Boeing unveils the latest 747, democratizing air travel

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New York (AFP) – Boeing is taking delivery of the last copy of its legendary 747 on Tuesday, the plane that democratized air travel, carried America’s presidents and always stood out for its bump in the front of the fuselage.

Thousands of the planemaker’s past and present employees, customers and suppliers are expected to attend the handover of the 747-8 freighter to Atlas Air at its Everett plant in the northwest at 21:00 GMT. United States of America.

By ceasing production of the aircraft more than fifty years after its first flight and 1,574 copies were produced, Boeing is turning a big page in civil aviation.

Thanks to its size, range and efficiency, the 747 “allowed the middle class to operate outside Europe or the United States, where fares were more affordable, including during the oil crisis of the 1970s,” notes aviation expert Michel Merluzeau. firm AIR. “He opened up the world.”

Boeing 747 © Gal ROME / AFP

Before being brought down by more efficient and kerosene efficient aircraft.

Four reactors, two bridges

The story of the 747 begins in the 1960s, when air travel became more popular and airports struggled with traffic flow. Inspired by the Pan Am company, Boeing decided to create an airplane that could carry more passengers.

Its engineers initially envision stacking the two fuselages, but are concerned about passengers on top in the event of an evacuation.

“Instead of making the plane taller, they’re going to make it wider,” says Boeing historian Michael Lombardi.

Nicknamed the “Queen of the Skies” or “jumbo jet,” the 747 will be the first two-aisle aircraft.

A Boeing 747 transports the space shuttle Discovery over Washington, D.C., April 17, 2012.
A Boeing 747 transports the space shuttle Discovery over Washington, D.C., April 17, 2012. © MARK WILSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

Equipped with four reactors, the unit was also originally designed for cargo transport: it opens from the front to facilitate the loading of large cargoes.

Therefore, the cockpit is mounted higher, behind which some seats are reserved for the privileged, which creates such a recognizable bulge.

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

In the 1980s and 1990s, connections between some major airports such as New York, Paris or London “were really the main force of the system”, notes Michel Merluzeau.

Later, it suffered from the arrival of more innovative, more economical long-haul aircraft such as Boeing’s 787 “Dreamliner” and the 777, which could more easily get from one point of the world to another without passing through “hubs”. , or the A350 on Airbus, which is easier and less expensive to fill.

Air Force One is getting ready

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

The latest adaptation, for the 747-8, launched in 2005, Boeing will sell a total of 48 copies of the passenger version and 107 copies of the cargo version.

Companies such as Qantas and British Airways are phasing out aircraft from their fleets during the pandemic. No company has flown the plane in the US since late 2017.

Boeing announced in the summer of 2020 that it will end production in 2022.

The plane will fly in the sky for several more decades, especially in the cargo version.

The US President's Boeing 747, Air Force One, on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, June 25, 2020
The US President’s Boeing 747, Air Force One, on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, June 25, 2020 © SAUL LOEB / AFP

“It is a unique aircraft for the transport of large industrial parts such as engines for ocean liners or drilling tools in the oil industry,” said Michel Merluzeau, emphasizing its capacity to carry up to 132 tons.

They may be in greater demand because some of the equivalents built by Ukrainian manufacturer Antonov were “damaged by the war in Ukraine”.

The 747, the aircraft of American presidents since 1990, will continue to fly with the tenants of the White House for several more years, as the two Air Force copies currently in service are replaced.

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