The last Boeing 747 passenger jets operated by a US airline are doing the rounds on Delta Air Lines sports charter flights before heading off to be parked in the desert on January 3.
The handful of NFL charters to airports such as Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles and New Orleans signal an end of an era for US airlines, although the plane lauded as the “Queen of the Skies” will fly on in other parts of the world.
After operating its last scheduled 747 flight between Korea and the US, Delta hosted an “All Hail The Queen” farewell tour for employees and select frequent fliers before Christmas.
The tour included manufacturer Boeing’s Paine Field as well as Atlanta and Los Angeles before ending in the former Northwest Airlines hub of Minneapolis-St Paul.
It ended in style with an officially-sanctioned “missed approach” by a Boeing 747-400 after circling the twin cities at low -altitude.
But the airline says planespotters and other enthusiasts will still have a chance to see a Delta 747-400 through January 2 as four of the big jets visit several airports on charter duties.
Remaining destinations are available on @DeltaNewsHub on Twitter and after that, Delta notes, the big planes will disappear from the skies.
“It’s only fitting that the Queen of Skies finishes her career with Delta carrying teams on to victory, said Bill Wernecke, Delta’s managing director, charter sales and operations. “The 747 has been an excellent ambassador to our military, sports teams, and corporate customers, and it has been an honor for our employees that flew, served, loaded, maintained and sold flights on this aircraft.”
The 747 was the first widebody to sell 1500 units and was instrumental in making air travel more affordable for millions of travelers by allowing airlines to fly more people for less cost.
But giving life to the plane that changed the world was a challenge that brought Boeing, the world’s biggest aerospace company, the then-biggest engine maker Pratt &Whitney and the legendary Pan American World Airways to their knees.
Boeing was immersed in an attempt to build an ill-fated supersonic transport, dubbed the Boeing 2707, and the 747 was considered an interim solution that might carry passengers for five to 10 years until supersonic transports took over.
It was the combined dream of Pan Am founder Bill Trippe and Boeing chief Bill Allen that brought the plane to fruition.
Boeing announced plans to build a 490-seat plane in April 1966, at a new plant in Everett, Washington.
The first Boeing 747-100, City of Everett, rolled out of the plant on September 30, 1968, and made its first flight the following February.
Pan Am operated the first commercial flight from New York to London on January 21, 1970, and Continental Airlines put it on domestic routes in June that year.
In following years, B747s would break records, carry space shuttles and transport US presidents.
Delta received its first 747 in 1970 and like many airlines of the day introduced luxury on-board lounges, including a six-seat space known as the Penthouse which came with its own dedicated flight attendant.
The 747 was also the first of the carrier’s aircraft with overhead bins for carry-on bags instead of open racks.
The airline would retire the last of its 747 fleet in 1977 and would not operate them again until it acquired a new fleet of 747s from its merger with Northwest Airlines in 2008. The merger would give Delta 16 747-400s, two 747-200s and 747-200 freighters.
Northwest had been the first airline to operate the Boeing 747-400 in 1989 and the enhanced version of the 747 would go on to be the biggest selling variant of the Queen of Skies. It included a two-crew glass cockpit, improved engines, optional additional fuel storage and a more efficient airframe.
Its reign has been ended by the emergence of fuel-efficient twin-engine planes with which it could no longer compete.
In Delta’s case, the 747s are being replaced by Airbus A350s. However, Boeing’s 787 and 777 aircraft have also done as much to hasten the demise of the plane.
The US manufacturer has continued to produce a new, more fuel-efficient iteration of the 747, the 747-8, in both passenger and freighter versions.
But it last year hinted it may end production if it failed to receive more orders for the program.