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Boeing officially ending 747 production

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PVD

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Weird stuff can happen. Most NY to Boston traffic was the Eastern Shuttle out of LaGuardia, but there was a late afternoon (5pm?) on American, that closed a loop placing a DC-10 at Logan for a busy route the next morning. On arrival at JFK, the DC-10 was taken o/o/s for a maintenance issue. Needing a widebody for early AM in Boston, they swapped in a 747. A normally empty plane now looked like a scene from a ghost flight movie...Nothing as profound as that since, an A320/319 swap on UA, and a 767 to 757 swap on TWA when the 67 had to return to LAX because of unresolvable maintenance issues. The 57 was new to TW they had just put them into service. But in those cases, the same folks can fly them as the original planes.
 

Trogdor

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So Boeing was convinced that it made good economic sense to leapfrog from a 707/737 sized passenger airliner straight to a design several times that size with no infrastructure, no proven market, and no government contract in the era of mandated routes and regulated fares based on the hopeful whims of a single passenger airline? If that's true then it paints Boeing's management in an even worse light. What I was told is that the original program was indeed chasing the same contract that became Lockheed's C-5 Galaxy. In that role even a massive aircraft program could be fully funded with or without any passenger airlines willing to buy an enormous airplane that would be difficult to fill reliably and that many commercial airports would struggle to service. In this version most of Boeing's design money was already spent and banking the company's future on Juan Trippe’s fever dream was a solution of last resort that went on to pay massive dividends few would have predicted prior to deregulation. It's still not ideal but at least this version provides a rational cover story for how they ended up with such a disjointed product line before it was eventually fleshed out with the 757 and 767.
Boeing was more inclined to take risks back then, and yes, they were very responsive to Pan Am's desires, for better or worse. The company was also largely run by engineers back then, vs. the corporate finance folks who run it today.

As the late Joe Sutter, the engineer who led the development of the jet, wrote in his book "747":
Time and again there appears in print the logical but false assumption that Boeing took its losing military C-5 bid and revamped it as the commercial 747. In fact, the 747 would be an entirely original design that owes nothing to the C-5.
 
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I remember reading recently (after obsessive watching of Pan Am makes the going great commercials) that the 747 struggled at first (or rather, the airlines did) due to a too large increase in passenger space and a recession which cut into transatlantic travel.

I know I've been on a 747, but can't remember much - probably Chicago-Denver, possible Continental (mom didn't fly in the 70's & 80's so it was Vega, then Honda, work truck, Amtrak or Cunard/Polish Line for us - so this would have been a ski trip with my dad). And of course I've been on the MSI 747 mock-up many a time!
 

trainman74

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I flew 747s a couple times in my life, most recently on United to Australia (and back) in 2009. They hadn’t been upgraded with the latest audio/lvisual hardware (movies were still on screens at the front of the cabin), and there was a couple inches less legroom in Economy Plus than on other models in United’s fleet. I’m sure I would have felt much better if I’d been in first class (or even business class).
 

Devil's Advocate

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I flew 747s a couple times in my life, most recently on United to Australia (and back) in 2009. They hadn’t been upgraded with the latest audio/lvisual hardware (movies were still on screens at the front of the cabin), and there was a couple inches less legroom in Economy Plus than on other models in United’s fleet. I’m sure I would have felt much better if I’d been in first class (or even business class).
You'd feel better but you might also feel ripped off having paid for a premium long haul seat that was unable to lie flat. Boarding a tired 747 with a wobbly and washed out projection screen, armrest ashtrays, ancient water spigots, and air-pipe headphones was a blast from the past that amused me for about thirty minutes. After that the only lasting benefit the 747 had over newer long haul designs was a quieter ride and faster cruising speed.

 
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ehbowen

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So Boeing was convinced that it made good economic sense to leapfrog from a 707/737 sized passenger airliner straight to a design several times that size with no infrastructure, no proven market, and no government contract in the era of mandated routes and regulated fares based on the hopeful whims of a single passenger airline? If that's true then it paints Boeing's management in an even worse light. What I was told is that the original program was indeed chasing the same contract that became Lockheed's C-5 Galaxy. In that role even a massive aircraft program could be fully funded with or without any passenger airlines willing to buy an enormous airplane that would be difficult to fill reliably and that many commercial airports would struggle to service. In this version most of Boeing's design money was already spent and banking the company's future on Juan Trippe’s fever dream was a solution of last resort that went on to pay massive dividends few would have predicted prior to deregulation. It's still not ideal but at least this version provides a rational cover story for how they ended up with such a disjointed product line before it was eventually fleshed out with the 757 and 767.
While the 747 may not have been an outgrowth (at least, a direct outgrowth) of the C-5 contract, it was indeed designed to be the "ultimate" air freighter. Remember, back in the day the passenger plans were all based around the 2707, Boeing's swing-wing SST design, which seemed to have a lock on first place in the government-subsidized SST race. But Pan Am was indeed demanding something (much) larger than the 707, and it was not feasible to 'stretch' that airframe due to original design limitations of the landing gear placement. As long as Boeing was designing an all-new airframe, and one which (looked!) like it faced a service life of only a few short years in passenger service before being supplanted by the SST, it made sense to optimize it for the air-freight role...which is why 747s were designed with a cross-section which could accommodate four cargo containers in the freight mode.

It wasn't until the 747 design was well along that the SST program (actually, the SST program's government subsidy) fell apart. And while Boeing's management may well deserve criticism, keep in mind that at the time Lockheed, Douglas, and Convair all had thriving passenger programs (and in fact were all Boeing's rivals for the SST contract). What happened to them?
 

PVD

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For Convair, they were late to the dance with their inferior 880 and 990 offerings, that finished them off as a plane builder, but they subcontracted building fuselage sections for others. Mostly sold off by parent GD to Dougls and Lockheed. Douglas did pretty well in narrow body, but stumbled with the DC-10. Lockheed built a decent airplane with the L-1011, Rolls Royce slowed them up with the RB-211 issues, so they played second fiddle to Douglas and they split a market segment that could have profitable for one. Douglas and Lockheed threw in the towel on developing anything new commercial, with the exception of some DC-9/MD 80 derivatives, but both lived on successfully on the military side. Douglas built some pretty good military stuff F-15, C-17, F-18 (still sells), Now Lockheed-Martin remains formidable, and of course Douglas is part of Boeing.
 
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Ziv

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My experience was that you could see about 10 or 12 degrees further forward/down the runway than you could on a regular airliner window. I couldn't see the far end of the runway, but I could see further forward than you could in a standard window. It wasn't earthshaking but it was kind of cool. I really enjoyed the take off and landing. The rest of the flight didn't seem that different.
The article and the video below show that you really can see further forward in seat 1A than you can normally. I don't remember being able to see the end of the runway like the video shows, but I could see further down the runway than usual. It was a thrill, though, not just being in a 747 but having a better view than normal as well!


The 747 Combi was a versatile but flawed design.



Your experience mirrors my own. I flew the 742, 743, & 744 variants and so far as I could tell any claims of actual forward viewing were little more than myths and misunderstandings. Maybe the 741 was different or the view was specific to aircraft with missing or misaligned components.
 
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Dakota 400

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Douglas did pretty well in narrow body, but stumbled with the DC-10. Lockheed built a decent airplane with the L-1011, Rolls Royce slowed them up with the RB-211 issues, so they played second fiddle to Douglas and they split a market segment
What was wrong with the DC-10 and the L-1011? I flew on both of them. The L-1011 flight was on TWA. The DC-10 flights were on United.
 

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There's a really good documentary on YouTube which references the engine issue that delayed the introduction of the L-1011 and allowed the DC-10 to capture the 3-engine jumbo market. Otherwise it was a very good airplane - just not enough airlines bought it.
 
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PVD

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The prior post hits on the L-1011, which was late to the market (thank you Roll Royce) I flew on Eastern, Delta, TWA, and an L-1011 shorty (-500) with Pan Am. I always liked it. An early Eastern flight JFK-MIA to attend my Uncles's funeral blew an engine on takeoff, (sounded like we dragged tin cans, and we returned to JFK. I was a kid, and though it was cool for fire trucks to be lined up. They put us on another plane that had just come in as soon as they could get it catered and fueled. DC-10's had a few different issues early on that shook peoples confidence, cargo doors, engine falling off, engine disintegrating, common thread being the layout of the control and hydraulic systems. I won't weigh in on its overall record over time, but some of its accidents were among the highest fatality totals. I guess UA 232 Sioux City would be the last famous one.
 

jiml

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The prior post hits on the L-1011, which was late to the market (thank you Roll Royce) I flew on Eastern, Delta, TWA, and an L-1011 shorty (-500) with Pan Am. I always liked it. An early Eastern flight JFK-MIA to attend my Uncles's funeral blew an engine on takeoff, (sounded like we dragged tin cans, and we returned to JFK. I was a kid, and though it was cool for fire trucks to be lined up. They put us on another plane that had just come in as soon as they could get it catered and fueled. DC-10's had a few different issues early on that shook peoples confidence, cargo doors, engine falling off, engine disintegrating, common thread being the layout of the control and hydraulic systems. I won't weigh in on its overall record over time, but some of its accidents were among the highest fatality totals. I guess UA 232 Sioux City would be the last famous one.
AA191 at O'hare also comes to mind. Although not the direct fault of the plane, a lot of people wouldn't fly them after that. One more 737MAX incident and it's going to have the same reputation.
 

PVD

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It was the 3rd high fatality crash in relatively short succession, and led to the temporary grounding of the aircraft, which people remember more than the fact that that accident was eventually found not to be primarily an aircraft issue.
 

Devil's Advocate

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What was wrong with the DC-10 and the L-1011?
With the DC-10 I would say a defective cargo door and compromised control redundancy. There was also a narrower margin for error on takeoff and landing compared to other widebody designs. These issues were eventually fixed (after media uproar and regulatory intervention) but the L-1011 was a more mature aircraft at launch with fewer safety flaws despite a more complicated design. Unfortunately it was held back for reasons beyond Lockheed's control, eventually leading to severe financial losses and a permanent exit from the commercial airliner market. Even the "winning" DC-10 was unable to survive ETOPS.
 
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Bob Dylan

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AA191 at O'hare also comes to mind. Although not the direct fault of the plane, a lot of people wouldn't fly them after that. One more 737MAX incident and it's going to have the same reputation.
After that disaster, as you said, people quit flying on them which was good for me as a frequent flyer.

I almost always got upgraded to FC when I flew on DC-10s!🥰
 

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I can only remember one TriStar trip...in 1983 I was coming home from Nuclear Power School in Orlando on Delta to spend a week's leave in Houston. The plane was ready, the passengers were ready, but...no crew. They were stranded in Chicago by a massive winter storm! About two hours behind schedule a 727 crew arrived for what was supposed to be a later flight. Delta said, "Congratulations, you've been promoted!" and combined both plane loads of passengers on the larger airplane (Yes, I'm sure that the 727 pilots were qualified and current on the L-1011). But in the shuffle my luggage was misdirected, and it didn't arrive in Houston until three days later. BTW, that winter storm made it all the way to Houston...we had sub-freezing temperatures that whole week and I had to suffer through it with only my Navy Ike jacket....
 

Trogdor

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What I found interesting, was when PanAm purchased National, and IIRC, became the first airline to fly both L-1011's and DC-10's, from National's fleet.
Delta flew DC10s in the early 1970s while waiting for the L1011’s problems to be ironed out.
 

PVD

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N601DA, N602DA, N603DA, N604DA, and N605DA. What happened was a bit odd, Delta sort of knew they were not likely to stay, so they sold them to United, and then leased them back for a couple of years.
 

jis

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I have flown around the world on 747s on one of my trips to India in my student days. JFK - LHR - DEL by Air India 747 (Emperor Kanishka which was later blown up over the Atlantic Ocean).

DEL - HKG - NRT on a PA 747
NRT - JFK on a PA 747-SP

The return trip on PA was because of a screwup at Air India which they resolved by endorsing my non-endorseable ticket to Pan Am who by then had seat availability to JFK only eastbound from India.

I have also flown on 747s of United numerous times (including Mileage Plus upgrades to First several times, in the days when they served Champagne and Caviar upon boarding) and Sabena at least once, and of course British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines a few times too. One of the Virgin Atlantic flights was JFK - LHR a few days after 9-11. There were about 12 of us on the flight. All were comp upgraded to Upper Class with the rear of the plane flying empty. The next segment LHR - CCU on BA 777 was completely full, and I was in their then Y+ product, which was actually quite nice.

The 747 was a wonderful plane and made Boeing quite a bit of money after almost bankrupting them. All good things do come to end at some point. One could say that to some extent it is the 777 that spelled doom for the 747.
 

jiml

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The 747-SP was a fascinating airplane, remaining in service with AA longer than others in the family. While attending a seminar at their headquarters in Dallas, I was lucky enough to score a scale model of one - which still has a special place in my collection.
 

PVD

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The 2 SP at AA came over from TWA in the buyout. and lasted about 10 years longer than the other 747s at AA Wild guess is they had a particular route that they fit well, since large airlines usually hate to have oddballs. Expensive for lots of reasons...
 

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The 747-SP was an unusual aircraft with a condensed profile that further accentuated an already unique airframe. From a technical perspective the SP model was an impressive long haul airliner for the time, but to my eyes the toy-like proportions looked kind of clumsy compared to the rest of the fleet. I never flew an SP myself but was able to see one up close after it underwent heavy maintenance. Although none of the 747's were attractive to me I did get used to them over time, whereas the SP never quite grew on me.
 
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jiml

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The 2 SP at AA came over from TWA in the buyout. and lasted about 10 years longer than the other 747s at AA Wild guess is they had a particular route that they fit well, since large airlines usually hate to have oddballs. Expensive for lots of reasons...
I think you're half-right. They (601 and 602) were indeed purchased from TWA, however it was several years before the buyout/merger. They initially flew DFW-NRT - a route too long for AA's DC-10's, then were moved to JFK-LHR when the MD-11's arrived, until their retirement in 92-ish?
 
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