A special lady is celebrating an important birthday this week. It was on February 9, 1969 that the Boeing 747 first flew. The list of commercial aircraft still in production 45 years after they first flew is a very short list – hint, they are both Boeing. When you talk to the casual traveler, they may not remember the airline they last flew on, much less what type of aircraft it was, however if you ask if they have ever flown on a Boeing 747 most people can answer either “yes” or “no” without too much difficulty. How to celebrate the 45th Anniversary of the Boeing 747 first flight in 1969? I thought I would share a story or two.
I grew up an airline brat, my dad worked for one of the “Big 3” and back in the 1970’s, all of them flew 747 for at least a few years. They didn’t make sense economically, but it was a status symbol to fly them. These were the days when the first class cabin was close to 50 seats, the coach seats were still comfortable and they even served food. For a family of five, the 747 was a “non-rev” dream, it was hard to fill up and increased your odds of getting seats, often in first class. I have many great memories of flying the proud lady, getting to sit upstairs in the club area – if there were not paying passengers.
Later in life I worked for an airline catering company to pay my way through college. We serviced several airlines that flew the 747, and it was my chance to get reacquainted with her as an adult. You don’t realize how tall the L4 door is until you are up in a catering truck on a windy day. It was also the only time in my life I was the only person on a 747. I was out doing ramp inspection to make sure our crews had serviced the planes correctly and spent about 15 minutes walking through one – it was eerily quiet, but fun to realize that you had her to yourself, even for just a minute or two.
In my mid 20’s I was working in Seattle as a flight instructor and interviewing for a job as a college professor position. The university asked me to meet with one of their Board of Advisers and I scheduled a breakfast meeting at a restaurant on Boeing Field in Seattle. We had a wonderful meeting, he was gracious and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with him. I knew he was a retired Boeing engineer and pilot, but he was too much of a gentleman to explain what he did during his tenure at Boeing. As I was leaving breakfast, the Number 1 747 was sitting on the ramp and I happened to look up at the co-pilots window and saw a name painted under the window – Brien Wygle. Wow, I had just had breakfast with one of the original test pilots of the Boeing 747. Almost as bad as the time I asked an astronaut for a copy of their resume, but that is a totally different story.
She may be entering middle age, but is still an airplane that I will pause to watch whenever I see one. Here is a link to an Aviation Week and Space Technology article about the first flight.
How about you? Any stories about the Boeing?