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Boeing 747-100: The Plane That Changed the World

Jeffrey Syken

Would you build it if I bought it? Would you buy it if I built it?

With these sixteen simple words, the airplane that would make the world a smaller place, quite literally, was conceived. Two pioneers of the aviation industry: Juan Trippe – Chairman of Pan American Airways, and William M. Allen - Chairman of the Boeing Company, were on a fishing trip in the Alaskan wilderness in the summer of 1965 when they had this simple exchange. The answer, of course, to both questions was “yes” and the “it” they were referring to was to be a “stop-gap” airliner; to fill the void between the first generation of commercial jets (the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8) and the second generation of “Supersonic Transports” (SSTs) still on the drawing boards. This completely new, sub-sonic plane would have significantly increased range and greater capacity (not to mention comforts and conveniences) and, when the SSTs arrived, they would be relegated to freighter duty. At least that was the plan/thinking, at the time. After all, who would want to fly in a sub-sonic jet (no matter how appealing) when they could fly faster than the speed of sound?

Since freighter variants of the 747 had to allow for frontal loading, the flight deck had to be out-of-the-way of the main deck (also for safety’s sake lest cargo become loose in flight). The simple solution resulted in the familiar “hump” of the 747’s upper deck, allowing loading from the front of the fuselage via a hinged nose assembly (later variants would include a “Stretched Upper Deck”). The new jetliner was designated “747-100” and borrowed freely from previous Boeing military and commercial aircraft designs (i.e. the swept-back wings of the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress) and the latest avionic and navigational technologies (i.e. an Inertial Navigation System). The design had to allow the plane to operate from existing airport infrastructure thus, the design of the landing gear distributed the great weight of the plane without causing damage to tarmac and the increased thrust of the Pratt & Whitney JT9D Turbofan engines allowed the 747-100 and its disciples to takeoff and/or land on runways designed for much smaller and lighter aircraft (i.e. B707).

Ironically, the “interim” airplane of the Boeing Company would become its most recognizable and prolific product line. The Boeing SST would only exist as a wooden mockup, a victim of high fuel prices and environmental concerns in the early 1970s. Later generations of the 747 would increase comfort, capacity, length, range, thrust etc. Even so, they all owe their heritage of greatness to the first 747: the plane that changed the world.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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