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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!