October 11, 2017
THE PHOTO ABOVE shows the prototype Boeing 747 on the day of its rollout from the factory in Everett, Washington. It was September 30th, 1968. One of aviation’s most iconic images, it so perfectly demonstrates both the size and the elegance of the 747. It’s hard for a photograph to properly capture both of those aspects of the famous jet, and this image does it better than any I’ve ever seen. When I was a kid, I had a copy of this picture on my bedroom wall.
Across the forward fuselage you can see the logos of the 747’s original customers. The one furthest forward, of course, is the blue and white globe of Pan Am. Pan Am and the 747 are all but synonymous, their respective histories (and tragedies) forever intertwined. If not for the persistence of Pan Am’s visionary founder, Juan Trippe, the plane might never have existed. And it was Pan Am, on January 21st, 1970, that launched 747 passenger service, its Clipper Victor making the inaugural flight from New York’s Kennedy Airport to London-Heathrow.
But plenty of other carriers were part of the plane’s early story, as those decals attest. Twenty-seven airlines initially signed up for the so-called “jumbo jet” when Boeing announced production in the late 1960s.
My question is, can you name them? How many of those logos can you identify? Here is a high-resolution shot to help you.
The first reader to correctly name all twenty-seven wins an autographed copy of Cockpit Confidential. Send your entry to: PatrickSmith@AskThePilot.com. (I don’t expect this will take long, and I’ll list the airlines here once there’s a winner. Be a good sport and don’t post the answers in the comments section.)
There are plenty of 747s still out there, but not nearly as many as there used to be, and the number is getting smaller. British Airways, KLM, Korean Air and Lufthansa are for now the biggest operators. In North America, United and Delta are retiring the last of their 747s later this fall. Which is sad for a whole host of reasons.
The 747’s replacement is not so much the double-decker Airbus A380, as many people assume. The A380 indeed has captured some of the ultra high-capacity market, but, with the exception of Emirates’ 100-plus fleet, in very limited numbers. It’s Boeing’s own 777-300, which can carry almost as may people as a 747, at around two-thirds of the operating costs, that has rendered the four-engine model otherwise obsolete. Pretty much every 777-300 that you see out there — and there are hundreds of them — would have been a 747 in decades past. The -300 has quietly become the “jumbo jet” of the 21st century. United, American, and Air Canada are the North American operators of the type.
The aircraft in that photo still exists, by the way, and you can visit it — touch it — at the Museum of Flight at Seattle’s Boeing Field.