We’ve all seen her beautiful and graceful silhouette, one that you can recognize faster than any other aircraft at any airport or in the skies.
From the United States’ Air Force One, to the heavy lifting cargo haulers of Kalitta Air Cargo to Long Haul Fleets around the world, the 747 continues to revolutionize the aviation history.
I was reading December’s Lufthansa Magazin (Ipad App Version) and it had a great article on the history of the Boeing 747 and how it came about to have it’s trademark hump at the front of the fuselage. I thought it would be interesting to share why the 747 looks the way it does and who was behind it.
The following is the complete article from the Lufthansa Magazin App, written by Marc Bielefeld:
Former Boeing president Bill Allen liked to sit in his big brown leather armchair when he needed to think. We’re talking mid-1960’s, when America was preparing to fly to the moon and students in floral bell-bottoms were dancing to the twangs of Jimi Hendrix’s Guitar. But Allen’s thoughts were elsewhere. What troubled the Boeing president was thate more and more people were flying more and more miles, but the Boeing 707, the largest passenger aircraft at the time, was too small to satisfy the growing demand. It only had room for 200 passengers. He wanted to give the world a bigger airplane. A colossus.
Engineers were already working on plans for a giant new aircraft in 1963. In 1964 the US Air Force invited manufacturers Lockheed, Douglas and Boeing to submit design proposals for a large military transport plane. One of the designs they came up with was for the C-5, a plane that surpassed in size and payload any heavier-than-air machine that had ever gone into service – a flying leviathan. The C-5 proved that a plane of that size and weight could actually get into the air – and stay there too. Although it was Lockheed who won the contract to build the C-5, its dimensions continued to fascinate and inspire Boeing’s president, who had long been pondering the feasibility of building a passenger aircraft capable of transporting 350, maybe even 400 paying passengers as a commercial proposition; a plane that would redefine intercontinental travel.
Pan American World Airways,at that time one of the worlds most successful airlines, was thinking along the same lines. Pan Am went bankrupt long ago, but in the 1960s, it had an extensive global network.
In 1966 Pan Am announced that, if the aircraft industry could design and produce a jet propelled, airborne monster of this kind, it would order 25 of them. Boeing did not wait to be asked twice; its development team starting work on the 747 project at its Everett facility near Seattle in March of the same year.
“It was a tremendous challenge,” say Michael Lombardi, head of Boeing archives in Seattle and one of the world’s experts on the history of aircraft construction, “our people had to start thinking in entirely new directions. They were breaking new ground, because a passenger plan of this size was a very different proposition.” After kicking around a whole raft of ideas, chief engineer Joe Sutter’s design team came up with various possible options. One of the most promising was to use two 707 bodies, one on top of the other, a design suprisingly similar to the present day Airbus A380. But evacuation on two levels would have taken too long. “So we go for width instead,” decided Sutter. This made the 747 the first passeger aircraft development featuring twin aisles – and it was a major breakthrough.
No sooner was one problem solved, along came the next. The boom in world trade was generating irrepressible growth in demand for air-freight space and a cargo version of the new widebody aircraft was another must. The engineers decided that the most efficient way to load bulky freight into the aircraft would be through its nose because of the problems involved in designing a plane with large enough freight doors on the sides. Once they had designed a nose section with a sufficiently large opening, they ran up against the next problem: “The pilots traditionally sit in the nose section and we couldn’t just flip up the cockpit during loading and unloading!” Lombardi recalls.
And this is how the Boeing 747 came by the most attractive bulge in the history of aviation. The designers added the plane’s signature hump to make space for a cockpit that would not interfere with loading and unloading operations. Michael Lombardi’s archives contain sketches and models from the design phase, including a time-yellowed model of the earliest 747 design, which looks very odd indeed with a cockpit projection closely resembling a pimple on top of the aircrafts’s fuselage.
This was the design Bill Allen and his people showed Pan Am. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. Everyone was completely absorbed in admiring the model and poring over the plans. Then came the answer from Pan Am: “Fantastic, You’ve done a great job, We’ll go with that.” But Pan Am also asked for one important design change. “Lets make that pimple into a kingsized hump!” Their idea was to use it to house not only the cockpit, but also a lounge with comfortable armchairs and a bar for First Class passengers, complete with a staircase from the cabin below. For a design team of that caliber, no problem. In January 1969, the first Boeing 747 took to the air from the Everett facility. Thousands of guests had been invited to witness the dawn of a new era. And there it was for all to see: the prettiest nose in aviation history – a graceful, curved hump that gave this plane a head and a face, and made it almost human. Which is why, for the first time ever, journalists gave a plane a name – the Jumbo Jet.
Back in his armchair after the show, Bill Allen must have been grinning broadly. The famous chair now has a place of honor in Lombardi’s archives. Sometimes he, too, sits in it and reflects. “This is the chair,” he says, “where the 747 was born.”
And the rest continues to be history, with several revisions and improvements over the last 42 years, the 747 has become the longest surviving aircraft model in history. And with deliveries underway of the latest iteration, the 747-8F and the soon to be delivered 747-8I (For whom Lufthansa is the Launch Carrier), this timeless Queen will continue to rule the skies for decades to come.
We owe it all to Pan Am, for having the vision and guts to take a chance and blaze new airways in the airline industry. In many ways, we could argue that what Pan Am did for aviation, was what the Beatles and Elvis were doing for Rock and Roll at the same time. They all revolutionized their industries forever.
By the way, I strongly encourage you to download the Magazin App for your Ipad. Each month is filled with great stories like this, and amazing imagery. For this article, there were several great pictures of the 747 through the years.