This is a photo of the very first 747 -- serial number 001. Named the City of Everett in honor of its birthplace, 747-001 was built as a prototype with tail-number N7470, and it took to the skies for the first time in 1969. It was followed a few months later by the first production 747, which was delivered to Pan Am in 1970. By the time Telstar Logistics found the City of Everett, in 2001, it was parked on the side of a runway at Boeing Field in Seattle, looking faded and forlorn. Yet signs of it's historic role were still in evidence: The word "Experimental" could be seen in hand-painted lettering near the forward door, along with the names of the first test pilots just below the cockpit.
Boeing's initial thinking was that the 747 was a stopgap design that would fill a niche until the arrival of supersonic SST airliners. At most, the company figured, 400 copies of the 747 would be needed to permanently satisfy global demand.
Now, 1,379 airframes later, comes news that we'll be flying aboard 747s for many more decades to come. Although Boeing's latest 747 variant, the 747-8 Intercontinental, has been selling well as a freighter, this week Lufthansa became the first carrier to order passenger versions of the upgraded model, with a $5.5 billion buy for 25 747-8s, with options for another 20 more.
Of course, history hasn't played out the way Boeing's chief rival, Airbus, thought it would either. As today's New York Times explains:
This reversal of fortune comes as Airbus’s superjumbo A380 has stumbled, falling two years behind its delivery schedule amid persistent wiring problems and a management shake-up at the company. While Boeing takes pains to say that the two planes are not head-to-head competitors, the industry generally sees them that way. They are the only two planes in the “very large” category: The 747-8 is designed to carry up to 467 passengers, while the A380 can carry up to 555. [...]
Of course, these events have not gone unnoticed at Airbus, which has lost some freighter orders for its A380 to Boeing in recent weeks. Allan McArtor, chairman of Airbus North America, called the new 747-8 a brand-new Edsel, the famous new-car failure of the late 1950s.
“The 747 is on its last legs,” Mr. McArtor said in an interview. “It doesn’t have any legs to stand on. Boeing is trying to breathe life into a 1960s-era design. There is only so much you can do with a plane.”
He added: “But it is irritating. Boeing is getting orders only because of our inability to meet demand. Had we not stumbled with the A380, there would not be orders like the Lufthansa order for the 747-8.”
It's true that Airbus's A-380 goofs have done much to give the 747 a second lease on life, but McArtor's metaphor is sloppy. The Edsel came and went. But after a nonstop production run that will easily exceed 40 years, the 747 continues to evolve, and it's still gaining altitude.
Far From Extinct: (New York Times, 7 Dec., 2006): LINK
Boeing's official 747-8 website: LINK
Boeing 747 Pool (Flickr photo gallery): LINK