Queen of the Skies

Today, February 9, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the Boeing 747. There are plenty of stories out there covering the historic angle, including a nice summary for non-avgeeks at CNET, Aviation Week Network’s visual chronology, Flightradar24’s look at how the 747 is used today (and has a neat map showing all 747’s being currently tracked by that site), and of course a slew of material from Boeing itself. While distinguishing itself early on by its size – it was the first widebody (twin-aisle) plane and the first commercial jet with more than one passenger deck – and distinctive “hump”, the 747’s longevity through the decades is what stands out for me today, having survived through major changes and advancements in technology: pretty impressive for a plane that was originally planned for relegation to hauling freight as supersonic flight became commonplace (spoiler: it didn’t).

Although the jumbo jet is no longer being flown by North American passenger carriers – Air Canada retired the type in 2004, and United and Delta both said goodbye to theirs at the end of 2017 – the 747 still can be seen regularly at major hubs courtesy of European and Asian carriers. My most recent flight on “the queen of the skies” was a 2016 trip to Germany on Lufthansa, and I will admit that I pushed to fly with that airline over Air Canada in part because the transatlantic hop from Toronto would be on the 747. For most people flying, they probably don’t notice anything special about this plane compared to any other widebody (unless of course they’re on the upper deck, something on my bucket list still!), but for whatever reason, there’s a personal appeal for me there.

Below are a selection of photos that I’ve captured over the years of the 747. Most were taken at Frankfurt Airport, including from a 2008 tour of the tarmac that my wife and I took while we had time to kill there (I think we were the youngest people on the tour without being accompanied by children!). A few shots come from the 2016 trip and contrast the queen (favourable, in my opinion) against the Airbus A380, the European full double-deck response to the jumbo. The last photo is a KLM bird at Toronto, an airline that often flies the 747 to YYZ along side Lufthansa and British Airways.