commercial aviation market, and the company saw an opportunity to create a revolutionary aircraft that would set it apart from its competitors.
The development of the 747 was led by Joe Sutter, who had previously worked on the design of the Boeing 707, the company's first jetliner. Sutter and his team faced many challenges in creating the 747, not least of which was the fact that no aircraft of its size had ever been built before. The team had to design a new type of engine, the Jumbo Jet, which was powerful enough to lift the massive aircraft off the ground. They also had to come up with a new type of landing gear that could support the weight of the aircraft and a new type of wing that could generate enough lift.
Despite these challenges, the team was able to come up with a design that met all of the requirements. The 747 was a massive aircraft, with a length of over 250 feet and a wingspan of almost 220 feet. It had a capacity of up to 660 passengers, depending on the configuration, and could fly at speeds of up to 600 mph.
The first 747 prototype was completed in 1968, and the first flight took place on February 9, 1969. The aircraft performed well during the test flight, and it was soon put into service with several major airlines.
Compared to the commercial aircraft of the time, the 747 was a major milestone:
Size: The Boeing 747 was the first wide-body commercial jetliner, meaning that it had a wider fuselage than previous aircraft, which allowed it to carry more passengers and cargo. Its size made it ideal for long-haul flights and allowed airlines to offer more comfortable accommodations for passengers.
Capacity: The 747 had a capacity of up to 660 passengers, depending on the configuration, which was significantly more than previous commercial aircraft. This made it possible for airlines to transport large numbers of passengers on a single flight, which was important as the demand for air travel was increasing rapidly at the time.
Range: The 747 had a range of over 6,000 miles, which made it possible to fly nonstop on long-haul routes. This was a major improvement over previous aircraft, which often had to make multiple stops enroute to their destination.
Performance: The 747 was powered by a new type of engine, the Jumbo Jet, which was powerful enough to lift the massive aircraft off the ground. It was also able to fly at speeds of up to 600 mph, which was faster than many other commercial aircraft of the time. This made it possible for the 747 to travel long distances in a shorter amount of time, which was an important factor in the competitive airline industry.
The first passenger flight of the Boeing 747 took place on January 21, 1970, when Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) operated a flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to London Heathrow Airport. The flight was historic because it marked the first time that a wide-body commercial jetliner had been used for a passenger flight.
The aircraft that was used for the inaugural flight was a 747-100, which was the original version of the 747. It had a seating capacity of 366 passengers and was configured with first class, business class, and economy class seats. The upper deck features a lounge area, unlike later models where seats were installed. The flight was fully booked and attracted a lot of media attention.
Pan Am B747-100
The last passenger flight of the –400 model was flown on 29 March 2020. This was earlier than expected. The 747 went into retirement early due to the COVID pandemic. The long-haul market crashed making the 747 too expensive to operate comparted to the more efficient two engine aircraft like the 777 and 787. This also sealed the fate of the –8I sales, with airlines preferring smaller more efficient airliners.
The last flight, actually 2 flights took place on 29 March 2020.
Qantas QF28 from Santiago to Sydney (VH-OEE) and KLM KL686 from Mexico City to Amsterdam (PH-BFT). Marking the end of a 51-year career.
Radar image last delivery flight
Both Lufthansa and Korean Air are the only airlines using the 747-8I for passenger flights. All other 747 operators us the jumbo for cargo flights. Production of the 747 ended in December 2022 with the final 747-8F delivered to Atlas Air on 1 February 2023.
To commemorate this final delivery, N863GT (67150) draw a 747 crown in the skies over Moses Lake just after take-off from Everett, while flying to its first destination Cincinnati.
There have been several different variants of the Boeing 747 throughout its history. The original 747-100 was the first model to be produced, with the first one entering service in 1970. This was followed by the 747-200, which had increased range and a higher passenger capacity than the original model. The 747-300 was introduced in the 1980s and featured an extended upper deck and a redesigned wing, while the 747-400, which was the most popular variant, featured a glass cockpit and improved engines. In the late 1990s, Boeing introduced the 747-400ER (Extended Range), which had a longer range than the original 747-400.
More recently, Boeing has produced the 747-8, which is the latest and longest variant of the 747. It features a redesigned wing and engines, as well as a longer fuselage than previous models. It is available in two versions: the 747-8I for passengers and the 747-8F for cargo.
There have also been several specialized versions of the 747 produced, including the 747-100SR (Short Range), which was used primarily for domestic flights in Japan, and the 747SP (Special Performance), which was a shorter, long-range version of the 747-100.
Characteristic for the early 747-100 variant was the 6-window upper deck (3 on each side). This was quickly changed to 10 windows on each side when the airlines fitted regular chairs instead of a lounge area as it was proposed during design. This change was retrofitter on some -100 models. The Pratt & Whitney JT9D-3A was fitted and no cargo version was developed. Eventually, many 747-100s were converted in freighters. A total of 168 747-100s were build.
SR, Short Range model
On request of Japan Airlines (JAL) the 100SR (Short Range) was introduced in 1973. The aircraft was fitter with smaller tanks, but had an increased payload and could carry between 455 and 550 passengers. The aircraft was used on the busy domestic flights in Japan. 29 were build.
The modification was also available on the 100B model, called 100B/SR. 2 were ordered by JAL and it featured modifications to the structure, wings and landing gear as well as an extended upper deck allowing up to 563 passengers. The engines were also upgraded PW JT9D-7A. The SR modification was also available on the 300 model. They remained into service until 2006.
An overall improved version, designated the 747-100B was introduced in 1979. It had the same modifications to the structure, wings and landing gear as on the SR model. The maximum take-off weight was also increased. It also featured the JT9D-7A engine, but also the General Electric CF6-50 or Rolls-Royce RB211-524 could be chosen. Of the 9 built, 8 ordered by Saudia had the RB211s installed, while Iran Air opted for the JT9D. This aircraft was the last B model, to be retired in 2014!
To bridge the gap between the aging 707 and 727, combined with the request from Pan-Am and Iran Air for a high-capacity aircraft with enough range to cover the New-York, Middle East routes, Boeing investigated a shortened 747. Building a smaller Jumbo, with more effective engines seemed more practical than developing a completely new design.
The 747SP, Special Performance, was 14 meters shorter than a regular 747. It was based on the 747-100. Modifications included a new wing structure with re-designed double-hinged lower rudders. A feature that would be re-used on the 747-8. The SP was powered by the P&W JT9D-7A or RR RB211-524 engines. 44 aircraft were built in a short timeframe between 1975 and 1982. An additional aircraft was built in 1987 for the Government of the United Arab Emirates.
After the introduction of the 747-100, the demand for larger capacity, longer-range airliners increased. This led to the –200 variant. It featured more powerful engines, increased take of weight and extended range. Most of the 200 models were built with the 10-window upper deck, although some early models retained the 3-window configuration. The 200 model was besides passenger (200B) also available as freighter (200F) and combi configuration (200M).
The 200 first entered service in 1971, offering the only P&W JD9D-7 engines. Later GE CF6-40 (1972) and RR RB211 engines (1975) became available increasing the range up to 6000 nmi (11,000 km).
The combi variant had a passenger cabin in the front, with a cargo area in the back of the main cabin. This was accessible through a build in cargo door on the side of the rear cabin. This version could carry up to 238 passengers. Another variant was the 200C (convertible), which could be configured as full pax or freighter.
Like the –100, Boeing also offered a SUD (Stretched Upper Deck) conversion. This meant the instalment of the 20–window upper deck, which was later standard on the –300 model. KLM converted 10 –200 models with this upgrade.
A total of 393 –200 models were built in the different configurations. The last flying passenger model was retired in 2016, 36 years after delivery. Some famous modifications remain operational through, like the VC-25 and E-4.
SUD on 747-200 PH-BUR
In 1983 Boeing introduced the –300 model. It featured the 7 meters longer upper deck, SUD modification as offered for the 100 and 200. Also, some aerodynamical changes we made to increase the cruise speed (now Mach 0.85). The model was available with both the P&W JD9D-7 and RR RB211 engines, but also with the upgraded GE CF6-80. Combined with the aerodynamical changes reducing the fuel consumption by 25 percent.
The characteristic spiral staircase was replaced by a straight stairway, offering better layout and more seats. Besides the passenger version a 300M and 300SR model were available. The M was the combi variant, like available for the 200, but with bigger capacity as the longer upper deck was available for additional passengers. The SR (Short Range) model, was developed for the Japanese domestic high-capacity routes. It offered a maximum of 584 passengers. Only 4 SR models were built with a total of 81 747-300s. Currently no passenger 747-300s are in commercial service anymore.
The 300 model was short lived as Boeing announced the development of the more capable –400 model in 1985.
A major upgrade for Boeings flagship came with the introduction of the 400 model. This is when the 747 became a bestseller, setting the standard for long-haul flights for many years to come. The 400-model entered service in 1989 and had many major improvements compared to the 200 and 300 upgrades.
TF-AAK Iron Maiden
The wingtip was extended and winglets (6ft, 1.8 m tall) installed, recusing the fuel consumption and extending the range. A new tail fuel tank was added, new engines and a new interior was introduced as well. Another big change was the introduction of a Glass-cockpit, similar to the one used in the 757 and 767. With the introduction of many new automated tasks, only 2 crew were required instead of 3, with the flight engineer becoming obsolete. The number of dials, gauges and knobs were reduced from 971 to 365.
The engine choices included the P&W PW4062, GE CF6-80 or improved RR RB211-524. The same engines were offered on the 767, making maintenance easier as the engines could even be exchanged between the aircraft types.
The 400 was available as normal passenger aircraft, freighter (400F), combi (400M), domestic (400D) and extended range versions for both passenger (400ER) and freighter (400ERF). The ER was developed for Qantas, which set the long-range record flying non-stop from London to Sydney. This was a test flight without passengers and using special fuel. A distance of 18,000 km (11,190 miles) in 20 hours was covered. The record was later beaten by the 777 and the A340.
694 –400 models were built, making it the best-selling Jumbo variant. Production of the passenger version ended March 2007.
Boeing unveiled the 747-8 Intercontinental on February 13, 2011. Again, a major upgrade compared to the –400 model. It was larger, quieter and more fuel efficient.
The fuselage was lengthened by 6m (19ft) and the upper deck was extended to a 25-window and door configuration. This extension is only available on the I (passenger) model, while the F (freighter) has a short 3-window upper deck.
The main wings were completely re-designed. The wingspan was increased and instead of the –400 model winglets, raked wingtips made of carbon-fiber were fitted. They decreased wake-turbulence and drag, improving the fuel efficiency. The raked wingtips are similar to the once used on the 777 and 787 The wing flaps were also redesigned, including a double-hinged lower rudders like used on the 747SP.
The interior was modernized including the solid state LED lightning system (Mood light) which is also available on other types. The windows were enlarged compared to the older models, similar in size to the 777 windows.
A big innovation is the introduction of the General Electric GEnx engines, which are also used on the 787. They improve fuel consumption by 16 percent, which reducing the noise emissions by 30 percent. Unlike previous models, the GEnx engine is the only option for the –8 variant.
As the –400 model was successful as freighter, Boeing developed the 8F, increasing the payload by 16%.
Due to its size and range, the 747 became a popular choice as freighter. When the 100 model was introduced no separate freighter was designed, although many 100s were (eventually) converted into freighters, called 100SF.
The 200 was the first model with a dedicated, 105 tons cargo option, the 747-200F. It featured a hinged nose cargo door and could be fitted with an optional side cargo door. The 200 was also available in a convertible (200C) and combi model (200M), the last featuring only the aft cargo door. The 200C could convert the cabin to an all-passenger-, or –cargo setup and had the nose cargo door fitted.
The 300 model only was offered as a 300M with aft cargo door and mixed passenger / cargo configuration. Like previous models, the 300 was later available for cargo conversion.
The 747-400F (Freighter) is an all-freight version of the 400 model, including the updated systems and wing design of the passenger version. It also features the original short upper deck found on the classic 747s to reduce weight. Another big feature is the hinged nose door, which enabled big loads. The nose door swings up so that pallets or containers up to 40 ft (12 m) can be loaded straight in on motor-driven rollers. An optional main deck side cargo door (like the 747-400M Combi) allows loading of dimensionally taller cargo modules.
The first 400F entered service with Cargolux 17 November 1993. Boeing build a total of 126 F models, the last being delivered to Nippon Cargo Airlines on 2 August 2008.
Nose cargo door
Another option was the 400M Combi model. This combined passenger and freight in one aircraft. Like previous M models it has a large cargo door fitted to the rear of the fuselage for freight loading. A dividing wall separated the passenger area from the freight area, which also has a strengthened floor and roller system.
The 400F model and earlier converted types has proven to be very successful, so when the development started for the 747-8, Boeing designed 2 versions, the 8I Intercontinental (passenger variant) and 8F Freighter.
Like the 400F, the 8F had a smaller upper deck and could carry a payload of 140 tons at a 16% lower ton-mile cost compared to the 747-400F.
Cargolux and Nippon Cargo Airlines were the first customers for the 747-8, placing orders for the freighter variant in November 2005. The first aircraft was delivered 12 October 2011 to Cargolux. As mentioned before, production ended in December 2022 with the final 747-8F delivered to Atlas Air on 1 February 2023.
When Boeing decided to produce the new 787 model in different parts of the US, there came a need of transporting aircraft parts by air. For this four second hand 747-400s were converted to LCF (Large Cargo Freighter) Dreamlifter.
Most obvious conversion is of course its bulging fuselage. It’s three times the volume of a normal 747-400F. It can hold a full 787 fuselage section or wing. Unlike other freighter conversions not the nose, but the tail section can be folded away, so big pieces can be loaded onto the plane.
The first 747LCF made its maiden flight on 9 September 2006.
|Air China (B-2464)
|China Airlines (B-18272)
|China Airlines (B-18271)
|Malaysia Airlines (9M-MPA)
Specifications listed for the 747-400 variant.
|Length 231ft (76m), Width 239in (6.08m), Wingspan 211ft (64.6m).
|4x PW4000 / GE CF6 or Rolls Royce RB211. 252 – 281 kN Trust.
|Fuel and load
|53,985 – 63,705 Gal (204,360 - 241,150 L) Max take off weight 875,000–910,000 lb (396.9–412.8 t).
|Cruise speed 504 kn (933 km/h).
|7,285 – 7,670 nmi (13,492 – 14,205 km).
|Crew and equipment
|2 flight crew, 416 passengers.
|Length 231ft (70,7m), Width 239in (6.08m), Wingspan 195ft (59.6m)
|Length 184ft (56,3m), Width 239in (6.08m), Wingspan 195ft (59.6m)
|Length 231ft (70,7m), Width 239in (6.08m), Wingspan 195ft (59.6m)
|Length 231ft (70,7m), Width 239in (6.08m), Wingspan 195ft (59.6m)
|Length 231ft (70,7m), Width 239in (6.08m), Wingspan 211ft (64.4m)
|Length 250ft (76,25m), Width 239in (6.08m), Wingspan 224ft (68.5m)
|Pratt & Whitney JT9D or Rolls-Royce RB211 or General Electric CF6
|Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7 or Rolls-Royce RB211-524
|Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7 or Rolls-Royce RB211 or General Electric CF6-40
|Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7 or Rolls-Royce RB211 or General Electric CF6-80
|Pratt & Whitney PW4062, Rolls-Royce RB211-524 or General Electric CF6-80
|General Electric GEnx-2B67
|Range 4,620 nmi 8,560 km
|5,830 nmi 10,800 km
|6,560 nmi 12,150 km
|6,330 nmi 11,720 km
|7,285–7,670 nmi 13,492–14,205 km
|7,730 nmi 14,320 km
|3 flight crew, 366 seats
|3 flight crew, 276 seats
|3 flight crew, 366 seats
|3 flight crew, 400 seats
|2 flight crew, 416 seats
|3 flight crew, 467 seats
|168 build (+ 29 SR, 9 100B)
|155 (8F 106, 8I 47)
Military and Government use
Due to its size and range capabilities, the 747 was also ideal for governmental and military use. “Air Force 1” being the most famous of them all, transporting the US president. Other countries like Japan, Korea and Turkey also uses the 747 for governmental tasks.
With at a doubt the most famous 747s of them all, the VC-25, better known as “Air Force 1”. The current presidential fleet consists of two specifically configured Boeing 747-200B series aircraft which will be replaced by two modified 747-8s. The mission and appearance will stay the same. More information on this type? See our open-in-new dedicated VC-25 Factsheet.
The US Air Force also uses specially modified 747-200s. Four of these E-4s are still in service today. The National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), nicknamed "Doomsday plane" is an aerial command station designed to execute war orders when ground facilities are destroyed during a nuclear conflict. The system allows the president (in his role of commander-in-chief) and key members of his battle staff to maintain in command during such a situation. More information on this type? See our open-in-new dedicated E-4 Factsheet.
End 70s, early 80s the US started experimenting with airborne laser technologies. For this a converted Boeing 707 (KKC-135) was used. The ABL (Airborne Laser) was designed as an airborne missile defence system. Tests were successful, although the laser was only able to destroy small missiles or drones.
During the 1991 Gulf War the interest in airborne laser technology was reignited with the threat of SCUD ballistic missiles. To be able to destroy these a much more powerful and bigger laser was needed, so the department of defence turned to the 747.
A former Japan Air Lines 747-400F was converted and designated YAL-1A. The aircraft was fitted with a mega-watt-class chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL). While most of the aft fuselage was taken by the laser equipment, the modified ball turret nose was the most obvious change. The “end” of the laser was a big 1.5 meter telescope mirror that could be unstowed in-flight, and pointed towards a target. The laser could lock onto its target, heating it and causing failure.
Test began in 2007 and early 2010 two different test missiles were destroyed in flight. In 2011, due to various factors, the ABL was not considered viable, and the program was terminated. The aircraft made its final flight early 2012 when it was flown to Davis-Monthan for storage. In 2014 it was (unfortunately) scrapped.
|Japan Air Lines (JA402J)
The Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) were two modified 747-100 models used for the Space Shuttle program by NASA.
NASA needed an aircraft capable to ferry the shuttle back from its landing sites to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The C-5 Galaxy was considered but due to its high wing configuration this was not ideal. Next aircraft up to the task was the 747. So NASA acquired two 747-100s and modified them so they could carry the Shuttle on their backs.
During early stages of testing, 905 retained its American Airlines pinstriping, later to be replaced by NASA’s blue. 905 was mostly used, as it flew 70 of the 87 ferry missions. It was also used for Shuttle landing tests, which included the release of the Shuttle from the back while inflight! Today its on display at Houston Space Center with the mock-up shuttle Independence on its back.
911 was retired February 2012, carrying out 66 flights with the shuttle on its back. It’s currently on display at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in Palmdale.
|N905NA preserved at the Space Center Houston since 29/04/2014
|American Airlines (N9668)
|N911NA on display at Joe Davies airpark in Palmdale California.
|Japan Airlines (JA8117)
After some fatal crashes with aging air tanker (aerial firefighting aircraft), the US Department of Interior set a bid for the next-generation air tankers. Evergreen started development in 2002 based on the Boeing 747. First conversion was done on a 200 model, although this never went into service. Next a 100 model was converted which started in 2009 fire season. It was only used for one season.
Later Evergreen formed a new operation called Global Supertanker Services. A former Japan Air Lines 400 model was converted, which went into service in 2017. It was used for several forest fires around the world before being retired in 2021. This due to financial issues. The aircraft was converted into cargo aircraft.
The Global Supertanker was equipped with a pressurized liquid drop system, which could disperse fire retardant under high pressure or drop retardant at the speed of falling rain. In one drop the aircraft could cover an area of 3 mi (4.8 km) long and as wide as 150 ft (46 m). The drop is possible by four pipes installed in the centre of the aft fuselage.
|747 Super Tanker
|World Airways (N749WA)
|Delta Airlines (N9898)
|Japan Air Lines (JA8086)
N749EV was scrapped in 2017
With telescope door open
SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) was a flying observatory using a heavily modified 747SP. It was joined venture between NASA and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) investigating the formation of stars, planets and interstellar chemistry.
In the aft fuselage a large movable rigid door was installed, which could be opened during flight exposing the telescope behind it. The 2,5 meter, 17 tonnes weighting telescope was places behind a new pressure bulkhead, so the rest of the cabin would still be pressurised while in operation. The complete telescope housing could swivel so it stayed level while inflight.
SOFIA flew 921 missions before retirement on 30 September 2022. It was flown to David Monthan, where it joined the collection of the Pima Air & Space museum.
|United Airlines (N145UA)
Virgin Orbit is a rocket launch platform based on a former Virgin Atlantic 747-400, called Cosmic Girl.
The rocket called LauncherOne is able to bring a payload intro orbit after the in-flight launch from the 747 mothership. For this the aircraft was modified with an additional pylon, located on the left wing between the fuselage and the engines. This is the spot where normally a fifth engine could be attached, to transport.
The program is plagued with technical problems and financial issues, and Virgin Orbit ceased operations March 2023.
|Virgin Atlantic (G-VWOW)