Boeing 100: The First 747 Jumbo Jet

Founded in Seattle, 2016 is the centennial year for the Boeing Company. In June 1916 William Boeing was finishing of his first aircraft design, the B&W Seaplane and on July 15th, 1916 he incorporated the Pacific Aero Products Company for $100,000. On May 9th, 1917 he changed the name to the Boeing Airplane Company which later became the Boeing Company.

Boeing Factory Everett Washington USA
The Boeing Factory at Paine Field, Everett Washington (photo taken whilst on a light aircraft flight out of Paine Field in September 2012)

Many great aircraft have been designed by Boeing for both commercial and military use, especially air travel. The Boeing 707 jet which first entered airline service in 1958, became America’s first commercial jet airliner  and made long distance international travel that much easier (1,010 were produced between 1958 and 1919) but perhaps the one that has changed the lives of so many in relation to air travel is the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, which can seat 400+ passengers and following numerous design updates is still in production today as the 747-8 series (passenger and transport versions). Since the 747-100 series was first introduced and delivered to airlines in 1970, over 1,500 747’s have been produced (as of May 2016 the number was 1,521 produced with 1,543 on order).

The first Boeing 707 prototype was actually called the Boeing 367-80 or "Dash 80," and is display at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia
The first Boeing 707 prototype was actually called the Boeing 367-80 or “Dash 80,” and is display at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia (photo taken on my visit in 2013)
The first Boeing 747 the "City of Everett" flew in 1969
The first Boeing 747 the “City of Everett” flew in 1969
Boeing 747-121 RA001 on public display at Paine Field, Everett, Washington on September 30th, 1968
Boeing 747-121 RA001 on public display at Paine Field, Everett, Washington on September 30th, 1968 (Boeing Photo)

The prototype 747 was a 747-121 model (RA001) the “City of Everett“. This aircraft first flew on February 9th, 1969 (the first order was placed for a 747 by Pan Am in 1966 so from the drawing board to first flight in just 16 months) and became the largest commercial transport aircraft for its time.

The Boeing 747-121 took of on its first flight on February 9th, 1969
The Boeing 747-121 took of on its first flight on February 9th, 1969 (Boeing photo)

Luckily this 747-121 still exists today and is available for a walk through at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, where it is on display in their new Aviation Pavilion (opened June 25th, 2016). It is looking good too now that is has been repainted, as it was a bit weary looking whilst out in the open in recent years.

Boeing 747-121 (RA001) "City of Everett" in the new Aviation Pavilion at the Museum of Flight in Seattle (July 2016)
Boeing 747-121 (RA001) “City of Everett” in the new Aviation Pavilion at the Museum of Flight in Seattle (July 2016)
Boeing 747-121 (RA001) and all the airlines that originally placed orders for the new Jumbo Jet (July 2016)
Boeing 747-121 (RA001) and all the airlines that originally placed orders for the new Jumbo Jet (July 2016)
The new Aviation Pavilion at the Museum of Flight
The new Aviation Pavilion at the Museum of Flight – note the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner next to 747-121 (July 2016)
Boeing 747-121 (RA001) and all the airlines that placed orders for the new Jumbo Jet Museum of Flight
Boeing 747-121 (RA001) “City of Everett” walk around (July 2016)
The first Boeing 747 in the old Museum of Flight airpark in 2012
Boeing 747-121 in the old Museum of Flight airpark in 2012 – the livery paint was looking very weary back then

This first 747 was used not only for flight tests but also later it was converted as a test bed for air refueling systems (the refuelling control area is still there) and numerous 747 system and engine improvements. Wandering through the near empty interior with various interior components, crew stations, exposed wiring etc. is quite fascinating. What appear to be beer barrels are actually ballast tanks that are filled with water and used to simulate passenger and cargo weight in test flights (the connected tubes could move water through the barrels to test inflight centre of gravity configurations). Alas no brewery was set up there!

The exposed interior of the 747-121 at the Museum of Flight Seattle WA
The exposed interior of the 747-121 at the Museum of Flight (July 2016)
Ballast tanks, the inflight refuelling control station and more are on display within the 747-121 at the Museum of Flight
Ballast tanks, the inflight refuelling control station (at the rear of the aircraft) and more are on display within the 747-121 at the Museum of Flight (July 2016)

A unique item inside the 747-121 is a circa 1967 concept model of a 747 with a two-story passenger cabin design. The model looks more like the massive modern-day Airbus A380 airliner (Boeing were way ahead of their game back then)! Ultimately though Boeing went with the single story wide body design, with a raised cockpit and upper lounge area that we know so well today.

The circa 1967 Boeing 747 twin story concept model at the Museum of Flight Seattle WA
The circa 1967 Boeing 747 two-story concept model at the Museum of Flight (July 2016)

Whilst looking back at the history of the 747 we cannot forget its story began in the swinging sixties and it seems the Boeing style merchants did not want to be left out of the picture. They came up with the groovy concept of the “Tiger Lounge” that could be installed for airlines beneath the main passenger cabin of the Boeing 747-100 Jumbo Jet. The mockup design was complete with plush seats, bright colours and an animal print theme for lucky passengers to enjoy. Not surprisingly those miserly airline owners just wanted to make money and preferred to use that section of the aircraft for cargo instead, so the tiger was never unleashed! The mockup is long gone but the Museum of Flight are rejoicing it in a centennial display where you can pretend to go back in time.

The Boeing 747-100 "Tiger Lounge" at the Museum of Flight Seattle WA Boeing 100
The Boeing 747-100 “Tiger Lounge” at the Museum of Flight – yeah baby!

Boeing styling may be a tad less exotic these days but the 747 design itself is still going strong today. They came up with a proven winner and I am thankful for that, as the Boeing 747 has transported me to some great international destinations over the years and allowed me to follow my passion for aviation in doing so!

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2 thoughts on “Boeing 100: The First 747 Jumbo Jet

  1. It’s incredible to think that tbe 747 is 50 years old. The scale-and-performance gap between it and the 787 is far smaller than the gap between the 747 and the Wright Flyer. Shows how our broad aero technology levelled off in the mid twentieth century. I knew it had been designed as a full length double decker but hadnt seen a model – thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes that’s true. Aviation advances have been in composite materials, fuel efficiency and avionics in recent decades. Technology advances in other areas seem to be very focused on telecommunications these days.

      Liked by 1 person

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