Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Happy 40th birthday to the Whale

One of my favorite airplanes, the Boeing 747, first flew 40 years ago yesterday, when I was all of 28 years old -- and it's still being built. More than 1,400 747s have rolled out of the assembly hangar, and 100 more are on order.

What memories the airplane evokes! Over the decades 747s have carried me to Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Denmark, Norway, Israel, Japan and Malaysia. I once flew one first class (avec champagne et tournedos de la Foret) aboard Air France, thanks to a travel junket for the old Chicago Daily News, and that is the closest I have ever come to heaven.

For coach-class flying, no other airplane in existence brought travel costs down to affordable levels the way the 747 did. We may have complained about the cattle-car ambience of the airplane, but it got us there for low prices, and still does.

Few other airliners have been developed and redeveloped as much as the Whale, as airline pilots affectionally call the beast. This year the 747-8, a lengthened version meant to compete with the even bigger Airbus 380, will enter service.

Happy birthday, Whale.

(There's a nice story about the 747 at the BBC News magazine.)

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