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Photos: How the Boeing 747 Went from ‘Queen of the Skies’ to a Humble Cargo Plane

The last new Boeing 747 left the company’s factory on Tuesday, marking the end of an era for the iconic airplane that captured the world’s attention and brought more affordable air travel to millions of passengers.

With its impressive size and graceful appearance, the 747, known as the “Queen of the Skies,” has been one of the most recognizable and versatile aircraft since its first flight in 1969. It transported NASA’s space shuttles and was the base for the U.S. president’s Air Force One aircraft, making the 747 a symbol of American innovation.

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The dependable four-engine plane revolutionized the aviation industry and the air travel experience itself by carrying up to 500 passengers in a single trip, creating a more spacious and comfortable cabin and allowing airlines to offer long-haul tickets at a lower cost.

But despite its popularity, by the 2010s the world began to shift toward more efficient and smaller two-engine airplanes that could fly longer distances. These planes made it possible for airlines to offer direct international routes between smaller cities due to their more compact size.

Boeing introduced a more advanced two-engine 777 aircraft in the mid-90s, and faced heightened competition a decade later from the bigger Airbus A380, which could seat 250 more passengers. Demand for the 747 dropped, except for cargo operations. In the early 2010s, Boeing introduced the final model, the 747-8, which included around 50 passenger configurations and over 100 cargo configurations.

While some airlines continue to use the plane for passenger flights, the 747 will likely be phased out for most passenger routes and used primarily for delivering cargo. The final 747 produced was handed over to Atlas Air, which offers airplanes and crews for both cargo and passenger operations. It will be chartered by Kuehne+Nagel, a transport company and an Atlas customer, for use by its subsidiary, Apex Logistics.

But the awe-inspiring legacy of the iconic aircraft will continue: the 747 planes will still be used as Air Force One for years to come. Replacements for the current Air Force One aircraft are being built using Boeing 747-8 frames.


Wally McNamee—CORBIS/Getty ImagesPresidential advisers Steve Rabinowitz and Dee Dee Myers talk on cell phones on the tarmac next to Air Force One, on April 30, 1993.


Peter Parks—AFP/Getty ImagesPeople watch as the last Qantas Boeing 747 airliner prepares to take off from Sydney airport to the US on July 22, 2020. The downturn in the airline industry following travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak forced Qantas to retire its grounded 747s after flying with the Australian carrier for almost 50 years.

Lucy Nicholson—ReutersOld airplanes, including Boeing 747-400s, are stored in the desert in Victorville, California March 13, 2015. In the last year, there were zero orders placed by commercial airlines for new Boeing 747s or Airbus A380s, reflecting a fundamental shift in the industry toward smaller, twin-engine planes.

Thomas Frey—picture alliance/Getty ImagesAn Atlas Air Boeing 747-8 cargo plane is loaded with freight for Zhengzhou Airport in Lautzenhausen, Germany, in May 2014.

Jovelle Tamayo—The New York Times/ReduxThe Boeing factory, where the last 747 jumbo jet was built, in Everett, Wash., Sept. 28, 2022. The “Queen of the Skies” brought air travel to the masses, but its half-century run is coming to an end.

 

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